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Playboy - January 1996

by Kevin Cook
Photographs by Mizuno
a candid conversation with america's quirkiest actor about kate moss, river phoenix, his offbeat films and why he likes to stick strange things in his pants

Johnny Depp looks rotten. Or so he says. The women on Sunset Boulevard would surely disagree. Many of them would marry him on the spot. But then Depp seldom bows to majority opinion. As he lights another cigarette and drinks more coffee at a bookstore cafe on Sunset, his attention flits to a bee--a killer bee encased in Lucite. It's one of many oddball souvenirs he receives from friends and admirers. Bugs are serious business to Depp, who collects exotic paraphernalia. His career--the other subject under discussion at the table--is taken more lightly. Acting, he explains, is nothing but "making faces for cash." Others take his work more seriously. Depp is "one of the great young actors," says European director Emir Kusturica. Marlon Brando, Vincent Price and Faye Dunaway have said the same. Brando says that Depp should do Shakespeare, while Dunaway claims he is both a superb actor and a super kisser. The on-screen Depp is the world's greatest lover; offscreen he's a famed romancer of actresses and supermodels. "He doesn't belong in show business," his "Ed Wood" co-star Sarah Jessica Parker once remarked. "He belongs somewhere better." Lasse Hallstrom, who directed him in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," says, "He has real ambitions, but he is deeply afraid of being considered pretentious."

And one other thing: He looks great in a dress.

At 32, Johnny Depp is entering the heart of what he calls, with casual self-deprecation, "my quote-unquote career." His is a goofy oeuvre, perhaps most impressive because he's carved a unique niche without making a box office hit. Thus far, the Kentucky-born Depp has made misfit movies. He was a boy monster in "Edward Scissorhands," top-hatted oddball in "Benny & Joon," keeper of a retarded brother in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and the unsinkable cross-dressing director in "Ed Wood." Nobody plays human frailty like Depp. Even though he made women swoon in "Don Juan DeMarco," he played the fabled lover as a committed loon.

His new films are John Badham's 'Wick of Time," in which he plays an accountant turned assassin, and "Dead Man," an eerie Jim Jarmusch Western that is scheduled for release later this year Even after opting for "Dead Man" over the slick epic "Mobsters," a choice that cost him millions of dollars, he was criticized when he signed to star in Badham's thriller. Industry watchers thought he was doing "the Keanu thing," forgoing his traditional quirky roles for a commercial blockbuster. But for Depp, "Nick of Time" is no typical action flick. It's one of the first films since Hitchcock's "Rope" to tell its tale in real time, each screen minute equaling 60 seconds of his character's strife. And it's his task in the film to gun down a female governor. Still, thriller is as thriller seems, and if the film is a hit, Depp will probably be charged with cynicism.

That's one crime he has not committed. Drug use and hotel abuse, perhaps, but not calculation. Which may be why Depp made the difficult transition from teen hunk on TV's "21 Jump Street" eight years ago to film star. Along the way, he has escaped the trivia heap by making brave, eccentric movie choices. Imagine David Cassidy as Gilbert Grape. Picture Kirk Cameron as an assassin. Or better yet, consider Richard Grieco, Depp's megacool 'Jump Street" co-star, as a name anyone would recognize.

Depp can be equally defined by the roles he didn't take. He reportedly spurned Keanu Reeves' part in "Speed," Brad Pitt's role in "Legends of the Fall" and Lestat in "Interview With the Vampire." Of course, Tom Cruise played Lestat--a neat twist, because Cruise is said to have refused the role of Edward Scissorhands because Edward, while cutting edge, wasn't handsome.

Depp says he respects Cruise but has no interest in "the Tom Cruise thing"-- box office godhood. He can now command $4 million per film but often takes far less for pet projects, including his friend Jarmusch's "Dead Man."

