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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 you?
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 done?
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 your films?
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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