Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland.
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Listen: Playing Joe Pistone in 'Donnie Brasco' (1997)
Listen: Identifying with the character J.M. Barrie
Listen: Playing real people
Johnny Depp has played some eccentric characters over the years — Edward Scissorhands, cross-dressing movie director Ed Wood, Caribbean pirate Capt. Jack Sparrow. Now Depp stars as the legendary J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. NPR's Elizabeth Blair talks to Depp about his new film, Finding Neverland, and some of the characters he's inhabited.
Watch Scenes from 'Finding Neverland' (Miramax, 2004)
Depp was drawn to the role of Barrie because he could identify with the author's insistence on staying in touch with his childlike imagination. Barrie "only felt comfortable when he was hanging around with kids for the pure reason that there were no ulterior motives," Depp says. "Kids didn't have any agenda... They just behaved and they were pure and honest and he was kind of obsessed with that."
Playing real people — like drug trafficker George Jung in Blow (2001) or FBI undercover agent Joe Pistone in Donnie Brasco (1997) — comes with added responsibility, the actor says.
"You owe it to their memory, to everything they did in life, and to their families to do as good a job as possible and be as honest about it as possible," Depp says.
Depp took a risk playing the outlandish Raoul Duke, based on "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The 1998 film flopped, but Depp says "an actor owes it to himself to try different things each time out of the gate... You don't want to keep serving up the same dish. [The audience will] get sick of it."