31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival: Leonard Maltin Modern Master – Johnny Depp

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Everyone was waiting.  Leonard Maltin was waiting, Roger Durling was waiting, Scott Cooper was waiting, the press was waiting, and the giant mob of screaming fans were waiting.  Johnny Depp was running late, and nobody cared.  Depp arrived thirty minutes late.  He was set to receive the Leonard Maltin Modern Master Award from BLACK MASS director, Scott Cooper as well as participating in a much anticipated Q&A with Leonard Maltin.

He arrived in a black Cadillac SUV and once he exited he instantly disobeyed his handlers and went directly to the vast mob of his fans.  He took his time signing autographs, taking photographs, and shaking each hand he could.  Depp then moved to the red carpet, timidly keeping away from the press yet posing for a gracious amount of time for photos against the sleek SBIFF backdrop.  He posed with Scott Cooper and then he quickly was moved to the end of the press line, but I caught his attention:

“Mr. Depp, one quick question: DONNIE BRASCO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, and SWEENEY TODD.  Which is your favorite role?”

He put his hand up to his mouth, held his chin, stared right at me through his blue Michael Mann tinted glasses and said,

“I don’t know.  That’s difficult, man.”

Depp was quickly moved into the Arlington Theatre and the floodgates opened and everyone rushed in.  Once the gorgeous Arlington Theatre settled down, the dapper Roger Durling took the stage and he spoke graciously, thanking everyone for being there and thanked Johnny Depp for coming.

Maltin then took the stage and he introduced Depp and an excellently edited highlight reel played.  Watching a brief highlight of Depp’s career doesn’t do it justice, yet you can’t help feeling overwhelmed by his truly epic career.

Depp walked out, and the theatre erupted with applause and screaming.  Depp shyly smiled.  To this day, Johnny Depp is the epitome of cool. He was wearing socks with hemp leaf patterns and for a about the first hour and a half of the Q&A, he meticulously hand rolled a perfect cigarillo.  He then lit it, and took the rest of the Q&A slowly smoking it.  In California, and pretty much anywhere else, it is illegal to smoke in a public venue, but who is going to tell Johnny Depp to stop smoking?

Depp is a very sweet guy, he’s incredibly humbled.  Whenever Maltin would bring up a film, whether it was one of Depp’s blockbusters or a seminal under card performance, the audience would clap and Depp would smile and thank the audience.

The Q&A with Leonard Maltin was almost three hours long and it was wonderful.  I was able to ask Leonard Maltin two quick question on the red carpet, I asked him to pick between DONNIE BRASCO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO and SWEENEY TODD.  Maltin paused for a moment and said DONNIE BRASCO.  I then asked him what his favorite underrated performance of Depp’s was and he said, without hesitation, DON JUAN DEMARCO.

It took about an hour for Depp to warm up and get comfortable. He was incredibly candid about his career.  He spoke frankly about how he’s a musician, who happened to become an actor to pay the rent.  He spoke in depth about what a horror he was, and sometimes still is, on film sets.  Maltin asked him about his relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE.  Johnny Depp just started laughing.

“You know, I respect Leo a lot.  He did so much work and research and preparation for that role,” and a sly smile arose on his face, “and I tortured him.”

The audience started laughing, and Depp stopped, and looked at the audience,

“No, really, I did.  He liked video games.  No Leo, I won’t give you a drag of my cigarette while you hide from your Mom.”

Depp briefly spoke about his work with John Waters, saying how Waters was the only filmmaker he knew who made a film based on title.  He said Waters came up with the idea of PECKER, solely for the fact that when it would be advertised it would be: John Waters’ PECKER Coming Soon.

When Depp was asked about his casting in EDWARD SCISSOR HANDS and his long and awesome collaboration with Tim Burton, Depp started laughing.  He spoke about how he didn’t want to even meet with Burton, he knew he wouldn’t get the part, but his agent Tiffany talked him into it.  Depp recalled walking into a diner to meet Burton.  He had no idea what he looked like.  He scanned the diner and saw a guy “whose hair looked like a hardware store exploded, and I knew I had to talk to him.  Even if he wasn’t Tim, I still had to talk to him.”  The man with the exploded hair was Tim Burton, and that was the beginning of one of the greatest collaborations in cinema history.

Leonard Maltin beamed as he showed a clip of DON JUAN DEMARCO and then asked him about that film, and working with Marlon Brando.  Depp settled back in his chair and smiled, and spoke about his abundant love and admiration for Brando.  He said he was a father, mentor, brother, essentially a gigantic blanket that meant the world to Depp.  When Maltin asked Depp to describe what he learned from Brando, he paused looked down, and then back up at Maltin and said: justice.

Maltin asked Depp about the only film he directed, THE BRAVE that premiered at Cannes in 1997 and featured Marlon Brando in a prominent role.  Maltin asked when we could see it.  Depp asked the audience who wanted to buy it.  He then went on to speak about the reason he shelved the film was because he didn’t want to play the distribution game, and he wanted to retain control over it.

In 2004, when Brando died, Depp was devastated and he was receiving offers about releasing THE BRAVE.  He was told it was a prime time to release the film, it was an unseen Brando performance, and now was the time to release it.  That’s the moment when Depp decided to put the film under lock and key.  He was returning justice back to Marlon Brando.  Maltin then said that releasing it now wouldn’t be an exploiting Brando’s death.  Depp then said he would show THE BRAVE at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival next year, and shook Maltin’s hand on it.

So in theory, next year, Johnny Depp will be premiering his unicorn of a film, THE BRAVE, at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival.  That remains to be seen, but seeing Depp speak, in depth, for three hours about his remarkable career was amazing.  After the Q&A was over, Depp went back outside to all his screaming fans and took more photographs and signed as many autographs as he could.  Johnny Depp is not only one of cinema’s best actors, but he’s truly a class act.
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