Saturday, December 20, 2008

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. 1998.

Who can deny the acting prowess of John Christopher Depp II?

The original eighties fans will know him forever as the poster boy who made panties drop in 21 Jump Street. All the fans who came after will know him as that guy who likes to take on weird roles. And when I say weird, I mean weird.

His weirdest role to date would probably be that infamous pirate "Captain" Jack Sparrow, immortalized by Depp with the pirate accent and the drunk swagger. But Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas came much, much earlier, and if you want to see an offbeat, eccentric Johnny Depp, it's Raoul Duke, not Jack Sparrow, that you should watch.

Here Depp plays the sportswriter Raoul Duke, who is actually notorious writer Hunter S. Thompson's alter-ego. Now I personally know nothing of Johnny Depp's drug use, but as a musician, I'm pretty sure he's done pot a couple of times. But in this movie, Duke is actually someone who ingests drugs in huge quantities, and the effects of each and every drug he consumes, spanning the whole gamut of the uppers-downers spectrum, is portrayed accurately by Depp. The opening scene itself is like an anti-drug video clip showing the harmful effects of LSD, and yet the thing is, it's all acting. It's all brilliant acting.

One doesn't have to be a method actor to prepare for a role. Every actor has their own style. What Depp did for this role was to visit the real Hunter S. Thompson, and ended up living in Hunter's basement for four months. This was where Depp fleshed out the role, paying attention to Hunter's mannerisms and habits. He also went through the original manuscript of Fear and Loathing, as well as the notebooks Hunter kept during the original trip. He even traded cars with Hunter, shaved his head, and changed his wardrobe to match Hunter's.

Now, Hunter S. Thompson is a huge man, and one of the first actors considered to play him was Jack Nicholson, who was more or less the same size as the real Hunter S. Thompson. But due to some studio mishaps, the project never got off the ground. When Hunter first met Johnny Depp, his first thought was that, "This actor couldn't possibly play me. He's too small." But once Depp got inside his head and dissected his psyche, transforming it into his very own, Hunter became convinced that nobody else could play him the way Johnny Depp did. And for Depp's performance alone, this film is worth watching.

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