He is mainstream cinema’s chief chameleon, a performer whose characters are often defined by peculiar costumes, outlandish makeup and eccentric natures, yet—to the actor’s credit—infused with a vital understanding of the human condition. On the heels of the release of his 45th motion picture, The Lone Ranger, we thought we’d take a look back at the various parts the actor has taken on, from his early teenager roles to more recent flights of fancy. “I think it's an actor's responsibility to change every time,” said Depp, who recently quipped about his dream role: playing the central character in a Carol Channing biopic. “If you just go out and deliver the same dish every time—‘it's meat loaf again!’—you'd get bored, I'd get bored…With any part you play, there is a certain amount of yourself in it. There has to be, otherwise it's just not acting. It's lying. I don't pretend to be captain weird. I just do what I do.”
Glen Lantz in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
I went to see dailies on Nightmare on Elm Street. I was 21, and didn't know what was going on. It was like looking in a huge mirror. It wasn't how I looked that bothered me, though I did look like a geek in that movie. It was seeing myself up there pretending.
Jack in Private Resort (1985)
Lerner in Platoon (1986)
I went to read for Oliver Stone, and Oliver scared the shit out of me! I read for him and he said, "OK, I need you for ten weeks in the jungle." It was a great experience.
Cry-Baby in Cry-Baby (1990)
Edward Scissorhands in Edward Scissorhands (1990)
I loved playing Edward Scissorhands because there's nothing cynical, jaded or impure about him. It's almost a letdown to look in the mirror and realize I'm not Edward. I can remember when I finished Edward Scissorhands, looking in the mirror as the girl was doing my make-up for the last time and thinking—it was like the 90th or 89th day of shooting—and I remember looking and going, "Wow, this is it. I'm saying goodbye to this guy, I'm saying goodbye to Edward Scissorhands." You know, it was kind of sad. But in fact, I think they're all still somehow in there.
Oprah Noodlemantra in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Axel Blackmar in Arizona Dream (1992)
Sam in Benny & Joon (1993)
Gilbert Grape in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
Ed Wood in Ed Wood (1994)
Like [Ed Wood] I also grew up feeling like an obtuse piece of machinery. It was the same feeling I had about Edward Scissorhands.
Don Juan in Don Juan DeMarco (1994)
William Blake in Dead Man (1995)
Gene Watson in Nick of Time (1995)
Joe Pistone / Donnie Brasco in Donnie Brasco (1997)
Raphael in The Brave (1997)
You know what was traumatizing, what was very, very strange in terms of this film I directed…The Brave. Well, I guess I wouldn't say traumatizing, but I would say weird: at the premiere of the film the reception of it was beyond any expectation that I had. I had no idea I'd be looking at [Bernardo Bertolucci] or [Michelangelo Antonioni] sitting there watching my film. And then to receive the applause that my film got, it was so incredible. And then the next day the majority of the American press just turn it into this horrible thing. Once again, everybody is entitled to their opinion, man. Maybe it's a bad film? Maybe it's a good film? To me it's just a film. It's something I needed to make.
Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
The beauty with Hunter [S. Thompson, author of and central character in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas] was that there was a very profound element of trust between us. The one side that sticks out to me about [him] is the side that not a lot of people recognized or had the opportunity to see, which was that he was a southern gentleman.
Dean Corso in The Ninth Gate (1999)
Commander Spencer Armacost in The Astronaut’s Wife (1999)
Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Cesar in The Man Who Cried (2000)
Lieutenant Victor / Bon Bon in Before Night Falls (2000)
Roux in Chocolat (2000)
George Jung in Blow (2001)
Inspector Frederick Abberline in From Hell (2001)
Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
It was mentioned that they were considering a movie based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and I said I was in. There was no screenplay, no director, nothing. For some unknown reason, I just said I was in.
Sands in Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
Mort Rainey in Secret Window (2004)
L’inconnu in …And They Lived Happily Ever After (2004)
Sir James Matthew Barrie in Finding Neverland (2004)
Rochester in The Libertine (2004)
Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
We had been shooting for about a month, and I was beginning to get nervous because there weren't any phone calls. I called my agent and asked, "Has no one called from the studio to complain or say, 'Hey, what's he doing?' or 'Hey, he's freaking us out?'" And when she said "No" I thought, "Christ, I'm not doing enough! Something's wrong!" Then some of the studio brass came over to the set, and they were sitting in my trailer and I was all decked out as Wonka with the little bangs. And I just had to know. So I said, "Okay, who was the first one, when you started seeing the dailies, that got a little worried?" And there was this beautiful 30-second silence. And [Warner Bros. president] Alan Horn finally said, "Yeah, that was me.” I felt better instantly.
Victor Van Dort in Corpse Bride (2005)
Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
Captain Jack Sparrow is like a cross between Keith Richards and Pepe Le Pew…There was a great book I read…What was it called? Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition. A very interesting book. I wasn't exactly going for that with the character. And Keith is not flamboyant in his actions. Keith is pretty stealth. But with Jack, it was more that I liked the idea of being ambiguous, of taking this character and making everything a little bit…questionable. Because women were thought to be bad luck on ships. And these pirates would go out for years at a time. So, you know, there is a possibility that one thing might lead to another.
Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
Awards are not as important to me as when I meet a ten-year-old kid who says, "I love Captain Jack Sparrow"…that's real magic for me.
Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
The one [song] that was probably the most challenging was "Johanna"... and as far as I was concerned, when Stephen Sondheim writes the note and it has to be held for this many beats, you do it….You can't cheat. You can't whisper. You can't do the William Shatner thing. You just gotta belt it out. So I really beat myself up, making sure I could hold those notes. In "Johanna," some are, like, twelve beats. That was a bugger. At one point, I was very close to passing out—I got dizzy and saw black. But that's what Sondheim wrote, so that's what you do.
Imaginarium Tony 1 in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
John Dillinger in Public Enemies (2009)
Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Frank Tupelo in The Tourist (2010)
Rango in Rango (2011)
Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
With a character like Captain Jack, you just feel you could continue. The possibilities are endless, limitless. There's any possibility of madness and absurdity that could commence. With this character you feel that you're never really done.
Kemp in The Rum Diary (2011)
Tom Hanson in 21 Jump Street (2012)
Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows (2012)
We decided a vampire should look like a vampire. It was our rebellion against vampires who look like underwear models. So, yeah, there was a bit of Nosferatu.
Tonto in The Lone Ranger (2013)