It was an offer Marlon Brando could actually refuse. The rehearsal call for Don Juan DeMarco was 10 a.m. sharp. The clock on the wall at the Los Angeles sound stage kept ticking: 10:30 . . . 11 . . . noon. Marlon was missing.
Johnny Depp could only sigh with relief. Finally, he wasn’t the guy in trouble. Depp, known for beating up couches in hotel rooms, was a little nervous. The Godfather has that effect on a person.
Depp was in the middle of a scene when the big guy finally made his entrance. By all accounts, Brando arrived loudly. A door slammed. Papers rustled. Chairs started scraping across the floor so people could get a better view. And Depp said, “Shhhh.”
He shushed Brando. No, he didn’t find a horse’s head in his trailer the next day. “I didn’t realize it was Marlon who had arrived,” Depp says. Maybe Brando admired his nerve. Maybe he thought Depp was joking. Maybe he thought Depp was nuts.
“Kid,” Brando told Depp, walking to the front of the rehearsal,” I see that the party has begun, and you didn’t wait for me.” There was a deadly pause. And Brando finally smiled. He was never late again.
The Johnny and Marlon Show in Don Juan DeMarco (continuing at Chicago area theaters) goes something like this: Depp is a guy from Queens, N.Y., who claims to have had more than 1,000 lovers, although his therapist, played by Brando, is sure the kid has lost his marbles. During “intoxicating” therapy sessions that follow, Brando finds his own love life with Faye Dunaway improving.
It’s a buddy movie, although Brando and Depp aren’t exactly Redford and Newman. Strange, but true: The two have a lot in common.” There are a lot of myths about Brando. Everyone thinks they know him, and they don’t,” Depp says. “Sometimes it’s the same thing for me.”
So, during the filming of Don Juan, Depp sat down on a rare day off in a New York hotel suite to set some records straight.
Myth: Depp “hired” Brando
It’s true. “I went to the studio and said, ‘We have to have Marlon Brando play the therapist.’ There was this long pause. Everyone thought I was crazy.” That is, everyone except Brando, whom Depp had never met before. “It wasn’t like Marlon was hanging around the Edward Scissorhands set,” Depp jokes. So calls were made. Brando was wooed. Depp wrote him, phoned him, pestered him. After successfully nabbing Brando, the younger actor suggests, “I might go into casting now.”
Myth: Depp is Brando’s publicist
That’s not official, and Depp doesn’t get paid. It’s just that he can’t say enough about Brando. “He’s a real person, a real guy, a very funny guy,” Depp says. Funny in what way? Depp, ever secretive, stops himself. “We played practical jokes on each other.” Such as? Depp looks horrified. “Oh, I can’t . . . I just can’t say.” Come on. “We were on this scaffold thing together.” Depp refuses to say more.
He does get ticked when asked about Marlon’s physical condition.” He has no problem. He can go up and down stairs and everything.”
Myth: Depp identifies with weird characters
Don Juan is not Depp’s first role as a wacko. There also were Ed Wood, Benny & Joon, Edward Scissorhands and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, to name but a few. “I think Ed Wood was saner than most people I know,” Depp says. “As for the other characters, there’s something about all of them that I liked. They aren’t boring.”
Myth: Depp is strange himself
hn Waters cast him in Cry-Baby because they both owned John Wayne Gacy paintings. And for Don Juan, Depp perfected his Spanish accent by watching Fantasy Island for “that Ricardo Montalban effect.”
Myth: Depp grew up normal
Sort of. “I wasn’t a popular kid. In high school, they called me Johnny Dipp,” Depp recalls. “I was kind of like my character in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. I lived in a small town, Miramar, Fla. All we had was a school, a drugstore and a pizza joint. I was frustrated and wanted to get out of there so bad. Everybody knew everybody. It was suffocating.”
Myth: Depp is tormented
Yes and no. It’s been almost a year and a half since the death of River Phoenix at Depp’s L.A. nightclub, the Viper Room. “The thing is . . . it’s still odd for me to be connected with what happened to River. My only connection is that I was there at the time. I still have feelings about it. It was unbelievably tragic that we lost such a young and talented man.”
Myth: Acting bores Depp
Absolutely . . . sometimes. “I would hate to say that I’m an actor and that’s all I’ll ever be. I’m actually harboring a secret desire to be a reverend. I also want to be a spy. And maybe a bassoon player, too,” he says.
Myth: Depp still carries Winona Ryder in his heart
Actually he carries his ex-fiancée on his arm. What will he do with the large WINONA FOREVER tattoo on his right forearm? “I don’t know,” Depp says, mulling it over. “Maybe I should put her boyfriend’s name on top of it. You have to look for the humor in these things, you know. Someone told me I should have part of it bleached out and some letters added so it reads, ‘Win Navy Forever.’“
Myth: Depp resents hotel rooms
Last year he was arrested for beating up a room at New York’s Mark Hotel to the tune of $9,700 in damages. Reportedly this had something to do with a spat with his girlfriend, waif model Kate Moss.
These days, sitting in another hotel, Depp spares the end tables from his evil eye. The couch doesn’t appear afraid. “It’s strange, but in the ’60s, the Who were applauded for doing stuff like that. People thought it was cool.” A pause. “I mean, really. My getting arrested made national news. Was this really more important than Bosnia?” And now, when he goes to check into a hotel, “I get some strange looks,” he says.
Maybe Brando would understand.