Johnny Depp Talks About His Career

About Acting | About Infinitum Nihil
About Being a Product | About Retirement

Updated September 2, 2013

I don't want somebody who's writing out checks to limit me, to put me in a herd of people who can only do one thing. (1988)

I'm going to do everything I can - fight tooth and nail - to not be put in some teen-idol category. (1988)

I could do a Bruce Willis thing and make a record now, but it would just milk my teen-boy, pop-idol image. I'd rather do nothing than do that. (1988)

Everybody compares everyone to James Dean these days. If you're lucky, they mention Brando or De Niro or Sean Penn. It's like they have to compare you to somebody. They invite you to put on an instant image. (1988)

It's easy to make a million bucks in this business doing stuff that would exploit the piss out of you. It's like fast food. Get in frame, get the product out there, and sell it quick. (1988)

I don't want to be limited by other people's opinions. (1988)

I was broke and Nic [Cage] asked me if I needed a job. I did and he told me I should try acting. (1988)

I don't want to make a career of taking my shirt off. I'd like to shave off all my hair, even my eyebrows, try it that way. (1988)

I just don't want to look back in 30 or 40 or 50 years and have my grandkids say, You did a lot of stupid shit, Granddad. What an idiot you were, smiling for the cameras and playing the game. (1999)

I don't have a deep strategy about which films I want to make. But I refuse to do any movie that would make me want to throw up. That eliminates every dumb action movie, cop movie, or anything where people get blown up or shot every five minutes. (Source: News World, 1999)

I don't want to sound like some elitist who only does 'serious' stuff - but I like to think I'm making films that actually say something about the world instead of simply trying to make a profit. (Source: News World, 1999)

I never read stage direction when I read a script. I only read the dialogue. That's all that matters to me. I don't give a shit where the writer wants me to stand or any of that other stuff. I need a film to be a very collaborative process. When I start to shoot a movie, I need everyone to want to hear my input. I think it works better that way. (Source: Movieline, March 2001)

There are a number of years where you feel like you have to be a whore, be seen, flap your jaws, make small talk, meet the new hot filmmakers, know who's running what studio, and I couldn't do it. I didn't want to. And finally, you get out and take a breath, and you see what kind of life is available to you, and you go, "I was right: I didn't have to play the game." I've been very, very lucky. It's amazing I'm still around and able to get jobs. (2003)

I find it comforting not knowing new films, not knowing what's happening out there. (2003)

What comes to my head is a simple, beautiful line from a Van Morrison song: "It's a hard road, Daddy-o." That line always kills me. The shit you put yourself through before you arrive. (2003)

Maybe I was just too dumb to sell out. (2004)

Shit, I may be doing TV in ten years. Or doing fucking appearances at a hamburger stand dressed as Captain Jack, you know? (2004)

I've kind of been able to glide through this weird little thing they call a career in terms of the business world and in terms of the industry in many movies that were considered absolute failures, flops. So I've kind of made a career of failing. (2004)

I guess there have been times when I was on the brink of being bankable. But that's all so weird. All these weird lists - top five star, top 10, 'Let's get this guy because he's bankable.' I don't think about that. You're on the list two weeks and then poof - you're gone. It never jarred me that I wasn't on the list. If I'm considered bankable this week, that's great. Next week I'll be totally off. I'm used to that. (2004)

I don't regret any of the things I didn't do, and I certainly don't regret any of the thing I did do, down to the dumbest. Everything happened the way it should happen, even ridiculous things that I did in the beginning. I don't regret any of it. (2004)

I just want something different. I want to be surprised. I want something that doesn't feel formulaic or beaten to death. (2004)

Innocence and purity are definitely themes that I've plodded about in over the years. They're themes I'm fascinated with, because for me, growing up in America in the '50s and just into the '60s, there was still some kind of innocence. There was hope. (2004)

Tracey [Jacobs has] taken a lot of heat over the years. She has bosses and higher-ups, and every time I take on another strange project, they're going, Jesus Christ! When does he do a movie where he kisses the girl? When does he get to pull a gun out and shoot somebody? When does he get to be a fucking man for a change? When is he finally going to do a blockbuster? (2004)

The challenge for me is still to do something that hasn't been beaten into the movie-going consciousness. Otherwise what am I in it for? (2004)

