Edward Scissorhands (1990)
The Role: Edward Scissorhands
Why It’s The Best: Some actors get lost under piles of prosthetic make-up. Not Depp, who skilfully adapts to the bulky, cumbersome outfit and uses it to build upon his character. It’s a winning, fragile, subtle performance.
Iconic Moment: As Ed carves an ice sculpture of an angel, his shavings make it snow in the back yard. Caught in the moment, Kim (Winona Ryder) dances in the floating flecks .
Johnny Says: “I can remember when I finished Edward Scissorhands , looking in a mirror as the girl was doing my makeup for the last time, putting on the appliances and the prosthetics - this was like the 90th day or the 89th day of shooting.
"And looking and going, ‘Wow. This is it. I'm saying goodbye to this guy. I'm saying goodbye to Edward Scissorhands.’ It was funny, I was kind of sad.”
The Role: George Jung
Why It’s The Best: By his own admission, Depp completely empathises with cocaine emperor Jung, seeing in him the future that Depp could’ve had without acting. Which leads to one of Depp’s most layered and fascinating performances.
Iconic Moment: Barbara tells George “ I don’t have two years. ”
Johnny Says: “In the world we're in, when the opportunity presents itself, as it did to George, to make a whole bunch of money tax-free, beautiful women, lots of everything, freedom... It's very tempting. Of course I tried [ drugs ], I did my share of it, but it was never really my favourite.
“We all arrive at that point in our lives where you're faced with a turning point. Had things not worked out in my life the way they did, had I not found music at a very young age, there's a very good possibility I would have gone a similar direction [ to Jung's ].”
Whats Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
The Role: Gilbert Grape
Why It’s The Best: It takes quite something to not be out-acted by Leonardo DiCaprio here, who puts in a scene-stealingly brilliant turn as handicapped bro Arnie. To his credit, Depp holds his own as a young guy wrestling with his own existence.
Iconic Moment: When Arnie climbs up a water tower and refuses to come down, Gilbert starts singing through a megaphone to lure him to safety. “Match and a gas tank, boom, boom!”
Johnny Says: “On the surface, Gilbert Grape would seem like a pretty normal guy, but I was interested in what was going on underneath, in the hostility and rage that he has and that he’s only able to show a couple of times in the film.
“I understand the feeling of being stuck in a place, whether it’s geographical or emotional. I can understand the rage with wanting to completely escape from it and from everybody and everything you know and start a new life.”
Donnie Brasco (1997)
The Role: Donnie Brasco / Joseph D. 'Joe' Pistone
Why It’s The Best: Depp mixes with the big guns, starring opposite Al Pacino and never getting lost in the glare of star wattage. He’s also convincingly tortured as he’s pulled between the gangsters and the cops – and damn those shades are cool.
Iconic Moment: “Who won the fuckin’ war?” Donnie refuses to take his shoes off in a Japanese restaurant because he’s hidden a tape recorder in his boot.
Johnny Says: “ Donnie Brasco was a motherfucker of a movie. I spent a lot of time with the real Donnie Brasco, Joe Pistone. Brasco was his undercover name.
“He’s got an interesting rhythm to his speech. I did my best to get that. I put great pressure on myself to make it fucking right for the guy. He lived it. I was just pretending.”
The Role: Cry-Baby
Why It’s The Best: Just look at him. Greased hair styled into a quiff, jutting jaw, cut-glass cheekbones – Depp looks like he just swaggered straight out of the ‘50s. An icon is born.
Iconic Moment: The Big Boo-Hoo gets out on stage and whips the crowd into a foot-stampin' frenzy.
Johnny Says: “A great experience. I consider John [ Waters, director ] one of my best friends. But also, not a lot of people can say that they have been able to sit down at a table with Iggy Pop and Patricia Hearst and Polly Bergen and John Waters all at the same time.
I love [ Patricia ]. I think she’s great. She’s really a good, good, good person. I sort of had a crush on her.”
Ed Wood (1994)
The Role: Ed Wood
Why It’s The Best: It’s Depp’s second pair up with Tim Burton, and a fittingly wacky tribute to the man they called the worst director ever. His interactions with Martin Landau are the things movie dreams are made of.
Iconic Moment: “Honey, I got a little surprise for ya.” Ed lets his honey read his script, before debuting the film’s, uh, star ...
