Five-film tribute will showcase rogue's gallery of imaginative roles
“He is one of the most compelling and original actors of his generation,” says director Laurence Dunmore of Johnny Depp, who will be honored Nov. 11 with a tribute at the AFI Fest.Twice Oscar-nominated — for his flamboyant Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and as eccentric English author J.M. Barrie in last year’s “Finding Neverland” — Depp, 42, has earned a reputation as among the most committed and least risk-averse actors in the biz. Case in point: “The Libertine,” the 17th-century debauchery drama which world premieres at AFI the night of the tribute. Depp plays John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, whose self-destructive drinking and sexual escapades ruined a promising career as a poet and playwright. Explains “Libertine” director Dunmore: the role called for “someone who could embody this charismatic, dangerous genius of a man who squandered his true talents and abilities for the sake of sensationalism, and for his contempt of both life and the people around him, as well as his love for both. None seemed to fit the bill more elegantly or more appropriately than Johnny.” Also screening at the fest is the movie that marked the beginning of a five-film collaboration with director Tim Burton: “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), a cult favorite that cast Depp as an artificial boy whose creator dies before completing the job, leaving poor Edward with razor-sharp appendages. “Ever since I met him on ‘Edward Scissorhands,’ I knew that he was more like a Lon Chaney or a Boris Karloff than he was a leading man,” says Burton. “He liked to be a transformer, and it’s exciting to work with somebody like that.” “Ed Wood,” a whimsical biopic of the grade-Z movie director, followed in 1994. Subsequently, Burton and Depp made “Sleepy Hollow” and this year’s dual hits of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Corpse Bride.” “Right from the beginning, he’s always had this integrity,” adds Burton. “He does what he wants to do no matter what. Regardless of how outlandish (the character), he taps into something that’s real to him.” Over the years, Depp’s unusual choices have included gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” the title character in Lasse Hallstrom’s poignant “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” and an accountant pursued by bounty hunters in Jim Jarmusch’s offbeat Western “Dead Man” — all of which are screening at the festival. “(You can see) he never wanted to be a movie star,” notes “Finding Neverland” director Marc Forster. In addition to filming back-to- back sequels to “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Depp will produce the upcoming “The Rum Diary,” based on a Hunter S. Thompson book, and “A Long Way Down,” from a Nick Hornby novel.