I don't want to be 85 years old and have my grandkids go, "Ewwww. Grandpa did some dumb shit" I'd rather have them say, "Wow, man, you're nuts!" (2004)

I like not knowing what's happening out there - who's doing what, how they were, what the box office was. Even when I'm in the soup bowl of Hollywood, I just play Barbies and hang out with the kiddies. (2004)

I really, more than anything, despise the competitive thing that just sort of is in this industry. It would be different if it were kill or be killed, but it's not. (2004)

I decided early on to be patient and wait for the roles that interested me, not the roles that would advance my career. I never wanted to be remembered for being a star. (Source: Time Out - UK, April 6-13, 2005)

When you're living in Hollywood all the time, you're constantly in that game, and you're susceptible to the pressures of success and the box office, I couldn't stand it because I had no interest in that. (Source: Time Out - UK, April 6-13, 2005)

By now people know that when Tim [Burton] and I get together, they should expect the unexpected. (Source: Entertainment Weekly, January 21, 2005)

It never ceases to amaze me. I've built my career on failure. Before now, my movies never seemed to make any money. It's been tempting to accept a big pay check, but I never saw the point of doing something that's been done. The theme in things I do seems to be that they deal with people considered freaks. (Source: New Idea - Australia, January 1, 2005)

I was honored when asked to be slimed. And I was not disappointed, either - it was a blast. I'm still trying to get the green stuff out of my clothes. (Source: Nickelodeon Magazine, August 2005)

I've got a sneaking suspicion that at some point I'll end up directing something again. For the moment I'm just going to sit back and learn from these guys. I've been lucky enough to work with these incredible filmmakers - Tim Burton, Lasse Hallstrom, Mike Newell... it's a pretty great list - so I'll just keep sponging as much as I can off them. (Source:, November 16, 2005)

I have played real-life characters a few times. It depends you know on the person, on the character, on the historical figure. The weird thing is it kind of ups the stakes in the terms of your responsibility, because you want to do your best to serve their memory well. (Source:, November 17, 2005)

I wouldn't do anything that I thought could disappoint [my family] or make them ashamed. Even if I'm alone - even if I'm going down this road and I feel it's really what this character is and everyone in the world thinks I'm wrong - you've got to do what you believe in. (Source: USA Today, June 25, 2006)

Pushing yourself to the absolute brink of failure, in terms of like, 'Boy, if this don't work, it's going to be real bad. And if it does work, it might be great.' When I'm about to pop my clock I want to be able to say, "From this particular period to this particular period, I was solid and I was honest and there were no compromises." I could be wrong. I might have been wrong many times. (Source: USA Today, June 25, 2006)

There was always the chance that maybe you'd get away with [taking risks] for one or two movies, and then you'd get deep-sixed and you're out on your ear. And I was okay with that. I figured, I pumped gas before, I worked construction before. So I could do it again, what the heck. It's still kind of miraculous to me that I was able to stick around after all these years. (Source: USA Today, June 25, 2006)

I was in a cluster of movies that by Hollywood definitions were not successful. They were flops. I was considered box-office poison but to me they were all successful and I don't feel any different about a success or failure. I don't know how to explain it, but by some miracle I have always been able to choose my characters for movies. Being able to get jobs throughout the 90s when, in the language of Hollywood, I was box-office poison should have been hard, yet I was able to do every single film I wanted to do and with every film-maker I wanted to work with. To me, whether I'm playing Ed Wood or Fear and Loathing, all these movies have commercial potential. Pirates could have easily flopped. It's always a crap shoot. (Source: The Guardian, July 3, 2006)

I kind of identify with all of [the characters I played]. I think all of them sort of, uh, each of them is a piece of me and I'm a piece of all of them in a way. (Source: The Philippine Star, July 9, 2006)

There were only a couple of [merchandise ideas] that I thought, "Now we're stepping over the line." I drew the line at hygiene products. It just seemed wrong. Like Captain Jack toothpaste, for example. How can a guy with gold teeth sell toothpaste? It's like a bald man selling shampoo. And cold cuts would be weird: Captain Jack hot dogs, bologna - things like that. (Source;, May 9, 2007)

