Johnny Depp looks worried as he hurries down a corridor of the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
It’s not the rather drab brown suit he’s wearing, or the fact that the king of oddballs is playing an equally drab accountant named Gene Watson in the new suspense-thriller Nick of Time (which opens Nov. 22). No, the pressing problem for Depp’s character at this moment is that he has 80 minutes to find and kill the governor of California, or his daughter will die.
“The moment I read (the script), I thought, ‘What a great premise for a thriller,’” Depp says. “It really reminded me of an old Hitchcock thriller, but a Hitchcock thriller doing like 200 miles per hour. I was on edge as I was reading it.”
Depp plays an ordinary guy who gets off the train one noon at Los Angeles’ Union Station with his 6-year-old daughter (played by Courtney Chase of The Babysitter’s Club) and suddenly becomes an unwilling pawn in an assassination plot.
“Now he has 80 minutes to commit a murder he would never have contemplated, but which he has no way of avoiding if he wants to save his daughter’s life,” director-producer John Badham explains.
The Paramount Pictures release, which also stars Christopher Walken, Charles Dutton, Peter Strauss and Marsha Mason, is a marked change of pace for Depp, who has always chosen quirky, offbeat projects and specialized in playing eccentric, way-off-the-norm characters.
“Yeah, Gene’s a real straight-laced guy,” the actor says of his role. “He’s the kind of guy that you’d see on the weekends mowing his lawn. Probably one of the challenges for me was to play a guy that was so straight . . . I’ve been sort of the oddball in the last few years.”
So does the star have any interest in becoming the next action hero?
“No,” says Depp decisively. “I never saw Nick of Time that way at all. I mean, I really liked the story and I really liked Badham and his ideas for the thing, breaking the fourth wall and dealing with the time element. But I never really saw this as an action movie. I always saw it as just a thriller, and I’m a big fan of all those old Hitchcock thrillers. Vertigo was amazing.”
To ratchet up the suspense factor even more, Badham decided to shoot the film in real time—meaning, the director says, “That the events of the story, from the moment that Johnny’s character arrives at the station until the climax, take approximately 90 minutes to unfold, which is also the length of the film.”
Ask Depp about the aspects of shooting Nick of Time in real time and he says, “That was another big challenge on this project. The clock starts ticking at 12 noon and by 1:30 it’s all over. But we shot that hour and a half over a span of two-and-a-half months, so the challenge was the emotional and psychological continuity.”
Despite insisting that he has no interest in becoming an action hero, Depp has obviously opted for a more dynamic persona with this thriller—he even handles a gun, and there’s no doubt that one of the actor’s big hopes right now is that audiences everywhere will embrace his new screen image.
But perhaps predictably, Depp, who has made a career out of playing eccentric characters in such films as Edward Scissorhands, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Benny & Joon, Ed Wood and the recent Don Juan DeMarco, seems to have no regrets about his unusual past career choices. “I don’t think of any of those characters as being weird or eccentric,” he states.
“Take Ed Wood, for instance. I saw his dressing up in women’s clothing as just his way of unwinding. It wasn’t any different than some guy kicking back a few beers at the end of the day.”