Is Johnny Depp the right actor to play Mexican hero Pancho Villa?
Variety reported yesterday that Johnny Depp, one of our recently anointed Entertainers of the Decade, is in negotiations to star in Seven Friends of Pancho Villa and the Woman With Six Fingers, a Spanish-language biopic of the Mexican revolutionary.
Depp is a famous chameleon, able to slip in and out of distinct roles so well that I sometimes have difficulty realizing it’s him (call it a lack of Depp perception – ha!), but does he have it in him to play another nationality in another language? Especially a character as iconic as Villa? I have faith in the actor, and I think he might make a rather neat-o bandito, but I’m also haunted by images of a man-tanned Charlton Heston playing a Mexican official no more Mexican than Moses in Orson Welles’ otherwise-masterpiece Touch of Evil.
Depp clearly possesses more versatility than Heston’s jamón-ing it up, and I suspect his performance might end up more comparable to Marlon Brando’s role as an equally famous South of the Border revolutionary in Viva Zapata! Plus, Depp has already tried playing an iconic Hispanic character whose name rhymes with “Ancho” in Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated Don Quixote movie, for what that’s worth. We should also keep in mind that Seven Friends is set to be directed by Emir Kusturica, the quirky two-time Palme d’Or-winning Serbian filmmaker who previously worked with Depp on 1993’s Arizona Dream. Kusturica’s films tend to dabble heavily in magical realism, so an American-accented Pancho Villa of questionable ethnicity might end up being the least strange thing about the film. Personally, I’m psyched to see the two of them back together after Dream, which was as delightfully weird throughout as the brief but crabtacularly surreal sequences in the third Pirates.
Depp has stated that he is slightly Cherokee, which may be what gives him that vague swarthiness that Hollywood producers love to take as license to cast actors as any ethnicity imaginable. It might also give him some justification for his possible turn as Tonto in Jerry Bruckheimer’s The Lone Ranger adaptation, or help to explain The Brave, although I’m not sure anything can really explain that movie.
What do you think? Is Depp good enough as an actor to play a convincing Eleanor Roosevelt, let alone Pancho Villa, or is there a better choice for the role? Should actors try to avoid playing other ethnicities and nationalities, or is that why they call it “acting”?
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