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Johnny Depp on Public Enemies

Published July 2, 2009 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Universal Pictures
Public Enemies Public Enemies

Johnny Depp earned a reputation for playing quirky characters, or weirdos to the less tactful. However he also showed he could play a normal guy, in films like Donnie Brasco. A ‘30s gangster like John Dillinger could certainly fit in with the quirky, but he’s also a real person, so which way did Depp feel he was going with this one?

Christian Bale Hunts Down Public Enemies

“I think they're all normal,” Depp said. “I mean, to me, they're all normal. I think that most people are the same. We're all a bit weird when you get down to it. Yeah, I would say he's one of the more normal guys, normal just in the sense that he was nothing much more than an Indiana farm boy who stepped in a pile of something unpleasant and ended up in prison, in criminal school for 10 years and that was his college education and he became very good at what he learned. The fact that this guy became a sort of mythic, Robin Hood figure, I mean this is a guy who really took the ball and ran with it. That's pretty normal to me. Most people run with it when they get the ball.”

Dillinger became a famous criminal for robbing banks in the Chicago area, earning public sympathy for focusing on bank money, leaving individual money out of his collection. “At that time, with what was going on in the World, especially in the States, Dillinger, those people, not all of them, but a good majority of those people, it was the common man standing up against the establishment and saying, ‘No. Oh no. I've had it up to here. So now I'm going to get some and I'm gonna get some at whatever cost.’ There are comparisons, that Dillinger is the Robin Hood of that time. There is some some truth to it. He did literally, with the farmers at the bank with their life savings, he did actually hand it back to them and say, ‘I don't want your money. I don't want it. I came for the bank's money. The bank's money is my money and I'm taking it.’ And he did. That's not to say he's a saint, but he was a man's man, at that time. He stood up because certainly the government and J. Edgar Hoover, at best they were slimy. So who were the criminals really?”

Public Enemies Public Enemies

Public Enemies Public Enemies

Public Enemies Public Enemies

Public Enemies Public Enemies

Some might say that little has changed in the 70 or so years since Dillinger, but Depp would not be so quick to compare Dillinger to today’s criminals. “People are different, unfortunately. People are different than they were back then. Back in 1933, there was some degree of innocence left. Today, on some level, we're really hit the digital wall and a wall where almost everything is available, if you can make your way to it, so I think people are radically different. I don't know if you could have a similar kind of folk hero, a similar kind of hero as today. Maybe, what, Subcomandante Marcos down in Chiapas, who's trying to protect the Indians in Mexico, he might be the closest sort of thing that we can have, in terms of innocence and purity because at that time, 1933, the banks were clearly the enemy. They foreclosed and they were taking people's lives away from them. Not that it's all that different now. Here we are teetering on this similar kind of recession/depression. God, the banks are still the enemy, aren't they? Right? I don't know. If somebody starts robbing banks, as long as nobody gets gets hurt. Start out with 7-11s.”

Whichever way you fall on Dillinger’s morality, he was definitely a badass. Near the end of his crime spree, he actually walked right through the offices of the Dillinger Squad unnoticed. “He actually did walk through what was called then the Dillinger Squad. He pulled his car out up front and walked into the Dillinger Squad all and wandered through all of these cops. His photograph was everywhere. That's all true. He had an enormous amount of, for lack of a better word, chutzpah. He had confidence. One of the things that I admire about him is to have gotten so far and to have become that kind of really existentialist hero. Everyday was his last. He had made peace with that. He was fine with that. Yesterday doesn't exist. He just kept moving forward. There is something admirable about that. I think he felt the clock was ticking. I think maybe when you're in an adrenaline, you may feel that sort of thing, like ‘Nobody can get me’ but I don't think he was dumb. And I think to really feel completely untouchable, there's a certain amount of ignorance in that. I think he just felt like, ‘I got that one. Let's go to the next. What happens now?'”

Public Enemies is out in theaters now.

For the trailers, stills, posters, review and more movie info, go to the Public Enemies Movie Page.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Universal Pictures

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