One of Hollywood's most beloved stars, Johnny Depp remains something of an enigma, hiding behind unforgettable characters like Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, the Mad Hatter and now Tonto, Native American side-kick to masked vigilante the Lone Ranger.
Meeting with Depp recently in Las Vegas, even his torn fedora, Gram Parsons vintage T-shirt, blue-tinted shades and guyliner seem like part of an elaborate disguise, keeping him at a distance from the real world.
For the real world is not a place he regularly inhabits, randomly popping up to jam at a rock concert while, on the day we meet, he's literally just flown in by private jet from his equally private island in the Bahamas. In Los Angeles, he occupies a compound so large it spreads across a city block close to Sunset Boulevard, patrolled by security guards who span the perimeter by golf cart.
"I'm used to living like a fugitive now, so it doesn't really matter. Anonymity? I remember it, but it ain't there no more," he smiles. "I have actually worn ridiculous things to be able to go out in public now and again. You know, you glue on a fake nose and a ZZ Top beard, bandana over your head, and you just look like a weathered roadie."
Thanks to his lovability factor, Depp's lifestyle is deemed just mildly eccentric whereas anyone else would have been dubbed bonkers long ago.
"In Hollywood, I've always just done whatever I've done and still feel lucky to be in the game, without having to play the game too much," muses the thrice-Oscar-nominated actor.
That luck may just be running out now that the abysmal reviews for The Lone Ranger are in.
Slammed by critics, the $250m-budget movie failed to even make it to the top of the US box office, and the Los Angeles Times now use it as a benchmark by which to compare other big-budget flops.
Unperturbed by bad reviews, he says: "There's always going to be naysayers, everybody has got an opinion, man. The great Christopher Hitchens said that everyone in the world has a book inside them, and that's exactly where it should stay. So people can critique and dissect but I know that I approached it in the right way. And that's all I can do."
It's impossible to review Depp's career without mentioning Tim Burton with whom he's collaborated eight times, beginning in 1990 with Edward Scissorhands through Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Alice in Wonderland to, most recently, Dark Shadows, encompassing a range of genres: fantasy, horror, family, musical and animation.
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While producing some of their best work together, the union has also prompted scores of websites condemning their ubiquitous partnership.
If Depp took Tim Burton as his movie bride almost quarter of a century ago, then Gore Verbinski has emerged as his mistress, their relationship producing Rango, three Pirates of The Caribbean movies and now The Lone Ranger.
Undoubtedly one of the most gifted actors of his generation, US audiences, however, signalled their boredom with his kooky, costumed routine, staying away from The Lone Ranger in droves.
Having long claimed Cherokee and Creek Indian ancestry, Tonto is a role he claims he was born to play: "As far as my own heritage, there's no way to track it. If you have one-sixteenth of native blood, which a lot of people do, you can't really trace it, because you weren't part of the nation. Basically, it probably boils down to somewhere along the line, you were a product of rape," he argues. "I mean really. Actual rape. Not like Hollywood rape. That's different."
During a seven-month shoot on locations around Utah's Western majestic landmarks in Monument Valley and Moab, the crew was careful not to re-open old wounds: "The production was blessed by the Navajo and the Comanche. One day I got a call from this great Comanche woman, LaDonna Harris, who decided she wanted to adopt me into her family and into the Comanche nation, which will always be the greatest honour I have ever been given," recalls the actor who underwent an emotional "adoption" ceremony.
In returning The Lone Ranger to the screen – 80 years since the masked lawman and his feathered friend debuted their adventures on radio, comics and a popular TV series – he says: "The Native American has been treated very poorly by Hollywood and portrayed as a savage. So I wanted to play Tonto not as the sidekick to the Lone Ranger, a go-fetch-a-soda-boy kind of thing, but as a warrior and as a man with great integrity and dignity.
"I learned more about this from the great mentor, father and friend that I had in Marlon Brando. It's my small sliver of contribution to try to right the wrongs committed in the past," says Depp, who directed Brando in the little-watched Native American drama The Brave in 1997.
In common with many of his previous screen creations, make-up and costume assist in his physical transformation: "I was in make-up a couple of hours every day, unless I decided to wear it home which was quite often, just to save time in the morning. It wasn't comfortable, and I looked funny, but it was worth it I think.
"Then I took a dead bird and put it on top of my head as my spirit guide. Everyone should try it, by the way. It really is something!"
If critics claim Tonto resembles some of Depp's other screen incarnations, then he's in no position to argue: "I made a choice a long time ago, that I was better off not watching my films, which is a drag because you miss out on a lot of your friends' incredible work. But I feel like it would just harm me. I would rather stay as ignorant as possible about the result of anything because once you're done playing that character, it's really not your business anymore.
"Actually, somebody once put together a reel containing bits of different films I had done, and when I saw the characters line up in a row like that, I thought it was amazing that I was able to get away with it.
"Truly. I am just amazed that I still get jobs. I am shocked," laughs Depp currently filming Wally Pfister's sci-fi thriller Transcendence.
Set to reprise Captain Jack Sparrow a fifth time in 2015, he confesses it's been tough shaking off the reprobate pirate: "That's one of the problems. He's still in there!" he says, slipping into his familiar Captain Jack/Keith Richards cockney accent. "He never really goes away. I can't stop him! These characters that you have gotten to live the majority of probably an unhealthy amount of time, they never go away. Which will probably be a problem down the line, but I am not worried about it. Yet."
Having forged a close personal relationship with the veteran Rolling Stone, he's now putting together a documentary on Richards which he will also direct: "I wouldn't say it's a documentary on Keith so much as it's an opportunity to experience Keith as people don't get to see him, as he is quite a mysterious being. Essentially, it's Keith and I sitting around having a conversation and what it boils down to is his wisdom and philosophy and his experience."
Everyone's favourite Peter Pan, Depp turned 50 on 9 June, marking that milestone with a quiet dinner out with daughter Lily-Rose, 14, and son Jack, 11, from his former relationship with French singer Vanessa Paradis.
And while it's common knowledge in industry circles that Depp has been dating his Rum Diary co-star Amber Heard, 27, for the past two years, he makes fatherhood his priority.
"I think my midlife crisis happened at 19 or 20 years old. But I don't think we have a long enough piece of paper to name the things I inflicted upon myself during my midlife crisis, but I will say it was called self-medicating," the actor says, noting that he has remained sober for 18 months in order to best deal with the emotional fall-out from the end of his 14-year union with Paradis.
The trick to defying age, he claims, is simple: "If you keep your curiosity in life, and stay fascinated, I think it keeps you young beyond numbers."
Asked how he felt about reaching a half century, he sighs: "Well, it could be worse, I could not have turned 50. Now that would be a real drag."
'The Lone Ranger' opens on Friday
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