He has danced to his own drummer since his 1984 debut in "A Nightmare on Elm Street," in which he got sucked through a bed into hell. Along the way he has fallen for some of America's most desirable women. He has had offscreen relationships with Jennifer Grey ("Dirty Dancing") and Sherilyn Fenn ("Twin Peaks"). A rumored liaison--public, if not pubic--with Madonna was followed by a notorious engagement to Winona Ryder and the requisite tattoo, WINONA FOREVER. When they broke up, he had the tattoo removed a letter at a time; at one point it read WINO FOREVER.

Today he and his latest love, ubermodel Kate Moss, are the prom king and queen of young Hollywood--beautiful, thin chainsmokers with an air of sex and tragedy. Or call them, thanks to their morbid humor, the new Gomez and Morticia. Johnny once made a shrine in his movie-set trailer, placing candles around a photo of Kate with a bride of Frankenstein hairdo.

Their hangout, the Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard, which Johnny co-owns, was the scene of River Phoenix' fatal overdose in October 1993. The horror of that Halloween has faded, and today's Viper Room more than ever resembles its owners: notorious and nice. "It's a fun place again," he says, passing the strip of cement where Phoenix died, "but you never forget."

Depp is all about his past. In 1970, when he was seven years old, his family left Kentucky for Miramar, Florida, where the Depps moved from house to house and sometimes lived in motels. Depp's father took off when Johnny was 15. His mother, Betty Sue, worked as a waitress, and Johnny counted her tips after work. He also developed a fierce devotion to society's outcasts.

In high school he was suspended for moaning a teacher. Shortly after that he dropped out and worked pumping gas. Once, trying to learn to breathe fire like circus performers, he blew a mouthful of gasoline at a flame. His eyes lit up as the blaze raced toward him--then his eyebrows and hair lit up, too. He barely escaped.

To "get an identity" (and meet girls) he joined a band. He played guitar with the Kids, a group that was good enough to open for the Ramones, the Talking Heads, Iggy Pop and the B-52s. They went to Los Angeles to make it in the big time but flopped instead. Depp needed work. That's when Nicolas Cage, a pal from the music scene, said, "You should meet my agent."

Depp auditioned for director Wes Craven. Legend has it Craven's daughter, with whom Depp ran lines that day, fell in love with the new kid in town. He won a role in Craven's "Elm Street," which led to "Private Resort," a 1985 teen sexploitation pic in which his bare butt played second banana to then-unknown Rob Morrow. Next came stardom.

As a narc on "21 Jump Street," Fox TV's first hit, Depp became a poster boy, to female teen America. He hated every minute of it. As soon as he was free of his contract, he spat on his 'Jump Street" image by starring in John Waters' spoof "Cry-Baby."

The grungy offscreen Depp is' fascinated by the macabre. He is a student of the nether zones of biology, and the extremes of abnormal psychology. (He recently, bought Bela Lugosi's old house for $2.3 million.) He collects skeletons, paintings of scary clowns and, as mentioned, bugs. As with his work, there is a twitchy humor to his collectibles, his conversation, even his arrests. They're all funny if you view, them as he does--as brief excursions on our common march to the graveyard. In 1994 he was jailed for trashing a $1200-a-night suite in New York City's Mark Hotel. Handcuffed and led b3, police to a sidewalk jammed with reporters demanding his reaction, he nodded toward the cops and said, "I've met some really nice people."

Is Depp a nice person? We decided to send Contributing Editor Kevin Cook to find out. His report:

'Johnny Depp often runs late. To him, a watch would be a handcuff. So I was pleased when he showed up less than an hour after the time we had arranged. He shook my, hand and apologized, saying he had run his motorcycle into a pink Ford Escort.

"He led me into the quiet, dark Viper Room--black walls, mirrors, black upholstered booths. The booths are marked with brass plaques engraved with the names of preferred guests and a warning to interlopers: DON'T FUCK WITH IT. The place was empty in the early, afternoon. We went downstairs to Depp's sanctum, where we sat on a couch near a closed-circuit TV that monitors the club above. We talked all day. I was impressed by his intelligence and earnestness. He was often tongue-tied, struggling to shoehorn his convoluted thoughts into sentences. Watching him grope for words, I couldn't help rooting for him to unearth the mots justes he was trying for.

