Remember when Johnny Depp was one of the most exciting character actors in Hollywood? Remember his electrifying performances in Ed Wood and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Throughout the 1990's, Depp was a producer's dream; a character actor with the smoldering good looks of Brad Pitt, the cavernous intensity of De Niro and a versatility that was unprecedented. He was the savior of commercial art-house cinema, attracting the box office dollars that allowed visionary filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton to make the movies they wanted to make without having to worry about studio pressure and financial constraints. Everyone in the business wanted to work with him, and he even found the time to play guitar on Oasis albums and appear on The Fast Show.
In the last few years, however, his roles have been limited to bit parts in Burton's vanity projects and voice work in between his appearances as Captain Jack Sparrow. Releasing four films of the scale of the Pirates of the Caribbean films in seven years is no easy task, and Depp's schedule has been as full as Jerry Bruckheimer's bulging wallet. He has become unbookable for anything that doesn't involve him swaggering around in a baggy white shirt and a stupid hat like a drunk uncle at a wedding. As someone who enjoyed his early work so much, I find it infuriating that such a great actor is wasting his career making unashamedly vacuous money-spinning blockbusters when he should be creating exciting, important films with great directors.
In the wake of Transformers 3, this year's Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides seems almost inoffensive. However, you only have to think about it for a few seconds before the horrible reality of it comes flooding back. It was a tortuously boring film, with an unfastidious plot and a collection of undisciplined performances. The commercial appeal has not waned however, with the latest installment taking over a billion dollars at the box office despite being poorly received by critics.
I have long been hoping that he will reunite with Terry Gilliam and finally breathe life back into their abandoned "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" project (the demise of which was so wonderfully documented in "Lost in La Mancha"), but it was announced today that Depp is officially in the process of signing up for yet another Pirates film. Whether the paycheck he receives is just too good to turn down, or whether he genuinely has an affection for the character, only he can say, but enough is enough.
"With great power comes great responsibility" as the saying goes. Johnny Depp has been blessed with an extraordinary talent and owes it to his profession and himself to stop this nonsense and start doing some proper, interesting and challenging work.
Follow Jack Pelling on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MyCelluloidHero