There are dozens of biographies on Johnny Depp and a surprising amount of them use the word “rebel” in the title. There’s the Passionate Rebel, the Modern Rebel and even Hollywood’s Best-Loved Rebel.
There can be no argument that Depp is a fearless actor, unafraid to tackle tough, challenging roles, but it’s hard to accept the rebel title these days. For 20 years, he wildly threw darts at the wall, making exciting movies with interesting directors.
With Tim Burton, he created the off-kilter Eds — Wood and Scissorhands. With John Waters, he produced Wade Walker, the greaser love interest in Cry-baby. And, with Lasse Hallström, he came up with Gilbert Grape, caregiver to his brother and morbidly obese mother.
Along the way, he was also Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the world’s most successful drug dealer in Blow, and the depraved poet at the dark heart of The Libertine.
Few actors could have pulled off Ed Wood and no one does debauched like Johnny, but the carefully cultivated hip outsider image was never truly accurate. Shrouded in a cloud of Gauloise smoke, he was one of Hollywood’s too-cool-for-school kids, emitting an outsider’s aura, while astutely playing the Hollywood game.
But any remaining traces of Depp’s bohemian status were wiped away with Captain Jack Sparrow’s colourful scarves in the tetralogy of Pirates of the Caribbean movies. They made him a superstar, and wealthy enough to buy Bahamian islands, but also ushered in the damaging wig and makeup era of his career.
The pale makeup of Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland’s crazy oversized hat, and the raven headdress of The Lone Ranger overshadowed Depp’s performances, obscuring his character work with props and flash.
This weekend, he hides behind a moustache in the comedy Mortdecai.
As the title character, he’s pompous, bumbling — imagine Inspector Clouseau with an English accent and an attitude — and on a worldwide hunt for a painting said to contain the code to a lost bank account.
Will people be attracted to Mortdecai? Hard to know. Depp’s showy performances have, by-and-large, garnered big box office but profitability, while important to the suits who green light projects like this, is exactly what’s killing Depp’s credibility as a serious actor.
He’s not in Nicolas Cage territory yet — there’s an actor whose Western Kabuki style of acting redefines idiosyncratic — but with Pirates of the Caribbean 5 coming soon, perhaps it’s time to put Depp’s rebel actor image or reliance on props to bed.
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are back at it, collaborating on their eighth film, resurrecting “Dark Shadows,” the long dead gothic soap opera.
The story of a lovesick vampire who awakens in 1972 to find a much different world than the one he left behind seems like perfect fodder for the duo. With Burton’s kitschy-Halloweeny style and Depp’s expertise at playing troubled outsiders, the question remains, Will this have more of the heart of “Ed Wood” (we’d like that!) and less the forced quirk of “Alice in Wonderland” or the other way around?
Depp is Barnabas Collins, (played on the original show by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid who passed away last month at the age of 87), an eighteenth century man cursed by the succubus Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) after he broke her heart. Turned into a vampire and buried alive for two centuries, he is exhumed in 1972 and returns to his family home, Collins Manor. Things have changed. His once grand home is in disrepair, the family fishing business is in tatters and he thinks the lava lamp is a “pulsating blood urn.”
His descendants, matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloë Moretz), Elizabeth’s brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and his son David (Gulliver McGrath), make a deal with him. In exchange for business help they’ll make him head of the house once again. Trouble is, the rival fishing company is run by the still jealous Angelique who still has feelings for Barnabas.
“Dark Shadows” unfolds at a funereal pace. A peppy prologue sets up the story, but once the main credits roll and Burton is saddled with the task of introducing the movies many characters and giving them all something to do, the pace crawls to a stop.
The movie has a couple of good ghostly apparitions, is wonderfully designed, the sets are beautiful, the look is muted—the vivid colors of “Edward Scissorhands” and “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” are gone, replaced by a monochrome palate—and the cast is certainly fetching, but while al that may entertain the eye the general lack of energy does little to entertain the rest of the senses.
Depp does what he can to keep things moving. With a ghostly pallor that recalls Edward Scissorhands’s white complexion he is a vampire-out-of-water living among humans in a time he doesn’t understand. His first tentative steps in “the future” are well played and understated. His culture shock at seeing a car or a MacDonald’s sign is fun, and while Depp is skillful, it’s a one-joke premise that wears out its welcome.
More fun is Eva Green’s turn as Angelique. She’s strange and sexy, which is exactly the right tone for this movie. Her love scene with Barnabas—Burton’s first ever!—has the energy sadly missing from the rest of the film.
“Dark Shadows” could have been a fun companion piece to “True Blood” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Too bad the storytelling is as musty as the dilapidated old Collins Manor.
This weekend Tim Burton and Johnny Depp bring the long dead gothic soap opera Dark Shadows to back to life.
The 1960s era melodrama—which TV Guide included on their Top Cult Shows Ever list—hinged on the supernatural comings and goings at the Collins family’s Maine estate.
Werewolves, zombies and witches all appeared, but it was Barnabas Collins, a lovesick vampire troubled by his immortal existence—although it wasn’t until episode 410 that they actually used the “v” word. Until then they’d say, “He walks at night but he ain’t alive.”—who brought in upwards of 20 million afternoon viewers during the show’s heyday.
Collins, played by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid (who passed away last month at age 87), was the show’s biggest star and the reason Quentin Tarantino and Madonna never missed an episode.
Depp, who resurrects the character in the movie, was also a big fan.
“Jonathan Frid was the reason I used to run home from school to watch Dark Shadows,” he said, adding that as a child, he was so obsessed with Barnabas Collins that he wanted to be him.
The fame that came along with playing the lusty vampire was unexpected. When Frid won the role he was planning a move to San Diego to teach acting and only accepted the part as a three-week gig to make money for the move.
“Ever since Frid joined Dark Shadows in April 1967, the program’s ratings have zoomed,” wrote the Chicago Tribune, “and Frid’s popularity has soared so rapidly that not even television’s imagemakers, let alone the actor himself, can explain it.”
The character struck a chord with audiences—Frid suggested the show became successful because it offered an escape from the reality of the Vietnam war—but in his first weeks wearing Barnabas’s cape he had no idea of his popularity. When a producer handed him a piece of paper he only reluctantly accepted it, thinking it was a pink slip. It wasn’t. It was a piece of fan mail.
Frid also played the character on the big screen in House of Dark Shadows. Many other TV cast members also reprised their roles but be warned, the movie is much bloodier than the soap.
After Dark Shadows left the air in 1971 Frid worked primarily on stage, but his final performance, as a guest at a Collin’s Manor gala, is featured in Tim Burton’s movie.