Johnny Says: “ Ed Wood was a perfect experience. I know that sounds like I’m bullshitting because everybody says that after a film, but it was, really, and a perfect escape from playing a serious role in a kind of sad movie like Gilbert Grape ."
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003)
The Role: Captain Jack Sparrow
Why It’s The Best: Nobody said it would work, but leave it to Depp to prove a whole building full of studio execs wrong. Playing Captain Jack Sparrow as a woozy, flouncy good-for-nothing, it's a trick that has survived the onslaught on three bloated sequels.
Iconic Moment: Sparrow brings his boat in to dock even as it sinks below the waves – and he steps straight onto the jetty without the blink of an eye.
Johnny Says: “In my eyes, those men weren't after the big money. Pirates searched for ultimate freedom. They were the rock stars of the 18th century. That's how I arrived at the greatest rock star of history and that's Keith Richards, who, to me, is a bit of pirate himself.
“I mixed a part of Keith with the cartoon figure Pepe Le Pew, a skunk that falls in love with a cat that can't stand him. I used Pepe because he only sees his reality. That's a part of Jack's character as well.”
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)
The Role: Raoul Duke
Why It’s The Best: Essentially Jack Sparrow for adults, Fear And Loathing has Depp dressed up in as many colours as possible while mumbling through scenes as a drunk, drugged-up explorer.
Iconic Moment: “We came here to find the American dream.” Raoul embraces the fun of Vegas .
Johnny Says: “What's fun is to try something that maybe hasn't been beaten to death. To try and do something a little bit different. I mean, what's the risk? The risk is you fall flat on your face, or you make an ass of yourself, or you get fired. But there's always other things.
"With characters like Raoul Duke from Fear And Loathing , you know it's only going to happen one time, this opportunity to do this. So you just take your best shot. Somebody hands you the ball and you run as fast as you can.”
Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003)
The Role: Sands
Why It’s The Best: Depp’s back in the cool shades, stealing the entire show in this follow-up to Desperado . The film itself isn’t a patch on its predecessor, but Depp’s on typically explosive form.
Iconic Moment: “This is it kid.” A blind Sands still manages to do some serious damage ...
Johnny Says: “When I said I was in, I told [ director Robert Rodriguez ] the kind of direction I would like to go with the character. I said, ‘Tell me if this feels alright. I don't want to go somewhere you don't want to go.’
“I brought up the idea of the eternal tourist. The unhappy tourist. The bitter tourist. Of someone who has a penchant for bad T-shirts and fanny packs.
"I saw him as a guy who's such a badass, he would wear obviously fake disguises just to try to make someone comment on his disguise, so he could kill them. [ Points his fingers like a gun ] Pop! It's over.”
Don Juan DeMarco (1995)
The Role: Don Juan
Why It’s The Best: Depp works his magnetic charms to cheek-blushing effect as a young man who believes he is the fabled Spanish seducer. Treading a fine line between funny and genuinely charming, Depp’s star wattage increases before your very eyes as he tackles this tricky role.
Iconic Moment: Don Juan seduces a stranger in a restaurant simply by touching her hand .
Johnny Says: “It chose me, it came to me. Marlon Brando’s maybe the greatest actor of the last two centuries. But his mind is much more important than the acting thing.
“The way that he looks at things, doesn’t judge things, the way he assesses things. He’s as important as, uh, who’s important today? Jesus, not many people... Stephen Hawking!”
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
The Role: Ichabod Crane
Why It’s The Best: Another team-up with Tim Burton takes Depp further into gothic territory, the actor playing up to the high camp of the genre with a cackle-inducing display as a wimpy police constable who’s not quite up to the task.
Iconic Moment: “It was a headless horseman... It was a horseman, a dead one... headless!” Ichabod cowers in his bed in the face of supernatural horror...
Johnny Says: “Tim and I knew, because of how we work together, we were going to throw in as much humour as possible. There were opportunities that had been missed in the script, so we went nuts throwing in as much as possible.
“I was sort of doing Snoopy dances thinking I was going to get to wear a long nose and big ears. The classic Ichabod Crane from the book - Washington Irving's description is really beautifully written.
"So, yeah. I did want to do that. [ But ] there was a fairly hefty silence from the upper echelon at Paramount.”