My break up with Johnny Depp: Victoria Russell on how the star of Cry Baby, Edward Scissorhands and What’s Eating Gilberts Grape? left her broken hearted.
When I was seven years old, I fell in love for the first time. Now to many of you that may seem quite young but to me it was entirely rational. I can’t remember why, but at some point in 1995 or 1996, my mum recorded John Waters’ Cry Baby (1990) off of the TV, but she only managed to record about 40 minutes of it. I can’t remember how I found it but when I saw Johnny Depp singing ‘King Cry Baby’ in that black and white 1950s suit for the first time, I swooned. I fell completely head over heels in love. I watched that video on repeat (just those 40 minutes). I took photographs of the TV, demonstrating my love for this man. I begged my mum to buy me a Cry Baby poster – she did and I kissed it religiously every single night for about three years.
This is what you call true love, am I right? Lucky for me, around this time, Channel Four aired a Johnny Depp season devoting an entire month of films to the actor. It was during this period that I recorded Arizona Dream (1993), Benny and Joon (1993), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), Ed Wood (1994), Dead Man (1995) and Nick of Time (1995) onto individual videos so I could study this gorgeous, captivating and talented man thoroughly. I was fortunate enough to have grown up watching Edward Scissorhands (1990) and, therefore, was already familiar with the wonder that is the first Depp-Burton collaboration (I didn’t even realise at the time that Edward was portrayed by Johnny as, truth be told, he scared me a little).
OK, so here I am, in the prime of my cinematic youth and am solely dedicated to this one man, having 100% convinced myself that he is the greatest actor on the planet. Now, this obsession began to dwindle around the early 2000s and it is only as I have grown older that I understand why: Johnny betrayed me. I thought that it was because I had found a new love in River Phoenix as adolescence came my way, but I now know that this was not the case: he betrayed me and all of the others out there who stood by him since Cry Baby. Maybe it’s best if I start from the beginning?
Post-21 Jump Street fame, as we all know, Johnny was sick and tired of being pinned as the “heartthrob” or “teen idol” so did what any decent rebel would do and starred in a John Waters film. The man was known for his transgressive, cult and often “filthy” films and was the perfect way to diminish these often degrading labels. As well as this, and his starring role as Edward Scissorhands, the man was perceived as one of the most up-and-coming actors: taken seriously as opposed to being just a pretty face.
Following his performances in Arizona Dream (1993), Benny and Joon (1993) and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), the actor proved his versatility and ability to accept a challenge. As cinema moved into the mid-to-late-1990s, I could see that Johnny was starting to take on more heightened roles – in films such as Donnie Brasco (1997) and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) – but I felt that he was starting to lose his edge when he reteamed with Burton once again for Sleepy Hollow (1999). This would make it a hat trick and I for one could see a pattern forming that I knew I was starting not to like – the wigs, the make-up, the ‘we’ve-seen-this-before’ routine…
Swiftly moving on, as Charles Dickens once said, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”- I feel that this is the case when it comes to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). When Jack Sparrow came along everybody loved it – which is fine except that just because someone is good at something doesn’t mean that they should abuse it to death. It was during this time that I saw a change in Johnny. As the years went on, his roles were fluctuating – good with roles in Blow (2001) and Chocolat (2000) and bad in From Hell (2001) and The Man Who Cried (2001) – and it seemed that his safety net was always Burton (and Helena Bonham Carter, of course). But now comes his latest role as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass.
Everybody keeps saying that this is Johnny’s “comeback” performance, proving to everyone that his roles have changed a lot over the years – having gone from the risk-taker to the monotonous face full of make-up and wigs. Now, it’s up to viewers to judge whether this is his “comeback” role or not, but if you ask me it’s too similar to Public Enemies to be interesting enough. Having said that, it is his life and he may choose the roles he wishes, but it’s not necessarily always easy to on the rest of us.
Often I look back on his old films roles of the 1990s and reminisce about the love that we once had. That may seem unhealthy to some, but I feel it is necessary. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Johnny at a press conference for Mortdecai – I know, but let’s not talk about that one – and I know that he is still a well-respected, generous and very kind man, but we’ve grown apart and over the years and I have now found a sense of closure. He will always be a rebel at heart to me and, because of that, I am finding it very hard to forgive.
By Victoria Russell
Black Mass is released in cinemas now