DEPP, JOHNNY: BLOW
Researching his role as the real life George Jung for his movie,
Blow, Johnny Depp discovers that real life and real people are a
lot more complicated than the movies might suggest, he explains
to Jenny Cooney Carrillo.
With his latest film, Blow, Johnny Depp (Ed Wood, Edward
Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and Donnie Brasco) transforms himself
yet again, this time taking on the true story of convicted drug
dealer, George Jung, who started out selling marijuana to bikini-clad
Californians in the 70s and wound up as the conduit to Colombian
kingpin Pablo Escobar, so blinded by his quest for wealth that he
loses all that is important to him along the way.
What was your initial attraction to the movie? What moved
Initially what really connected me with the script was that at
first glance it was a story that you may feel you have heard
before. But as you go further, really look at it and really read
it, you realize that the story has not been told before. At
least, it hasnít been beaten to death. It challenged me;
especially after meeting George. You initially would think of
this guy as the smuggler who, it appears, has abandoned his
family and would not be a very likeable person. When I met George
and read the book, I realized it was a lot more complicated than
that. He was doing what he knew. It was all he knew, and thatís
based on his sort of conditioning from his upbringing. He became
the thing he did not want to become. He became his greedy, money-obsessed
mother. Thereís an internal battle of sensing his mother
living inside him while at the same time trying to live up to his
father whom he worshipped and who was not a particularly material
guy. The challenge for me was to paint a portrait of a guy who is
not a bad guy, heís just someone who was doing his best. The
real George, who I spent days with in the Otisville penitentiary,
is a very charming, very bright, interesting guy.
During your conversations with George, was there a time
when he discussed his best and lowest points?
I think that the best time for George goes back to his youth,
before his smuggling days, before he put himself in the position
to hurt himself and to hurt others. From our conversations, thatís
what it appears to be. His worst time, certainly, is losing his
daughter, being dragged to prison, bound and gagged, where there
was nothing for him to do to get her back. The shame of it all is
that George is still in prison, sitting there. Heís learned
his lesson, heís not a threat to society, heís paid his
debt. The tragedy is really right now for George.
How do you feel about the movie not taking a stand on
drugs, not making any statement about the horrors of this drug?
I think the best example which this film gives - without pointing
a finger or preaching or judging as good or bad, wrong or right -
the best example is the facts. The facts of what George lived
through, that is the message. It all seems to start well, all
peaches and cream, then reality sets in and the facts take hold.
Your world becomes what it becomes; it begins to crumble all
around him. I think what happens to George is kind of losing by
winning, so winning is impossible for him. He lost everything:
his family, his daughter, his self-esteem, everything. I think
the message there is pretty clear.
You have a daughter, how would you feel if you found out
she was doing drugs?
Before or after I hit the floor? (Laughs) Well, hopefully because
of my past and because of what Iíve learned in my education
and upbringing and the things Iíve gone through in life, I
would be able to instill in her the dangers of drug use and drug
abuse. In fifteen or twenty years if she comes to me and says sheís
a pothead, I would be upset that she didnít come to me first
and say hey, Iím interested in experimenting, or I want to
know what this is or Ďcan we try it?í At that point
maybe I would say sure, if you need to try it. I mean with
marijuana being the least of all evils in terms of drugs, I would
consider myself lucky if that was all she was interested in. I
hope I can educate her so that sheís smarter than that, that
she wouldnít need those crutches, that synthetic happiness.
I hope I can teach her well but sheís only two so Iíve
got a long way to go!
So would you be frank about her in terms of what you have
The first thing that has been proven time and time again is that
as soon as you say no to someone, they will sprint right out and
score. I mean, look at prohibition. When they denied people the
right to drink alcohol, speakeasies sprang up all over, many more
than there were ever bars. People who never drank before wanted
to because it was illegal. I think that alcohol, even though itís
legal, can be dangerous, lead to aggressive behavior and cause
accidents and death when people drink and drive.
What do you use to go to those dark places you reach in
Well, Iím a product of my upbringing. But I can easily feel
very close to the light too, and very close to happiness. For a
lot of years I was confused about growing up, about knowing what
was right and wrong, what was important. I was kind of miserable
and abusing myself and feeling very angry. I had a rage that was
really close to the surface. I canít say that is has gone
away, the anger is still there, but I have never been closer to
the light than right now. Thatís for sure.
Published August 23, 2001
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RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.