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Johnny Depp Talks About 'Public Enemies'

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Johnny Depp in Public Enemies

Johnny Depp as John Dillinger in 'Public Enemies.'

© Universal Pictures
John Dillinger was one of the most charismatic gangsters of the 1930s, and even after all these decades we continue to be fascinated by his story. In the gritty drama Public Enemies, based on the book by Bryan Burrough and directed by Michael Mann, Johnny Depp brings Dillinger to life and makes audiences root for the bad guy - similar to how average Americans rooted for the real gangster back in his heyday. During the Great Depression, Dillinger was viewed as a Robin Hood-type figure, stealing from banks while making sure not to take any money from the working men and women who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when Dillinger's gang hit town.

In LA for a press conference in support of the Universal Pictures' film, Depp talked about tackling the role of a man the FBI named 'Public Enemy Number One'.

Johnny Depp Public Enemies Press Conference

Christian Bale said that after working in digital, he now wants all of his films shot that way. Do you feel the same way?

Johnny Depp: "It's got its advantages, the idea that you can keep rolling for 52 [minutes] and it's relatively cheap. I think it's like roughly a grand for a 52 minute tape. There are advantages and there are disadvantages. For me, I like the texture of cinema. I like the texture of even crude, grimy cinema. I sort of prefer that."

What do you think it was about Dillinger that gave him his chivalrous side?

Johnny Depp: "Gave him his chivalrous side? I don't know. I think he was just not unlike any Southern gentleman in a way, the fact that he made a relatively grave error in his youth, in a fit of drunken ignorance, which I know - I remember a few of those - and that sent him to prison for 10 years. They really whacked a ball and chain on him for that. So coming out of prison from 1923 or something and coming out in 1933 and suddenly the world was Technicolor and women were wearing tight clothes and skirts - it was a whole [new] world. I think there was that Southern gentleman in there and also the guy who was also a supreme existentialist, who decided, 'This day and every day is mine.'"

Do you think of this as one of your normal characters or one of your quirky characters?

Johnny Depp: "I think they're all normal. I mean, to me, they're all normal. I think that most people are the same. We're all a bit weird when you get down to it. Yeah, I would say he's one of the more normal guys, normal just in the sense that he was nothing much more than an Indiana farm boy who stepped in a pile of something unpleasant and ended up in prison, in criminal school for 10 years. That was his college education and he became very good at what he learned. The fact that this guy became a sort of mythic, Robin Hood figure, I mean this is a guy who really took the ball and ran with it. That's pretty normal to me. Most people run with it when they get the ball."

There have been other Dillingers on film. Did you look at Warren Oates or anyone like that either for inspiration or to avoid?

Johnny Depp: "There was no way to not remember Warren Oates as John Dillinger. I remember seeing that when I was a kid and just loving it. But I did stay away from it with regards to the start of this film, because I didn't want to accidentally steal anything from him, because he was so good. The one thing that stayed in my mind about the Warren Oates version...John Milius...I felt like at the time they did it, there was a certain amount of colors available on that palette that they put on that canvas and I feel like now, with the stuff that's come out, the more new information, the ability to have slightly more information with regard to Dillinger's personal life, there were a few more colors available, so that was kind of one of the challenges available."

How do you think this story will resonate now with our current economic situation and his ability to work the media and all?

Johnny Depp: "People are different, unfortunately. People are different than they were back then. Back in 1933, there was some degree of innocence left. Today on some level, we've really hit the digital wall and a wall where almost everything is available, if you can make your way to it, so I think people are radically different. I don't know if you could have a similar kind of folk hero, a similar kind of hero as today. Maybe, what, Subcomandante Marcos down in Chiapas, who's trying to protect the Indians in Mexico, he might be the closest sort of thing that we can have, in terms of innocence and purity. Because at that time, 1933, the banks were clearly the enemy. They foreclosed and they were taking people's lives away from them. Not that it's all that different now. Here we are teetering on this similar kind of recession/depression and... God, the banks are still the enemy, aren't they? Right? I don't know. If somebody starts robbing banks, you know... As long as nobody gets gets hurt."

Can you talk about the scene where Dillinger walks through the police department?

Johnny Depp: "He actually did walk through what was called then the Dillinger Squad. He pulled his car out up front and walked into the Dillinger Squad all and wandered through all of these cops. His photograph was everywhere. That's all true. He had an enormous amount of, for lack of a better word, chutzpah. He had an incredible... He had confidence. One of the things that I admire about him is that sort of... To have gotten so far and to have become that kind of really existentialist hero, every day was his last. He had made peace with that. He was fine with that. Yesterday doesn't exist. He just kept moving forward. There is something admirable about that."

Do you think he felt untouchable?

Johnny Depp: "I think he felt the clock was ticking. I think maybe when you're in an adrenaline [rush] you may feel that sort of thing, like, 'Nobody can get me!' But I don't think he was dumb. And I think to really feel completely untouchable, there's a certain amount of ignorance in that. I think he just felt like, 'I got that one. Let's go to the next. What happens now?'"

Continued on Page 2

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