Hard to believe now, but there was a time, a very long time ago, when I couldn't stand Johnny Depp. I thought he was a no-talent pretty boy with greasy, stupid-looking hair and lousy taste in clothes. Of course, a lot of this enmity probably stemmed from the way my girlfriend at the time got all dewy every time she saw a commercial for 21 Jump Street. You see, I was painfully aware of how very, very un-Depp-like I was -- I was much more along the lines of his Jump Street co-star Peter DeLuise in build, style, and attitude -- and, well, teenage males of the species have a tendency to turn jealousy into hostility, often with a layer of homophobia for good effect. That's why I denounced all the members of Duran Duran as "fags" (even though I wasn't exactly clear on what a fag was, or why it was so bad to be one), and that's why I really hated Johnny Depp. (Don't even get me started on Richard Greico and his shaved eyebrows!)
I was perfectly content with my Johnny-Depp-sucks paradigm. No, really, it was working for me. But then he had to go and star in Edward Scissorhands, which was directed by the guy who made Batman so you know I just had to see it, and wouldn't you know it, Depp was actually pretty good in it, damn him. And then he just kept making movies I liked, or at least movies in which I liked him. He wasn't afraid to choose roles that made him look weird or unsavory or unsympathetic or wussy, and I could respect that. And he could actually act, too, and he proved it by trying not to do the same type of role twice, which, again, I really respected. And gradually, movie by movie, performance by performance, he wore me down. (To tell the truth, it really didn't take that long; breaking up with that girl who made me feel second-best to a TV character accelerated the process considerably, and by the time Ed Wood opened in '94, I was, if not an actual Depp fan, at least comfortable saying I wanted to see his new movie.)
These days, post-Pirates, I'm fully recovered from my adolescent insecurity and Johnny Depp now holds a high position on my short-list of favorite actors. And you know what? The more I learn about what he's like off-screen, the more I think he probably ought to be on my short-list of favorite people, too, because he strikes me as one damn cool cat. For instance, did you hear the story of how he donated a million pounds to the hospital where his daughter was treated a year ago for a potentially fatal case of E. coli? And this was after inviting five of the doctors and nurses from the hospital -- I presume they were the ones who actually treated his little girl -- to the London premiere of Sweeney Todd (which he'd been working on when she got sick). And then -- and here's the part that really impressed me -- he quietly spent four hours at the hospital in character and full costume as Captain Jack Sparrow, reading stories to sick kids. There were no news cameras or paparazzi around, and the event doesn't seem to have been widely reported; it wasn't about getting some good PR in advance of the next big film opening. It was just a kindly thing to do in an attempt to show some gratitude.
These days when so many of the people in the public eye seem hell-bent on behaving as outrageously as possible, it's so refreshing to hear about a wealthy celebrity performing a simple little act of human decency.