Johnny Depp in Barcelona, "the city of 'Gernika'"

The actor visits the BCN Film Fest to present 'The Minamata Photographer'

4 min
Johnny Depp in Barcelona

BarcelonaIt is already known that Hollywood stars have their rhythms and a way of understanding time that relativises even Einstein's theory. Johnny Depp has shown in Barcelona that he is a Hollywood star by arriving 95 minutes late, wearing a clueless smile to his meeting with the press at the BCN Film Fest, where he is the big star of this year's edition. It should not be understood as a gesture of discourtesy, on the contrary: Depp uses the same strategy of temporal restructuring in his press conferences at festivals like Cannes, San Sebastián or the Berlinale. Basically, arriving late is his way of treating the BCN Film Fest with the deference due to a major international festival. What a humiliation if he had shown up on time! This was also understood by the press who, at the end of the event, started asking the actor for autographs and selfies.

The excuse for Depp's visit in Barcelona has been the presentation of The photographer of Minamata, which recreates the journey of photographer Eugene Smith to a Japanese fishing village where the dumping of chemical waste had multiplied the births of children with congenital diseases. Depp plays the photographer with a feverish energy, that of a broken, alcohol-ravaged man who hides behind his dirty beard and his cynicism, but still retains the ability to focus on beauty and capture humanity and pain in a gesture. "It was a great responsibility to play Eugene, both because of his life and his legacy," the actor explained. "I had admired his work for years and had talked to people who had known him. And preparing this character has been like digging for treasure, and finally you find it and understand the meaning of your work."

Depp has introduced himself with his trademark beatnik air, looking fresh out of bed. Extremely polite, he moves with parsimony, almost in slow motion. And he answers questions in the same way, pondering on words and throwing out ideas that don't always end up coming together. He apologises to the translator for chatting more than usual, praises her Spanish ("Very nice", he says). Between sentences about the film he's presenting, it's easy to sense the weariness of an actor tired of looking at the world through the veil of fame. "My experience in Japan to shoot the film was not very different from my visit to Barcelona, wherever I go I'm always in a hotel room and I see the cities through a window. I always visit too quickly, so I have decided to stay in Barcelona forever and ever, in this hotel". He said this with a smile, but before that he said without any irony that he is very happy to have come "to the city where the Gernika is". Reviewing newspaper archives we found that the actor visited the Reina Sofía in 2010 to see the work of Picasso during the promotion in Madrid of The tourist.

The soul of the photographer

After the slip, skilfully disguised by the festival's translator, Depp turned serious to talk about Smith and how "with each photograph a piece of the photographer's soul escapes": "With each snapshot you capture one thing and lose another, it's like a dance. Every photograph Eugene took in a war killed him a little bit and hardened him into a man with no time for nonsense. To portray certain things, you have to sacrifice others." Depp's baritone voice creeps through the words slowly, turned into a deep, husky whisper, but he rises to highlight the work of the Japanese actors. "The most normal thing on a shoot like this is that when you shout "action!" three extras look directly into the camera, but here we were surrounded by people who did an exceptional job," says the actor. Marlon Brando used to tell me, that anyone can be an actor. And the people in Minamata were great actors.

On The photographer of Minamata Depp also serves as a producer, a role he had already played in other projects such as the Hunter S. Thompson adaptation The Rum Diary and the recently released documentary Crock of Gold: Drinking with Shane McGowan. It doesn't take much to spot the pattern: they all star incredibly talented people who are consumed by their addictions to alcohol or drugs. The actor seems to be drawn to the clash between genius and excess, between creation and the self-destruction of the wilder side of life: "It's always been that way, ever since we were painting in the caves. Artists, writers, many admired people were not happy. Van Gogh was terribly unhappy and put out the fire that burned inside him by self-medicating. Charles Baudelaire used opium and hashish to eliminate pain. Many of the comedians who make us laugh are deeply unhappy people and their art comes precisely from their pain. And Eugene would not have become who he was without all his pain."

But Depp warns against the adolescent misunderstanding of pain as an obligatory toll on talent. It's not that I think you have to suffer to make art, that's a ridiculous idea," he says. "But I do think that if you are committed to what you do, to your means of expression, you should be prepared to suffer in order to maintain your vision, to defend your passion." To lighten the gravity of his thoughts - and perhaps so that he doesn't confuse Madrid with Barcelona again - the director of the BCN Film Fest, Conxita Casanovas, concluded the event by giving him a book by the historian Daniel Venteo with photographs of Barcelona from 1844 to 1986. "Tomorrow morning I'll tell you what I thought of it", promised the actor. Johnny Depp already has his Sant Jordi book, let's see who gives him the rose.