Today Johnny Depp turns 50, a number which sometimes marks a death knell for the careers of leading men in Hollywood. Many actors shift into supporting roles once they’re around that age; think Russell Crowe in Les Misérables and Man of Steel, Sean Penn in Gangster Squad, Ralph Fiennes in Skyfall, James Spader in Lincoln, Edward Norton in The Bourne Legacy. This does not mean that they are no longer leading men, but the shine of those stars has dimmed somewhat to make way for other guys like Jeremy Renner and Ryan Gosling. (Admittedly, Renner is only two years younger than Norton and both men are still in their early forties, but Renner’s the “hot commodity” now.)
How, then, has Johnny Depp’s career endured? He is a leading man and yet he is also a character actor, agreeing to roles (and amounts of makeup) which no one else could possibly take on. Can you imagine anyone else as Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker? Edward Scissorhands? Don Juan DeMarco? Raoul Duke? Jack Sparrow? Then there are the other characters from his collaborations with Tim Burton: Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Ichabod Crane, Willy Wonka, Sweeney Todd, the Mad Hatter, Barnabas Collins… all Burton-Depp creations or recreations. In each case, Depp’s name was at the top of the marquee and helped sell the film.
Now we come to The Lone Ranger, which will be in theaters soon. Who plays the protagonist? It’s Armie Hammer, not Johnny Depp. Depp plays the sidekick, Tonto. If you look at the cast list, however, it’s Depp who receives top billing. Even Helena Bonham Carter is billed higher than Hammer. Depp is not the main character – perhaps a sign that he could eventually move into supporting roles – but the power of his name is still what’s bankrolling the movie.
To answer the question of how Johnny Depp’s career has endured, think of where he started in the 1980s: as undercover police officer Tom Hanson in “21 Jump Street.” Did anyone expect this guy to be one of the most dynamic actors of the last half-century? Probably not, but he defied expectations. It’s weird to say that Johnny Depp is “middle-aged” since that description sounds so ageist and discriminatory in the context of Hollywood ideals, but he has stayed relevant. He does what he wants to do and that seems to appeal to the public. This summer’s box office might not have a behemoth (both financially and artistically) like The Dark Knight Rises, but The Lone Ranger will be worth looking into for the always-entertaining presence of Johnny Depp.
And now here’s a photo of him with a dog.