While Johnny Depp is appearing as journalist Paul Kemp, in The Rum Diary, it’s clear that he’s actually playing his friend Hunter S. Thompson, whom Depp previously appeared as (by the name Raoul Duke) in the 1998 cult classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
As the title of the film implies, a large portion of the film consists of an intoxicated Kemp’s misadventures in Puerto Rico. Depp sat down for an interview with the Arizona Republic about how he managed to act so drunk, what’s it like playing his close friend, and finally, how he ends up choosing his typically offbeat roles.
While most would assume that Depp was legitimately wasted throughout the filming of the movie, Depp claims he wasn’t or he still would be shooting the film. Instead, he’s based his “drunk acting” on “observation.”
He explains, “I’ve certainly been drunk in my life now and again. It’s just watching people and sponging that up, as much as you can. It’s not that difficult. You just sort of allow your spine to get a little bit looser. I think the main thing, when people get drunk they try to not be drunk, and that’s the sort of key. They start to blink more, they try to sit up.” Huh, good observation, actually — last week I spent an entire night out with my drunk friend who was trying his damnedest to not act drunk… but that was certainly not Johnny Depp level acting.
Of course, Depp was very close with Hunter S. Thompson, who the film’s main character is based off of. In fact, Depp was instrumental in getting Thompson to finally published The Rum Diary. One would imagine that Depp would have some difficulty essentially playing a close friend. He confirms this, but confesses that their close relationship did help, explaining, “Fortunately the one thing with Hunter is, I had a head start. He was so generous with me, and we got so close that I was able to sponge up as much of him as I possibly could. I had the luxury of kind of knowing him inside and out.”
Aside from Thompson, Depp is known for playing a wide variety of eccentric roles. How does he end up selecting his roles? He claims it isn’t very difficult, saying, “It’s pretty simple. I just read the thing, and I’m looking for that moment that sparks, that something that lights me up. The idea that I see something in a character that maybe I can bring something new to, maybe I can try something different that hasn’t necessarily been done to death. It’s really just kind of that. When I read a script, and I get a script that I really like and a character that appeals to me, I start getting these waves of images. It could be anything. It could be people I’ve known. It could be dogs I’ve had in the past. It doesn’t matter. I just get these images and start to apply them to the character. Really, that’s kind of it. What I like, and what I think is important in terms of being an actor, is that first and foremost, to bore your audience is like the worst thing you can do. Always try to keep them guessing. Always try to send them something out there that they’re not necessarily expecting. And always try to challenge yourself as an actor. The idea that I could have fallen flat on my face in terms of a couple of these characters is the very reason I did it. If you’re not prepared to fail miserably, then you’re just sort of walking through, aren’t you?”
I can assure Depp one thing — though some roles of his are better than others, his various attempts to challenge himself are never boring!
The Rum Diary out now.