The idea of status or where one stands in the competitive marketplace - that kind of thing is really foreign to me. It's one of those arenas of ignorance I really prefer to stay in. I've had people say some of the strangest things I've ever heard in my life: ''Do you know how much you've made?'' ''This is where you are in the power...'' It just doesn't make sense to me. I just feel glad that I still get jobs to where I don't have to sell out or sell my soul. Although maybe I sold my soul already. I don't know, it's hard to tell. (Source:, May 9, 2007)

I find it so difficult to watch anything I'm in. I don't like to be aware of myself in that way. I love discovering moments on the set. But I can't stand the idea that I have to see it later. I truly feel like it's none of my business. There's always that moment of, Well why did I do that? What the f--- were you thinking? It's horrible, seeing myself. Once they say, ''You're wrapped,'' you just walk away. Walk away and keep walkin'. (Source: Entertainment Weekly, December, 17, 2007)

I've probably had the thought [about leaving the Hollywood madness] regularly, about every eleven minutes for the past twenty years. But going through [with] it is something entirely different. (Source:, May 2007)

Part of the process that I've always enjoyed is being the observer. You know, just watching people and learning. At a certain point, the reversal took place. I was no longer the observer - I was being observed. That's obviously very dangerous because part of an actor's job is to observe. (Source: Esquire magazine, January 2008)

I've never felt particularly ambitious or driven. Everything I've done has happened because it's happened. (Source: Ireland On-line, June 2009)

I didn't think I would want to work this much but lately I've been getting offered some films I didn't feel I could turn down - different kinds of films and interesting characters to play. (Source: The Sun, November 27, 2010)

I think I feel I need to keep pushing myself. If I was completely and totally over the moon about my work I'd get out of the business immediately. (Source: The Sun, November 27, 2010)

I still have the kind of drive I had at seventeen but with a sort of experience of a much older man, which is wonderful to have distance and perspective and experience to carry around with you. (Source: BBC Mobile, May 17, 2011)

Without a doubt, I am basically a big, middle-aged, irrevent child. That's pretty much me. I think it's important to have fun within the context of work, and embrace the possibilities of obstacles and challenges and things like that and try to, especially with the character you are playing more than a couple of times, to try to explore new worlds with him. (Source: BBC Mobile, May 17, 2011)

It's hard to leave Jack. That's one of the problems, he's still in there and he never goes away. I can't stop him sometimes. (Source: Mail Online, July 6, 2013)

If I had to lean in one direction, I'd hang out with Captain Jack. I really would. He's fun. (Source: Inquirer Entertainment, June 22, 2013)

I think if you went back and looked at a few different characters I'm sure you would notice 'cuz everything has to come from some basis of truth. (Source: BBC1 News, July 29, 2013)

About Acting:

I don't necessarily want to always play the leading man - I'd like to shave my head and sew my eyeballs shut. (1988)

I want to keep growing and learning as much as possible. I want to fill myself in on all aspects of the industry - acting and directing. (1988)

But the way I look at it is that I'm paid insane amounts of money to make different faces and tell lies pretending to be someone else. (Source: News World, 1999)

I began acting, and I thought, "Well, this is an interesting road; maybe I should keep traveling on it." I didn't know what the hell I was doing, so I started to read everything about acting - Stanislavsky, Uta Hagen, Michael Chekhov. I started soaking it up. (2004)

The real movie stars were Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift. How could I put myself in the same category as Clark Gable? Tom Cruise is a great movie star. Do I consider myself a movie star? I consider myself a guy with a good job, an interesting job. (2004)

I enjoyed acting and I loved the process, but at the same time I hated the celebrity that came with it even though I know it's part of the game and the recognition you need to have people come see your movies. I just couldn't get my head into the place where I could just enjoy the attention and deal with it on that level instead of feeling stalked and paranoid about it. I'm a lot cooler about it now. (2004)

Strangely, even when I was miserable in my own life, I usually loved being on a film set and I truly reveled in the atmosphere of working with the director and the actors in creating something. Making films was always a refuge for me because I was totally focused on the work and not thinking about my own problems. (2004)

It's kind of a child's job, being an actor. It's play, it's a fun time to some degree. It's a great job, being irresponsibly responsible. (Source: Woolworths Fresh - Australia, January 10, 2005)