"A minor point: Depp's Viper Room co-owner, Chuck E. Weiss, who happens to be the eponym of Rickie Lee Jones song 'Chuck E's in Love,' has joked that Johnny is such an artistic, sensitive person that he 'sits on the toilet and pees like a woman.' But it's not so. We did about a minute of this interview in their club's men's room, and I can assure you he's a stand-up guy."

PLAYBOY: You have only one urinal. Does the Viper Room men's room get crowded on weekends?

DEPP: [Nods] It used to get wet. There was a guy who would somehow sneak in here with a monkey wrench. He would loosen a nut on the urinal so that when the next person flushed, water would go everywhere. It was like Niagara Falls. You had people running from the bathroom, slipping, security guys sprinting over to throw down towels. This happened fairly regularly for weeks, and I came to respect the toilet guy. I liked his method, his consistency. He clearly took pride in toilet sabotage. But then it stopped, and I kind of miss him.

PLAYBOY: Why do you call the place the Viper Room?

DEPP: After a group of musicians in the Thirties who called themselves Vipers. They were reefer heads and they helped start modern music. [Lights a cigarette! You know one great thing about having your own club? You get free matches.

PLAYBOY: Do you have any plans to quit smoking?

DEPP: Nah. I think if you find something you're good at, you should stick with it. I have switched to lights, though. It got to where I would wheeze going up a flight of stairs, so I went to diet cigarettes.

PLAYBOY: You've been accused of selling out--"doing the Keanu thing," as one critic said--for making Nick of Time.

DEPP: Who cares? I'm interested in story and character and doing things that haven't been done a zillion times. When I read Nick of Time I could see the guy mowing the grass, watering his lawn, putting out the Water Wiggle in the backyard for his kid, and I liked the challenge of playing him. He's nothing like me. And I wanted to work with John Badham because he made Saturday Night Fever and invented some interesting ways of shooting. Nick of Time is a thriller, and it gives me a chance to play a straight, normal, suit-and-tie guy.

PLAYBOY: If you wanted big money you could have also made Mobsters, a potential hit. You've turned down other mainstream films for movies such as Dead Man. How much did that one pay?

DEPP: Less than my expenses during the shoot. But it's a poetic film. I did Dead Man so I could work with Jim Jarmusch. I trust Jim as a director and a friend and a genius.

PLAYBOY: How do you see your career? Is it something you're sculpting as you go along, a body of work?

DEPP: It's more primitive. I look at the story and the character and say, "Can I add any ingredients to make a nice soup?" In some sense there is a monofilament running through the guys I've played. They are outsiders. They're people society says aren't normal, and I think you have to stand up for people like that. But I didn't plan it. It's not like had to play them. Except for Don Juan, I had to play that guy, and Edward Scissorhands. I loved Edward. He was total honesty. Honesty is what matters, and I have an absurd fascination with it, whether it means being true to your girl, your work or yourself.

PLAYBOY: You weren't on the list for Scissorhands until Tim Burton met you and was won over. Did he ever say what he detected in the former star of 21 Jump Street?

DEPP: Tim isn't the type to verbalize it, but in snippets of conversations he has said it had to do with my eyes. My eyes looked like I carried more years than I had lived. He also felt my looks were deceptive, because I wasn't what people thought.

PLAYBOY: What was that?

DEPP: Oh, whatever catchphrase they sew onto your back.

PLAYBOY: Heartthrob?

DEPP: Yeah. Or confident actor.

PLAYBOY: Are you a method actor? Are you in character between takes?

DEPP: No, and I don't buy it when a guy says, "You must call me Henry the Eighth. Even when I go get a Dr Pepper I am Henry the Eighth!" I can't see that. If you're truly in character it becomes unconscious. If you realize you're in character or say you are, then you're fucked. It means that you're satisfied, and that's the worst.

