An American movie star with few equals, Johnny Depp has been a regular in films since the 1980s. His first official role was in “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” which was released in 1984. He followed that up with several minor parts, including a memorable showing in the gritty Vietnam War film “Platoon.” He may not have had many lines, but “Platoon” was arguably his breakout performance. It paved the way for all of his later success and confirmed that Depp was a bona fide actor.
Johnny Depp’s first starring role was in the John Waters film “Cry-Baby.” Set in the 1950s, the film cast Depp as a bad boy who all the good girls wanted. The film had several entertaining musical numbers and the signature quirkiness of all the great John Waters films. It also cemented Depp’s status as a sex symbol, leaving audiences craving more. This film also demonstrated that Depp didn’t take himself too seriously-“Cry-Baby” was, after all, a goofy movie at heart.
The modest success of “Cry-Baby” almost put Johnny Depp into a rut of playing offbeat but devastatingly handsome characters. In films like “Benny & Joon” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” Depp showcased his ability to convincingly portray characters that exist at the margins of society. The outsider quality he developed in those early films has never worn off. Even in massive blockbuster franchises like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the enigmatic persona of Johnny Depp shines though.
In “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” Depp shared the screen with Leonardo DiCaprio, who received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. While DiCaprio’s performance was certainly worthy of praise, Depp’s understated passion has stood the test of time. Since its release, the movie has evolved into something of a cult classic. Some even argue that it is the highlight of Depp’s career. Most critics disagree, arguing that his creative partnership with director Tim Burton allowed Depp to express his full range of abilities.
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp first worked together in 1990 on the film “Edward Scissorhands.” The film can be described in one word: “weird.” But it is also sweet, emotionally affecting, honest and well made. Depp, Burton and their strange little fairy tale deserved of the considerable praise that was heaped upon them. And, as with most of his feature films, “Edward Scissorhands” gave Depp the opportunity to play a character who was a shade or two away from ordinary.
The collaboration between Depp and Burton has born profitable fruit time and again in the more than twenty years they’ve been working together. Their feature films include “Ed Wood,” a loving biography of the hapless film director, “Sleepy Hollow,” the great American ghost story, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” an imaginative remake of the Roald Dahl tale, and, most recently, “Alice in Wonderland.” Even to casual observers, there’s a clear pattern in the types of characters Depp enjoys playing and that Burton enjoys casting him in. Audiences have yet to grow tired of the formula. For viewers, there is something pleasing about seeing Depp play outlandish, human and approachable characters. He somehow breathes humanity and child-like wonder into the crazed personalities of Willy Wonka and The Mad Hatter.
On the other hand, Johnny Depp’s back catalog also reveals a darker side. He possesses the acting chops to be mean, conniving and unlikable. His roles in “The Libertine” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” reminded audiences that Johnny Depp isn’t always funny or good-looking. In hindsight, these edgier, darker roles seem to define Depp and show him at the height of his talents. Many critics claim that “Fear and Loathing” was the pinnacle of Depp’s long and successful career, even though it was released over ten years ago. For many viewers, his flawless depiction of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson was a marvel to behold. Still, despite the depraved characters and gloomy themes, the warmth of Johnny Depp still pervades the screen. It’s why audiences flock to his films-they relate to him.
Like all great actors, Johnny Depp makes his audience feel something. He has the power to create an emotional response, a talent that many of today’s glossy Hollywood actors simply can’t replicate. Film critics and historians have often remarked that Depp has a bygone quality, not just in his looks, but in the way he carries himself and the aura that surrounds him. He is like a modern-day Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart, taking on film roles that appeal to nearly every age group. There can be little doubt that Johnny Depp, a man of humble beginnings, has a legitimate claim to being the best actor working today. The diversity of his film successes over the course of more than twenty years serves as proof.