Behind the movie mask, Johnny Depp is more than a Lone Ranger and glad to be still in the game
ONE of Hollywood's most beloved stars, Johnny Depp remains something of an enigma, hiding behind unforgettable characters like Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, the Mad Hatter and now Tonto, Native American sidekick to masked vigilante the Lone Ranger.
The real world is not a place he regularly inhabits, randomly popping up to jam at a rock concert while, on the day we meet, he's just flown in from his private island in the Bahamas.
In Los Angeles, he occupies a compound so large it spreads across a city block.
"Anonymity? I remember it, but it ain't there no more," he smiles.
Thanks to his lovability factor, Depp's lifestyle is deemed just mildly eccentric whereas anyone else would have been dubbed bonkers long ago.
"In Hollywood, I've always just done whatever I've done and still feel lucky to be in the game," muses the thrice-Oscar-nominated actor.
That luck may just be running out now that the abysmal reviews for The Lone Ranger are in.
Slammed by critics, the $250m-budget movie failed to even make it to the top of the US box office, and the Los Angeles Times now use it as a benchmark by which to compare other big-budget flops.
Unperturbed by bad reviews, he says: "There's always going to be naysayers, everybody has got an opinion, man.
"The great Christopher Hitchens said that everyone in the world has a book inside them, and that's exactly where it should stay. So people can critique and dissect but I know that I approached it in the right way."
It's impossible to review Depp's career without mentioning Tim Burton with whom he's collaborated eight times, beginning in 1990 with Edward Scissorhands. The work encompassing a range of genres: fantasy, horror, family, musical and animation.
While producing some of their best work together, the union has also prompted scores of websites condemning their ubiquitous partnership.
If Depp took Tim Burton as his movie bride, then Gore Verbinski has emerged as his mistress, their relationship producing Rango, three Pirates Of The Caribbean movies and now The Lone Ranger.
Having long claimed Cherokee and Creek Indian ancestry, Tonto is a role he claims he was born to play: "As far as my own heritage, there's no way to track it.
"If you have one-sixteenth of native blood, which a lot of people do, you can't really trace it, because you weren't part of the nation. Basically, it probably boils down to somewhere along the line, you were a product of rape," he argues. "I mean really. Actual rape. Not like Hollywood rape. That's different."
During a seven-month shoot on locations around Utah's Western majestic landmarks in Monument Valley and Moab, the crew was careful not to re-open old wounds: "The production was blessed by the Navajo and the Comanche. One day I got a call from this great Comanche woman, LaDonna Harris, who decided she wanted to adopt me into her family and into the Comanche nation, which will always be the greatest honour I have ever been given."
In returning The Lone Ranger to the screen – 80 years since the masked lawman debuted their adventures on radio – he says: "The Native American has been treated very poorly by Hollywood and portrayed as a savage. So I wanted to play Tonto not as the sidekick to the Lone Ranger, a go-fetch-a-soda-boy kind of thing, but as a warrior and as a man with great dignity."
In common with many of his previous screen creations, make-up and costume assist in his physical transformation: "I was in make-up a couple of hours every day, unless I decided to wear it home which was quite often, just to save time in the morning.
"Then I took a dead bird and put it on top of my head as my spirit guide.
"Everyone should try it, by the way. It really is something!"
Everyone's favourite Peter Pan, Depp turned 50 on June 9, marking that milestone with a quiet dinner out with daughter Lily-Rose (14) and son Jack (11) from his former relationship with French singer Vanessa Paradis.
"I think my midlife crisis happened at 19 or 20 years old.
"But I don't think we have a long enough piece of paper to name the things I inflicted upon myself during my midlife crisis, but I will say it was called self-medicating," the actor says, noting that he has remained sober for 18 months in order to best deal with the emotional fall-out from the end of his 14-year union with Paradis.
The trick to defying age, he claims, is simple: "If you keep your curiosity in life, and stay fascinated, I think it keeps you young beyond numbers."
The Lone Ranger is out now