The key to fun [when acting] is when you're given the opportunity to be as irreverent as possible, and you can get in trouble for that. When I'm doing my homework for a scene, things come into the mind and I sort of incorporate them into my lines. It's fun! But what's even more fun is when you're doing a scene and something happens... you know, that sort of magic, the magic of chance, a mistake when somebody forgets a line or you say a different line and it throws the whole balance and suddenly the floor is gone beneath you and everybody is sort of winging it for a second... That's pure magic! And that's when I'm having the most fun, you know. (Source: The Philippine Star, July 9, 2006)

One of your great responsibilities not only to the director, yourself, or the film but one of your great responsibilities is to try to do something different each time for the audience. Your great responsibility is to not bore your audience. (Source:, March 22, 2010)

[The characters I've played are] all still in there. I always picture it as this chest of drawers in your body -- Ed wood in one, the Hatter is in another, Scissorhands is in another. They stick with you. Hunter is certainly in there - you know, Raoul Duke. The weirdest thing is that I can access them. They're still very close to the surface. (Source: Vaniety Fair, January 2011)

One of the primary concerns of an actor is "Can I, do I have the ability to change, to travel somewhere else wholly and completely not me?" (Source:, February 14, 2011)

I'm old, acting is a strange job for a grown man. I don't think I've developed a taste for acting yet. I'm not sure I ever will, to be honest. (Source: Yorkshire Post, August 9, 2013)

At a certain point you start thinking that when you add up the amount of dialogue that you say per year for example and you realise that written words more than you've actually had a chance to say your own words you start thinking about that as a insane option for a human being. (Source: BBC1 News, July 29, 2013)

About Infinitum Nihil:

My sister and I have this little [film] company and we've made some recent acquisitions that are pretty exciting... Some of them to be in and some of them just to sort of see that they get made. Some pretty special stuff we are excited about like the latest Nick Hornby novel I think called The Long Way Down. That's very exciting and a great book from an Australian writer named Gregory David Roberts called Shantaram which is a beautiful book. There's a few of them... I think Shantaram... I will [star in]. Feels like the right thing to do. Spent some time with Greg and I think it's the right thing to do. It's an area that I haven't really explored as an actor so I'd like to try it. (Source:, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory: An Interview with Johnny Depp, June 2005)

The beauty of [Infinitum Nihil's name], when someone asks you what it means, you can say, absolutely nothing because in Latin that's what it essentially means; absolutely nothing. (Source: Rolling Stone, February 2005)

About Being a Product:

I'm not a Blockbuster boy, I never wanted to be. (1999)

Especially in the beginning, they have to be able to label the product. So they just go "Rebel. This one's a rebel." Wow, I had no idea! There's that hideous pressure they hit you with initially, based on your image and how you look, and I never tended that garden. I was always scared shitless of that - it's really limiting and very dangerous. (2003)

Nobody really knows what you're feeling, what you're really going for, what you're really trying to do. Hell, I didn't even know what I was going for. I just knew that I didn't want to be assembly line. (2004)

For a lot of years, I was really freaked out. Maybe I took it all too seriously, you know? I was freaked out about being turned into a product. That really used to bug me. Now, more and more, I enjoy the process. Creating a character, working that character into a scene, into the movie. I mean, the last couple of things have been just a ball. (2004)

During [Edward Scissorhands] I got the phone call saying I was out of [21 Jump Street]. I felt like, "Ah, possibilities." I was freed up. I swore to myself that I would never again compromise to the degree that I had. I swore that I wouldn't just follow the commercial road. I wouldn't do what was expected of me or what was necessary to maintain whatever it is - a popular or financially rewarding career. I promised myself that I wouldn't do that. (2004)

The earth was saturated with these horrific images of me as Tom Hanson. They'd invented this product, and this product somehow looked like me, and I had no control over it. And I was forced to work maybe 290 days out of 365 days a year, and you end up saying some guy's words more than you say your own, and they aren't particularly good words, with a lot of histrionics and bad plot points, and that feels bad. It feels really bad. It was horrible. (Source: Rolling Stone, February 2005)

About Retirement:

I don't know if I could walk away. I guess if I got to a place where I thought I wasn't able to give in the same way that I have given, then I would walk away because I don't want to bore anybody. But right now there are things that keep me interested. (Source: Mail Online, July 6, 2013)

Are there quieter things that I wouldn't mind doing? Yeah. I wouldn't mind that. I wouldn't say that I'm dropping out any second, but I would say that it's probably not too far away. (Source: BBC1 News, July 29, 2013)