Johnny Depp joked that he had “killed his dogs and ate them” after they were ordered to be removed from Australia earlier this year.
He then suggested that he was acting “under direct orders from some kind of sweaty big-gutted man from Australia” – undoubtedly a reference to Barnaby Joyce, Australia’s minister for agriculture, who had said that Depp’s two Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, should “bugger off back to the United States”.
Depp was speaking to journalists at the press conference for his new film Black Mass, the widely praised gangster movie that is receiving its world premiere at the Venice film festival. Depp stars as Boston crime figure James “Whitey” Bulger, who became an informant for the FBI in an attempt to dislodge his mafia rivals in the city, and who was, as a result, given free rein to continue committing serious crimes, including drug dealing and murder, for two decades.
Depp was the centre of attention at Venice, an undeniably glamorous figure for whom Black Mass represents something of a return to form after a series of less-than-inspiring roles, including Mortdecai, Transcendence and The Lone Ranger. On being asked about his capacity to play a violent and sadistic character such as Bulger, Depp said, not entirely seriously: “I found the evil in myself a long time ago. I accepted it; we are old friends.” However, he did talk a little more straightforwardly about the role: “With a character like James Bulger, you have to approach him as a human. No one wakes up in the morning and says, as they are brushing their teeth, I am going to do something evil today. He was a businessman - in his business, the violence was just part of his job, let’s say. It was also the language of the people he associated with and opposed. They all understood the same language.”
Depp revealed that he had tried to fix up a meeting with Bulger before filming got under way, but the request was “respectfully declined” – because, said Depp, “I don’t believe he was a great fan of the book [the film is based on].” Instead, Bulger’s lawyer visited the set twice, and apparently praised the accuracy of Depp’s portrayal. Famed for his physical transformations, Depp said he used handpainted, pale-blue contact lenses to reproduce Bulger’s notorious stare.
On the subject of transformation, Depp reeled off a list of his key acting inspirations, who include John Barrymore, Lon Chaney Sr, Marlon Brando, Timothy Carey and John Garfield. He said: “I always wanted to be a character actor rather than the poster boy that they tried to make me 100 years ago. An actor has a degree of responsibility to change for the audience, to give them something new each time, to surprise and not bore them. It’s important to test yourself each time, to take the risk you might fall flat on your face and look a complete ass.”
Black Mass is released on 18 September in the US, 17 September in Australia and 27 November in the UK.
This article was written by Andrew Pulver, for theguardian.com on Friday 4th September 2015 16.23 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010