Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Out Of His Depp

Johnny Depp has always been something of an enigma to me. I mean, he's an excellent actor - there's no doubt about that - but all the swooning and the shrieking, the claims of world-class sexiness? I'm not totally convinced.

Maybe it's my life-long aversion to men with long hair. I was eleven years old when Brad Pitt leaped into superstardom, but he came with that ridiculous blond shag. Johnny Depp came a few years earlier, with a similarly wild coif, but where Brad Pitt was golden and glowy, Johnny Depp's Edward Scissorhands was exotic and erotic, kind of terrifying, with his bondage-inspired outfit and bladed fists.

Brad Pitt's physicality has always been rooted in his appearance; cue the mental image of him, shirtless and cut, in Fight Club, which was porny and offered a very appealing brutality in its eroticism. Fight Club is a great movie to encounter when you're sixteen, likely before you've had sex or been in a fight. The scenes with Helena Bonham Carter alone are likely to skew a person's imaginations of sexual relations for a least a couple years. But Fight Club, with all its fuck-the-man posturing and orations on modern life, is more the product of overgrown childhood fun than anything else. Hello? These dudes have their own club. They're like the Girl Scouts, if the Scouts sold molotov cocktails instead of cookies.

Anyway. Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp are in the same graduating class of Sexy Men, but they've taken wildly divergent paths. While Brad Pitt has made some truly horrendous flicks since the mid-'90s, Johnny Depp has stayed fairly constant in his devotion to weirdo roles, and I think that's generally served him well. Unlike Pitt, Depp isn't a constant tabloid fixture. He has a normal amount of children, with a hot non-wife partner, and lives in France. Pitt, for all his movies - some lauded very highly - is more of a gossip nodule than an actor.

Unlike Pitt, Johnny Depp doesn't seem to have an interest in playing up his sex symbol mystique. The roles he chooses - Captain Jack Sparrow, Hunter S Thomson's alter ego Raoul Duke, Sweeney Todd - are rippled with a sexiness, but it's often a manic, dangerous, flawed sexiness. They're killers, pirates, drug fiends. They're complicated roles. Very masculine, which is doubly weird, given that Depp got a huge career boost playing the fey-seeming Edward Scissorhands, and that he's never had a reputation as a beefcake, but Depp plays the semi-dangerous man very well. His onscreen persona does a lot of work unsettling the audience, making us ask, "Can we trust him? He looks like a dirty homeless person, but he might be just the man for the job."

We're attracted to the weird and the unusual, so we devour that kind of sexual presentation. I'll recant my previous stance of not understanding the J.Depp appeal; clearly, I do, even though he's not my cup of Lipton's (and because I blame him for Benjamin Bratt, who's carved out a cushy little niche as the bargain-basement Depp). And Johnny Depp is willing to take on roles that aren't sexy in the least - anyone who's seen Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can attest to the fact that his Willy Wonka is like vaginal Kryptonite.

Depp, his sex appeal (still not totally convinced, but maybe it's because I always hate his hair in his movies), and moreover, his talent, is a boon. He takes risks. He's willing to be disliked, both in character and out. But he does good work, balancing the Hollywood blockbusters with the weirder fare. Is he sexy? I guess. But not because he's a looker. Because he's a risk-taker.

2 comments:

  1. I think Johnny Depp is too totally hot. I mean, yeah, his hair is stringy and greasy, but it's because he's like, out doing stuff, in the sun, or, the hedge, or, not bathing,, or whatever!

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