The gloomy storyline began to seep into his personal life and the question in the tabloids became 'What's eating Johnny Depp'? Off camera, Depp was binging on alcohol and drugs.
Depp said he felt uncomfortable in his own skin and would stuff anything into his system to numb himself. "I just took to poisoning myself, which is really stupid."
Depp said family and friends pulled him out of it — basically, telling him, "Hey, you're f---ing up."
Ed Wood & Coming Back from the Brink
Ironically, the very same thing that helped push Depp over the edge pulled him back from the brink — another role. This time it was that of a cross-dressing 1950s B-movie director — Ed Wood.
That role, Depp said, "was the rocket ship that took me away from that horrible, black, bleak time."
"This guy needed to be the ultimate optimist, dreamer, idealist. It was like being in a completely different suit or skin. It felt very good."
But Depp said he doesn't feel he gets into his characters to an unhealthy extent. "I was never one of those guys who ever believed in like, you know, you become the character and you know, and you walk to the coffee machine you are Henry the Eighth. But at the same time, you get to know them so well and you play them for such an extended period of time that by the time you're done … it took me a couple of months to not smile like Ed Wood.
Winona’s a ‘Good Kid’
While he wore skirts in the film, he had a reputation for chasing them. His personal life played like a steamy soap opera … with a string of engagements to actresses Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Grey and Winona Ryder.
Depp said, "They're all great girls. We helped each other get through certain periods of our lives."
He said he hasn't spoken with Ryder since her arrest for shoplifting, but he expressed sympathy for her and said he thinks the media treated her badly. "They way they dragged her through the — I would say 'mud' but in fact it was like broken glass," he said, adding, "She's a good kid, you know? She's also very strong spirit. She'll make her way through it."
Depp also had a reputation as a Hollywood bad boy. Beyond the partying, there was the time he trashed a New York hotel room after a spat with his then-girlfriend — model Kate Moss — causing nearly $10,000 worth of damage. Depp chalked it up to having a bad day. "You know, some guys go play golf, some guys smash hotel rooms. You know? That's what it felt like for me at the time, you know?"
The only problem with that last option was that it landed Depp in jail.
Depp's image was further damaged when 23-year-old actor River Phoenix died of a drug overdose in front of the Viper Room, the wildly popular Los Angeles club Depp owned.
Depp recalls the night as "scary, devastating — just an absolute nightmare."
Phoenix's death was a big wakeup call. Depp pulled back from the drinking and drugs but pushed farther into his roles. He would soak up every character to an extreme. To prepare for his role as the whacked-out gun-toting writer Hunter S. Thompson in the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Depp moved in with the notoriously nutty Thompson.
"I was there every day, every night you know, with him. You know, sometimes with a video camera … You just try and take as much as you possibly can from their life — their movement, their tics, their sort of beliefs."
Eye Contact & ‘That Was It’