ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before Pirates, you’d never reprised a character in a sequel. You got swallowed up by the bed in A Nightmare on Elm Street, so —
JOHNNY DEPP: Yeah, that ruled me out of any of those sequels. [Laughs] The only other sequel I’d ever thought about was Edward Scissorhands. There may have been no need to revisit that story, but back then I just wanted to play him again. It’s the same thing with Captain Jack, ultimately. I just wanted to play him again.
Did the bashing a lot of critics gave the last Pirates movie surprise you?
God, no. After the first one was a success, I was sure that the critics were going to have to snap around and start taking potshots. It’s in the rule book: You must take a dump on the second film. And with this one, they’re probably going to do the same thing and maybe even go below the belt. Which is cool. Why not? There are worse things in life.
Of all the licensed merchandise that has spun off from the Pirates movies, has there been anything so far that seemed so surreal, you just said ”Hold on a second”?
There were only a couple of things that I thought, Now we’re stepping over the line. I drew the line at hygiene products. It just seemed wrong. Like Captain Jack toothpaste, for example. How can a guy with gold teeth sell toothpaste? It’s like a bald man selling shampoo. And cold cuts would be weird: Captain Jack hot dogs, bologna — things like that.
Early in your career, you resisted the idea of being on lunch boxes and thermoses. Do you ever wonder what your 21 Jump Street-era self would think if he saw you on a box of Pop-Tarts?
The Jump Street guy — that was 20 years ago, and I didn’t have a lot of the perspective or experience or distance or sense of humor that I do now. Being able to embrace the absurdity of it, as opposed to fighting tooth and nail for somebody to represent you with some degree of integrity or whatever — I mean, that’s a ludicrous notion. You can only do your work, and your work represents whatever you want it to represent. I’ve arrived at a certain place where I just go: You know what? I don’t care. It’s freeing.
You were instrumental in persuading Keith Richards to make a cameo in At World’s End. What was it like to work with Jack Sparrow’s spiritual godfather?
The anticipation was mad. Everybody was like, ”Is he going to do it? Is he going to do it?” And then whammo, he arrived at 8 o’clock in the morning, totally prepped and ready to go. Obviously, Keith Richards — the guy invented charisma. But what I didn’t expect was he was going to be such a great actor. I started calling him ”Two-Take Richards.” It was like this gunslinger who arrived in the town, charmed all the women and impressed all the men, and then split.
The success of these movies has obviously boosted your clout in Hollywood. Is that something you’ve felt or does it seem very abstract?
The idea of status or where one stands in the competitive marketplace — that kind of thing is really foreign to me. It’s one of those arenas of ignorance I really prefer to stay in. I’ve had people say some of the strangest things I’ve ever heard in my life: ”Do you know how much you’ve made?” ”This is where you are in the power…” It just doesn’t make sense to me. I just feel glad that I still get jobs to where I don’t have to sell out or sell my soul. [Pauses] Although maybe I sold my soul already. I don’t know, it’s hard to tell.
After several years of playing Captain Jack, is it a relief to finally be taking on a new role in [the Tim Burton-directed musical] Sweeney Todd?
I wouldn’t say it’s a relief necessarily, although having the safety cushion of another character was nice because it saved me some degree of depression saying goodbye to Captain Jack. But Sweeney Todd is a great challenge. I did a musical, Cry-Baby, back in 1989, but I didn’t sing. It wasn’t my voice. So here I’m challenged with these amazing melodies of Stephen Sondheim. That was kind of a bugger to deal with. But I think we got there. [Laughs] At least I haven’t been fired yet.