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What Happened to Johnny Depp?

01/15/2015 08:48 EST | Updated 03/17/2015 05:59 EDT
C Flanigan via Getty Images
SANTA MONICA, CA - JANUARY 10: Actor Johnny Depp attends The Art of Elysium 8th Annual Heaven Gala at Hangar 8 on January 10, 2015 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)

This is a post I never thought I'd write.

I grew up in the '80s and '90s, and there was no actor as consistently "cool" (to me at least) as Johnny Depp. He could do no wrong: he had sex appeal on- and off-screen, he could play the badass, he could be the sensitive guy convincingly, and he starred in action films, gangster films, romantic dramas, and even the zany character-driven movies he's known for now.

The difference between then and now is there used to be a harmony. For every "out-there" character he played, there were three or four other roles that counter-balanced it. It's not like the present day; when I picture Depp now, he's either wearing a brightly coloured hat, grown a moustache, or he's donned some ridiculous outfit and is traipsing across the screen. A lot of the time, it's all three, and that's not an exaggeration.

I'm not begrudging the guy, don't get me wrong. I get that he likes to play this sort of character -- he has the market cornered on eccentric lunatic roles -- and probably enjoys the boundarylessness of it. The crux of it is it makes me sad to watch an actor who once had it all descend into a one-note player. He doesn't get the same respect from people anymore, and I'm sure that the younger generation would describe him as "that guy who plays all the weird characters," not even realizing that Depp has had an amazing, award-worthy career.

Depp's IMDB page is hefty and varied, but as you reach the top of the list, the roles are so typecast it's depressing. At the bottom, we have "Edward Scissorhands," "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?," "Benny & Joon," "Donnie Brasco," and "Chocolat" -- all great films in their genre. "Edward Scissorhands" is the original character that showed how good Depp is at playing the ostracized, misunderstood, costumed (and weird) soul. It's also the first role Depp had under director Tim Burton, and we all know how omnipresent that relationship has been in Depp's career. Some even go so far as to call Burton his Yoko Ono, eventually leading him down the wrong path to career ruin. I never understood the Burton-Depp detractors until recently.

Depp's trajectory has really taken a dive over the past few years. At the top of that IMDB page, check out the roles coming soon/out now/in pre- or post-production: more Captain Jack Sparrow in the "Pirates Of The Caribbean" franchise (hat, moustache), a reappearance in the "Alice In Wonderland" sequel as The Mad Hatter (hat), a return as Guy Lapointe in Kevin Smith's Northern Lights Trilogy (hat, moustache), the mustachioed Mortdecai in "Mortdecai," and his recent turn as The Big Bad Wolf (hat, whiskers) in "Into The Woods." Each of these roles requires Depp to wear a s**t-ton of makeup, and basically become unrecognizable. Remember when people wanted to see his pretty face? At 51 years old, the man is still looking good, so I'm not sure why we're burying him under pounds of foundation and rainbow makeup.

While I'm loathe to compare very different actors, let's take a look at Brad Pitt. Born the same year as Depp and in the biz for a little bit longer, Pitt's career has never really taken a hit, despite several stinkers and questionable roles. Yes, Pitt has been more of a heartthrob, but he's also played some characters in movies that have required elaborate makeup and some extra eccentricity: "Interview With The Vampire," "Twelve Monkeys," and "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button" among them. Pitt has never stayed in the same spot for more than a hot minute. Like Depp, he has played a variety of roles, but he has never gotten mired on repeat. Pitt is still just as hot (and some may argue, even hotter) than he was in his 20s. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Depp.

The only culprit I can find here is the franchise film -- and for Depp, he happened to choose a franchise that involved him playing a caricature, which inevitably led him to play the part in multiple films. After "Pirates," there was "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" (where Depp appeared downright disturbing), then "Sweeney Todd," then "The Lone Ranger" ... then we know the rest. Any time Depp has tried to break out of this zany character rut, for example with "The Tourist" or the recent "Transcendence," it's edging dangerously close to train-wreck territory.

I keep hoping for a role where Depp is just your average guy -- no makeup, no costumes, no Chaka Khan wigs. I wish it weren't the case, but maybe Depp's only safe place now is behind the mask, the hat and the moustache.

Johnny Depp