PLAYBOY: Your eccentric films make people wonder if you're allergic to box office success. Aren't you tempted to make one big score, one Batman, to bankroll your pet projects?

DEPP: That demon has visited me. He's my best pal. He says, "Look, make two movies that are obvious commercial vehicles, blockbusters, and you'll have the freedom to do smaller independent or experimental films. You can build an audience and bring it into that new world--open some minds." I've thought that, but I don't believe it. I would feel untrue to myself, untrue to the people who appreciate the choices I've made. For me the career thing has to be a little purer, more organic.

PLAYBOY: And you are happy with your choices?

DEPP: Maybe I was trying to do movies for good reasons--to make something I believed in--but I never thought of them as small, eccentric films. To me, Ed Wood wasn't a small film even if it ultimately made ten dollars.

PLAYBOY: You were shooting Divine Rapture, an unusual film co-starring Marlon Brando, when financing collapsed, production stopped and everyone was sent home.

DEPP: That sucked. One minute we're filming, the next minute there's no money. It was like being in the middle of sex, right at the peak, and a guy walks in with a gun: "Stop it now." That's when you feel shitty, because you remember it's the movie business, based on money.

PLAYBOY: Brando used to say he was so disgusted with the business that he didn't care anymore, he just wanted the money.

DEPP: If he could do that, I applaud it. If I could do a bunch of movies and make zillions of dollars and not care, why not? I just can't do it now. It's probably ridiculous the way I talk about honesty and shit when really, what am I being true to? Some company. A bunch of guys who invest in a movie. They buy the product and distribute it. That's not so pure. It's art and commerce, oil and water, and here I am in some sort of artistic frenzy. Maybe I'm just very naive. Twenty minutes from now I'll probably say fuck it and sell out completely.

PLAYBOY: Do you remember the first time you saw yourself-on-screen?

DEPP: I got sick. 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.

PLAYBOY: And you heaved?

DEPP: I didn't actually vomit, but I felt like vomiting.

PLAYBOY: These days when Hollywood makes you sick, you and Kate Moss run off to London or Paris. What are you escaping from?

DEPP: Fame, celebrity--it's not such a big deal in Europe. People seem to understand that you just have a weird job. They're not running after you trying to carve chunks out of you. It's strange in the States. Most fans here are great, but there's a handful who have seen the movies and feel they know you. They think it's all right to touch you and ask personal questions.

PLAYBOY: Like we're doing now.

DEPP: But I'm selective about my interviews. I may quit doing them, too, because I always feel violated afterward. And stupid, for talking about myself for hours and hours.

PLAYBOY: You want the job but not the flashbulbs.

DEPP: Look, I used to work construction. I've pumped gas and sold T-shirts in my adult life, and there's nothing worse than some rich actor saying, "Oh, my life is so hard." I'm lucky to have this job. And celebrity, fame, whatever that stuff is, is a hazard of the job. Maybe I should do what Brando did 30 years ago. Buy an island. Maybe take my girl and some friends and just go there and sleep. And read and swim and think clear thoughts. Because you really can't do that here. You can't be normal, not with people hitting you up at any given moment with bizarre requests. You can't just hang out and have a cup of coffee and pick your nose or [reaching for his crotch] adjust your package, you know?

PLAYBOY: You should be a baseball player.

DEPP: Right. I could spit and grab my crotch. Like that lady who sang the national anthem--what's her name?

PLAYBOY: Roseanne.

DEPP: I liked that. It was ballsy of her.

PLAYBOY: So there's an island on your Christmas list?

DEPP: If there's anything I really want, it's privacy. It's the island idea. You do get to where your money can help your family, and that's a great thing. You can buy that wristwatch you want, too. But mostly you now have to pay for simplicity. You use your money to buy privacy because during most of your life you aren't allowed to be normal. You're on display, always looked at, which puts you at a disadvantage for the people looking at you know that it's you. They say, "It's you!" But you don't know them. That's bad for an actor because the most important thing you can do is observe people. And now you can't because you're the one being observed.

