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As the iconic American actor turns 50, we look back on some of his best roles and the way music helped shape him and his movies.
Unbelievable as it seems, Johnny Depp is 50 years old. From one-time teen pin-up to Hollywood’s most versatile - and certainly most eccentric - leading man, his career has featured an array of unforgettable performances. Twice voted People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, the actor’s also a huge music fan and a fairly accomplished guitar player.
Johnny Depp’s own musical aspirations kicked off when, as a 12-year old, he was given a guitar by his mother. He began playing in various bands and dropped out of high school to become a musician. When he attempted to go back to his studies two weeks later, the school principal turned him away and told him to follow his dream.
In 1986, a youthful Depp appeared as Private Lerner in Oliver Stone’s harrowing Vietnam war drama, Platoon. The soundtrack brought Samuel Barber’s haunting Adagio for Strings to audiences worldwide and established it as one of the best loved 20th century classical works.
Depp’s first major role was in the 1990 comedy musical, Cry Baby, directed by John ‘Hairspray’ Waters. To cast the role of the eponymous hero, Waters bought himself a bunch of teen magazines, and noticed all of them had Depp on the cover - he was appearing in the TV crime show 21 Jump Street at the time. Despite being a good singer, Depp didn’t however provide his own singing vocals for Cry Baby. His character was dubbed by a Californian Rockabilly musician.
For Ed Wood (1994), Depp took on the real-life role of the world’s most terrible film director. Unusually for a Tim Burton-directed film, Danny Elfman did not compose the music for this one. That job went to Howard Shore, seven years before The Lord of the Rings catapulted him to the Hollywood A-list of composers.
In Donnie Brasco (1997), Depp plays an FBI undercover agent who infiltrates a mafia family in New York. The emotive score was written by the British composer – and Kenneth Branagh’s longtime musical accomplice - Patrick Doyle.
In 2000, Johnny whipped out his guitar again for the bitter-sweet cinematic confection that was Chocolat. It told the story of a young mother (Juliette Binoche) who opens a small chocolate business in a conservative French village. Needless to say she falls for Depp, in his element playing a travelling Gypsy.
Playing a Romani again in The Man Who Cried (2000), Johnny Depp is a mysterious horseman who catches the attention of a young Jewish refugee, played by Christina Ricci. An aria from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, ‘Je Crois Entendre Encore’ plays a crucial role in the film’s plot.
Depp contributed his own musical composition to the soundtrack of the 2003 action film, Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Director Robert Rodriguez requested that each of the main actors supply him with four or eight notes of a melody for their character - but Depp presented him with a complete track.
Despite the penchant for posing with the piano, Johnny Depp is not an ivory tickler - the guitar is his instrument.
Depp is a big fan of the Gypsy band Taraf de Haidouks. They even played at his wedding. Picture by: Yui Mok/PA Archive/Press Association Images
Johnny Depp was brilliant as the all-singing, all-murdering demon barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd, in the movie of the classic Stephen Sondheim musical. Depp’s intense performance won him a Golden Globe for Best Actor, and an Academy Award nomination. Word is that he will now be joining Meryl Streep and James Cordon in James ‘Chicago’ Marshall’s forthcoming movie version of Sondheim’s Into the Woods. The role? The ravenous wolf who pursues Little Red Riding Hood.
In 2011, Depp lent his vocal talents to the animated character of Rango, a chameleon who accidentally ends up in an outpost town that desperately needs a new sheriff. Oh, and there's the guitar again...
No tribute to Johnny Depp would be complete without showing him with his mate and longtime collaborator, director Tim Burton. From Edward Scissorhands, through Willy Wonka, the Mad Hatter and Sweeney Todd, to last year’s Dark Shadows, their films together have brought some of cinema’s most fantastical creations to life. And composer Danny Elfman has provided the scores for most of them.
And speaking of fantastical creations - no chance of any guitar playing for Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands (1990).