Johnny Depp was once on the road to nowhere fast. Not these days. He's earned two Oscar nominations in the past two years. He ranked seventh on this year's Forbes power list for actors, and he's scooping up US$35-million for simultaneously shooting Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 over the next 10 months.
Not bad for a rebel actor who infamously trashed a New York hotel suite in 1994 on his way to becoming a promising, self-involved failure.
He can see clearly now, however. And the view from his home base in Paris is quite lovely, thank you, since he shares it with his wife, Vanessa Paradis, and their two children, Lily-Rose, 6, and Jack, 3.
Depp moved out of the Hollywood scene more than six years ago, to rid himself of his self-indulgent, substance-abusing lifestyle. Relocation did exactly that, and in the process gave him a new lease on life and the sort of movie career he never thought he would have -- a bankable box-office one.
"I mean, I never really thought about it much," says the 42-year-old, sporting a deep, dark tan from his Caribbean location for the filming of Pirates. "Someone mentioned something about some Forbes list or something, but it just made me laugh."
What his new status did, though, was more than he expected. It allowed him to re-team with friend and colleague Tim Burton when Burton was offered the job of directing the movie remake of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which opens Friday.
What a difference a few Depp hits make.
Fifteen years before, Burton, coming off his Batman success, had a difficult time getting approval to cast 21 Jump Street's Depp as the lead in Edward Scissorhands. Not now.
"It was the first time I didn't have to talk anyone into casting Johnny," says a smiling Burton, who also worked with Depp on 1994's Ed Wood and 1999's Sleepy Hollow. "In fact, before I could even open my mouth the studio goes, 'What about Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka?' I said, 'Well, OK. If you're going to force him on me, fine.' "
Less glib about casting decisions, Depp contends that he will be forever grateful to Burton for sticking by him when many had given up on him a decade ago.
"I know that over the years Tim's had to fight long, hard battles to allow me to be in a film because I wasn't particularly popular at various studios," admits Depp, whose 1990s box-office track record was considered weak.
So, armed with "a strong bond and a love and respect" for each other, Burton and Depp forged ahead with their movie translation of Dahl's caustic kids' book.
The plan was to be more loyal to the English writer's multi-layered social study than the 1971 film musical featuring Gene Wilder's madcap Wonka. However, both Depp and Burton decided the basics should remain the same:
Wonka, after a self-imposed isolation, opens his factory to a tour by contest winners -- five children who end up revealing themselves for what they are.
That includes, of course, Charlie (Finding Neverland's Freddie Highmore), the only poor child in the bunch, an innocent urchin with a disarming naivete.
Depp's Wonka shows a naivete, too, but he's not quite as disarming. And no, says Depp, there are no veiled Michael Jackson references included in his portrayal.
"When Tim and I talked about Wonka, there was no script," says Depp. "There was only Dahl's book for my notes, which was, in a lot of ways, a great gift."
The novella convinced the actor he should model Wonka's voice and behaviour after "guys like kids' show hosts Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers, who spoke in that kind of bizarre musical rhythm and cadence."
And the Prince Valiant haircut? All Depp. "I thought it would be kind of strange but right for him to have an almost Brian Jones bob," says the actor, referring to the haircut of the dearly departed member of the Rolling Stones.
Another Depp innovation: "Willy's references should be dated, like he locked himself in his room with a stack of Herman's Hermits records."
Not surprisingly, Burton agreed with Depp's Wonka ideas, "since we do share an absurd sense of humour."
And while Depp "knew it would be a risk to take it somewhere far away from the area that the brilliant Gene Wilder stomped on," he couldn't resist.
Just as he couldn't resist the temptation to fashion his Captain Jack in Pirates as a ragged Keith Richards, a trait so appropriate that Richards is scheduled to make a cameo in Pirates 2 as Jack's father.
"It's looking very, very good," says Depp of the Richards possibility. "I've talked to Keith about it, and he's been super sweet and keen to do it. And, boy, if that happens, talk about a dream come true."