PLAYBOY: Some of it must be enjoyable.

DEPP: It's very nice when people come up and say, "I really liked Don Juan DeMarco, please sign my napkin." What gets to me is being watched, whispered about. Would you ever walk up to someone on the street and say, "Can I kiss you?" No, you'd get smacked. "Can I look inside your wallet?" "What size is your shoe?" "Can I have your hat?" Some requests are too fucking surreal. On Dead Man I was hanging out with Jarmusch and the crew, smoking cigarettes, and there was a guy lurking, checking me out. He looked normal enough, but his eyes were a little too open. So I knew he'd come up to me, which he did. "Hi, Johnny! Wanna go have a drink?" I said, "Thanks, I'm OK." He said, "Listen, you could really help me out. My wife and I are separating, but I want to get back with her. She's a big fan of yours." He wanted me to go home with him and mediate his divorce. I wouldn't, so he said he'd call her on the phone and we could talk it out. Now, that stuff goes too far. You want to say, "Can't we just kiss? Could you just shove your tongue down my gullet and be done with it?"

PLAYBOY: Some female fans love you enough to send you highly personal mementos.

DEPP: Nude pictures in the mail, yes. Tons of them. Some are beautiful--nicely lit, black-and-white, mysterious. Some are out-and-out primitive. Then there are the pubes. I've gotten a lot of pubic hairs in the mail. I don't save them. I guess you could get ritualistic about it, burn the pubes in a fire, but I'm not sure I want to touch them so I throw them away.

PLAYBOY: How does it feel to be so handsome that women yank out their pubes for you?

DEPP: I have no control over that. It's demeaning when people talk about my looks. I think I usually look like shit, and most people would probably agree.

PLAYBOY: You once said you feel more comfortable dining in a movie than in a restaurant.

DEPP: Calmer, anyway. In a real restaurant you may notice people talking under their breath, staring. It builds up in your head and you want to run.

PLAYBOY: Do you and Kate have techniques for avoiding bad scenes?

DEPP: If we run into a gaggle of paparazzi I'll avoid eye contact. I'll also put on my sunglasses. That way they don't get paid as much for the picture.

PLAYBOY: Are you and Kate going to get married?

DEPP: I love Kate more than anything. Certainly enough to marry her. But as far as putting our names on paper, making weird public vows that signify ownership--it's not in the cards.

PLAYBOY: Are you monogamous?

DEPP: I'm very true. I wouldn't hurt her and I expect she wouldn't hurt me. Fidelity is important as long as it's pure. But the moment it goes against your insides-if you want to be somewhere else, if she wants to dabble--then you need to make a change. I'm not sure any human being is made to be with one person forever and ever, amen. My own parents didn't do it; my dad left when I was 15. And maybe in some of my public relationships... maybe I was trying to right the wrongs of my parents by creating a classic fairy-tale love. Trying to solve the fear of abandonment we all have. Anyway, it didn't work. That's not to say I didn't love those people. I have been with some great girls and I certainly thought I loved them, though now I have my doubts. I felt something intense, but was it love? I don't know. So now I can't say I can love someone forever, or if anybody can.

PLAYBOY: According to a recent story, you and Kate had set a wedding date. She wanted engraved invitations, but you wanted to send out a riddle so your friends would have to guess where to show up.

DEPP: It's fiction. I can guarantee you that if I woke up one day with a wild hair up my ass to get hitched, there wouldn't be invitations. We'd run out and do it.

PLAYBOY: What do you think when you see Kate's picture on a billboard?

DEPP: I think she's beautiful. Calvin Klein is lucky to have her. If we're apart and I see her picture I'll miss her, not because of a billboard but because she's always on my mind anyway.

PLAYBOY: What's something she does better than you?

DEPP: Modeling. And she's great at games. She beats the shit out of me at gin rummy. Kate is a great girl, very smart. We're a good team because she's a light sleeper. You could hit me with a baseball bat and I wouldn't wake up. But she'll wake up: "Was that a pin dropping?" So I get some protection.

