INT: Johnny Depp!
In PUBLIC ENEMIES, Johnny Depp plays John Dillinger. A bank robber and a folk hero, Dillinger embarked on a fourteen month crime spree and became a media darling in the process.
We got a chance to talk with Mr. Depp (the Patron Saint of JoBlo) recently to talk a little bit about the movie, his quirky characters and just plain drool on his feet. I'd say that was just me, but I distinctly heard a number of straight men commenting on how hot he is.
You did an incredible amount of research on John Dillinger, but we only see the last fourteen months of his life. What do you think it was about him that gave him his almost chivalrous side?
Gave him his chivalrous side...I don't know. I think he was just not unlike any other sort of Southern gentleman. The fact that he made sort of a relatively grave error in his youth in a state of drunken ignorance, which I know I remember a few of those (laughs) and they sent him to prison for ten years. They really clapped a ball and chain on him for that. So coming out of prison from about 1923 to around 33...suddenly the world was technicolored. Women were wearing tight clothes and skirts. It was a whole new world. So I think that Southern gentleman in there...who decided that this day and every day is mine.
We've talked about your ability to play quirky characters sometimes. Do you consider Dillinger one of your "normal" characters, or a quirky one?
I think they're all normal. I mean to me. I think they're all normal...I think that most people are insane. I mean, we're all pretty weird when you get right down to it. Yeah, I would say he is one of the more normal guys. Normal in the sense that he was much more than an Indiana farm boy who stepped in a pile of something unpleasant. And then being in prison, or "criminal school" for ten years... that was his college education. And he became very good at what he learned. The fact that this guy became a sort of mythic Robin Hood folk hero... I mean, he really took the ball and ran with it. That's pretty normal to me. Most people run with it when they get the ball.
There have been several Dillingers on film. In building the character, did you look at guys like Warren Oates so that you maybe wouldn't be touching on things that they did? Or did you just not want any part of that in your head space?
I mean, there's no way to not remember Warren Oates as John Dillinger. I remember seeing that as a kid and just loving it. But I did stay away from it when we were going to start this film because I didn't want to accidentally steal anything from the guy. He was so good. The one thing that stayed in my mind about the Warren Oates version - and, forgive me, I forget who directed it...
John Milius, exactly. I felt that at the time he did it there was a certain amount of colors available on that palette that they put on the canvas. I feel like now, with the stuff that's come out... with the ability to have slightly more information with regards to Dillinger's personal life, there were a few more colors available. So that was one of the challenges for me.
How do you think this character is going to resonate now...Dillinger is a hero to a lot of people still. You kind of want to cheer. And his ability to work with the media so well... he really created himself as a folk hero, too. He played with it, and was smart about it. I think it's going to resonate even more now. Do you agree?
I certainly hope so.
Yeah? Do you hope people start robbing banks soon? (laughter)
I don't know if I'd go that far, but... People are different, you know. Unfortunately, people are different than they were back then. Back in 1933, there was some degree of innocence left. And today, on some level, we've really hit the digital wall. And a kind of a world where almost everything is available if you can make your way to it. I think people are radically different than John Dillinger, and I don't know if you could have a similar type of folk hero today. Maybe Subcomandante Marcos down in Chiapas, who's trying to protect the indians in Mexico; he might be the closest thing we can have. In terms of innocence and purity... because...the banks were clearly the enemy. They foreclosed and were taking peoples' lives away from them. Not that it's all that different now. Here we are teetering on this similar kind of recession/depression, and...God, the banks are still the enemy, you're right! (laughs) Well, I don't know... if somebody starts robbing banks... as long as nobody gets hurt, why not? (laughter) I may start robbing 7-Elevens.
There's a scene in the movie where Dillinger walks through the office of the FBI. Is that fact based...?
No, he actually did walk through what was then called the Dillinger Squad. He pulled his car up out front with Polly Hamilton, walked into the Dillinger Squad all by himself, and wandered through all these cops. And his photo was everywhere. That's all true. He had an enormous amount of, for lack of a better word, chutzpah. He had an incredible confidence that truly... I mean, one of the things I admire about him is that sort of... to have gotten so far and to have become that kind of existentialist hero. Every day was his last. He had made peace with that. Yesterday doesn't exist, he just kept moving forward... there is something admirable about that.
Did he feel like he was untouchable? That no one could get to him?
I think he felt the clock was ticking. I think maybe when you're on that adrenaline high, you may feel that sort of thing, that "No one can get me." But I don't think he was dumb, you know? And to feel like you're completely untouchable there's a certain amount of ignorance in that. I think he just felt like "I got that one, let's move on to the next. And what happens now?"
Terry Gilliam and Michael Mann seem like two sides of the same coin. They're guys who are very detail oriented and create worlds, but they seem like they do it in very different ways. Could you compare Mann and Gilliam?
There's almost no way to compare the two. The only thing you can say - in terms of Terry and Michael and their similarities - is their drive or passion, an intense scratching out the truth of the moment, or really seeing as much as they can get out of a moment. But they're very, very different. Terry giggles a lot. (laughter)
They show MANHATTAN MELODRAMA at the end of the film. And as you're watching it, as you're watching Clark Gable and William Powell in the scene, it does sort of connect to the idea that he's something of a star. But what's interesting to me is that Dillinger is, like, the first rock star, and these are movie stars. With Bonnie and Clyde, it's the same thing. These outlaws who are living on the edge during the Depression. Would you agree with that?
Oh, yeah. At that time, Dillinger and those people - not all of them, but a good majority - were the common man standing up against the establishment. "I've had it up to here, so now I'm going to get some. And I'm going to get some at whatever cost." You know, there are comparisons of Dillinger as the Robin Hood of that time, and there is some truth to it. When farmers were in the bank with their life savings, he did actually hand it back to them and say, "I don't want your money. I came for the bank's money. The bank's money is my money, and I'm taking it." That's not to say he was a saint, but he was a kind of man's man at that time. He stood up against... certainly the government and J. Edgar Hoover. At best, they were slimy. Who were the criminals really?