PLAYBOY: Does all the gossip bother you?

DEPP: It's part of the game. You know that the tabloids--from the obvious ones to the subtler ones such as Time and Newsweek--will print anything to sell those fuckers. But you hear it and it can be stressful. Suppose you and I are at a bar, and you say hello to a girl. That's innocent. For me the same thing becomes: They were dangling from the St. James Hotel with hairbrushes sticking out of their asses. That can cause a strain.

PLAYBOY: You mean that it wasn't the St. James?

DEPP: Sorry, never happened. Here's another one: Kate and I had a huge fight at a hotel in New York, a real screaming match in the lobby. It was in the papers. I thought it was pretty magical of us, for we were in France at the time.

PLAYBOY: What happened on September 13, 1994, when you smashed up a room at New York's Mark Hotel?

DEPP: Another instance of not being allowed to be normal. I was having a bad day. I think we all have those, but if somebody else does what I did it's not usually in the news. A security guy came to my door, and I said, basically, "I'm sorry, I broke some things. I'll repay you." But that's not good enough. I go to jail. And the next day this gets equal billing with the invasion of Haiti, me beating up a hotel room. Imagine if I had hit somebody.

PLAYBOY: That clearly bothered you.

DEPP: [With an Ed Wood grin] It's all in a day's work!

PLAYBOY: Don't you invite it, though, by dating famous people? How come celebs fall in love only with other celebs?

DEPP: Probably because you have mutual friends. You move in the same circles. It's like working in a factory--you strike up friendships with other employees. Also, you'll go to a restaurant or a bar that caters to other people who know what it's like to be exposed. So maybe they're not after you so much.

PLAYBOY: With the Viper Room you've bought your own hideout.

DEPP: It's easier here. I'll have a couple beers or a glass of wine, get up and play my guitar with some friends. Every Thursday is martini night, a good time. One of the best nights for me was when Johnny Cash played here.

PLAYBOY: He must have matched the black decor.

DEPP: Yeah, he was brilliant and he blended in. He was just a head floating up there--beautiful.

PLAYBOY: The tabs have linked you with other celebrities, including Madonna.

DEPP: I read that I was in bed with her, which is a ton of shit. I have met her and it went like this: "How do you do?" "Hello, how are you?" Now when anyone asks about my affair with Madonna I say no, wrong--it was the Pope. He swept me off my feet.

PLAYBOY: For the record, how did you get under the robes of John Paul II?

DEPP: Well, he's shy. I didn't want to push too hard, but we shared a bottle of wine and I can tell you, the man is a great kisser. Watch him when he gets off a plane. He'll really give that runway a good one.

PLAYBOY: You're known for dodging attention by using fake names when you check into hotels. But your pseudonyms make good copy. Mr. Donkey Penis?

DEPP: It's just that if you register as Mr. Poopy, for instance, you get a funny wake-up call. I used to use the name Mr. Stench; it was funny to be in a posh hotel and hear a very proper concierge call out, "Mr. Stench, please!" I never really stayed under the name Donkey Penis. That was an example I mentioned to a reporter once. But I have been Roid, Emma Roid.

PLAYBOY: You've said journalistic "fictions" bother you. What has been the worst?

DEPP: When something heavy happens and nine out of ten magazines turn it into a fucking vulture rest. They turn you into something sick.

PLAYBOY: You're talking about River Phoenix.

DEPP: When River passed away, it happened to be at my club. Now that's very tragic, very sad, but they made it a fiasco of lies to sell fucking magazines. They said he was doing drugs in my club, that I allow people to do drugs in my club. What a ridiculous fucking thought! "Hey, I'm going to spend a lot of money on this nightclub so everyone can come here and do drugs. I think that's a good idea, don't you? We'll never get found out. It's not like this place is high profile or anything, right?" That lie was ridiculous and disrespectful to River. But aside from River, and his family trying to deal with their loss, what about people who work in the club? They have rooms and dads in, like, Oklahoma, reading about the place where their daughter tends bar and thinking, Jesus, she's out in Hollywood swimming around with these awful creatures!

PLAYBOY: Meaning you.

DEPP: It was awful for my nieces and nephews to read that stuff, to have every two-bit pseudo-journalist speculating viciously...viciously. And it hurt.

PLAYBOY: How did you cope?

DEPP: I closed the club for a few nights. To get out of the way so River's fans could bring messages, bring flowers. And I got angry. I made a statement to the press: "Fuck you. I will not be disrespectful to River's memory. I will not participate in your fucking circus."

PLAYBOY: Is it haunting to walk past the spot where River died?

DEPP, At first it was. I couldn't go to the club without thinking of it. Later I came to terms with the fact that it had nothing to do with the club. He was here a very short time. It had nothing to do with anything, really, except that what he ingested was bad, and now there is nothing we can do.

PLAYBOY: Did you shed tears that night?

DEPP: That's a weird question.

PLAYBOY: You don't have to answer.

DEPP: Yes. I shed tears when I heard someone had died. It wasn't until later, four or five in the morning, that they told me it was River. It's so sad to see a young life end. And now I'm starting to feel like I'm on The Barbara Walters Special. Are you going to make me cry?

PLAYBOY: No, we'll even change the subject. Let's talk about your boyhood. What's your earliest memory?

DEPP: Catching lightning bugs. Beautiful, fascinating bugs. There was a little girl who lived next door who had a brace on her leg. We used to play on the swing set, and the night the astronauts landed on the moon, her father came out and looked up and said, in all seriousness, "When man sets foot on the face of the moon, the moon will turn to blood." I was shocked. I remember thinking, Geez, I'm six and that's a little deep for me. I stayed up watching the moon. It was a big relief when it didn't change.

PLAYBOY: Didn't you have an uncle who was a Bible-thumping preacher?

DEPP: Yes. That gave me an odd sense of religion. He was theatrical in the pulpit. He would start crying, praising the Lord. Pretty soon the adults were screaming hallelujah, getting on their hands and knees, crawling up to kiss his shoes, and I just didn't buy it. I'm not saying my uncle was full of shit, because he was a good guy. I just didn't like the duality--seeing him behave normally' at home and a whole different way in the pulpit. It was too convenient. Why did the Lord strike you only in church? Why didn't he hit you in the bathroom or when you were barbecuing hot dogs?

PLAYBOY: As a boy, did you think you were headed for big things? Did you ever want to be a movie star?

DEPP: At four or five I fancied myself a Matt Helm, the spy Dean Martin played. I also wanted to be Flint--James Coburn. Those guys got all the women.

PLAYBOY: Were you geeky as a kid?

DEPP: I'm geeky now. I sure don't look around and say, "Hey, isn't this great?" I've never felt that and probably never will.

PLAYBOY: Did you like your name? It's a great movie name, but a kid might rather be Johnny Jones.

DEPP: It spawned nicknames. I was Johnny Dip. Deppity Dog. Dippity-Do. I didn't mind it, and didn't really think about it until my first movie, when they asked how I wanted to be billed. John Depp? It sounds pumped up. I was always Johnny.

PLAYBOY: You were a kid when the family moved from Kentucky to Miramar, Florida.

DEPP: We moved like gypsies. From the time I was five until my teens we lived in 30 or 40 different houses. That probably has a lot to do with my transient life now. But it's how I was raised so I thought there was nothing abnormal about it. Wherever the family is, that's home. We lived in apartments, on a farm, in a motel. Then we rented a house, and one night we moved from there to the house next door. I remember carrying my clothes across the yard and thinking, This is weird, but it's an easy move.

PLAYBOY: Were you a bully? Ever beat up anyone?

DEPP: The guys I hung out with in my early teens were bullies, kind of, so I did a little of that. Picking on someone, pushing people around. I didn't like it. It got me so angry that I'd be on the poor guy's side.