Saturday, January 15, 2011

An Interview with Johnny Depp with Myself

Dear Dale,

I have only interviewed four people in my life.

My first Q and A was with the police chief in my home town of Acton, Massachusetts for my elementary school newspaper.  As I can best recall, my hard-nosed investigative tactics compelled him to disclose the scandalous truth that his most exciting call to date had involved a six-foot python loosed in an apartment complex.  Actually, I very much doubt that this was the truth, but I suppose you can’t say “shot a drug-dealer” to a third-grader.  He also took me on a tour of our town jail and informed me that because they had no kitchen facilities, any prisoners held overnight were fed McDonalds from an establishment down the street.  The prospect of this nearly inspired me to the beginnings of a juvenile crime spree right then and there.  Fortunately my father had the foresight to stop by Micky D’s on the ride home: actions that likely spared a bank and several liquor stores from the perils of a four-foot bandito all too willing to be locked up.

My second interview was with my grandmother about her experiences escaping the Holocaust during World War II.  This was for a sixth grade cultural heritage project.  In truth her story is both fascinating and drastically under-told: her and my grandfather were among tens of thousands of Jewish refugees who escaped Nazi Germany and fled to Shanghai, China to wait out the war in a ghettoized community within (ironically) the Japanese-occupied territory.  The interview itself was a noteworthy experience, as she was already exhibiting the early signs of Alzheimer’s but was nonetheless able to conjure up distant memories and divulge tales of her worldly travels (she also lived in Uruguay for two years while my grandfather, who had moved to Kansas City, struggled to acquire her a US visa).  This may have been the only decent interview I ever gave, though this had nothing to do with my journalistic aptitudes and everything to do with my subject and the particular circumstances surrounding our exchange.
An interesting side note: it was while performing research for this project that my family discovered my grandmother had been married prior to meeting my grandfather.  She had never disclosed this fact to my father.  Given her fragile state at the time, we decided not to grill her on it.  For all I know, I have cousins out there whom I have never met.  Keep this in mind if you are of German ancestry and ever sleep with me.

The target of my third set of ordered quandaries was a girl, Nicola, from a creative non-fiction seminar during my junior year of high-school.  For a particular assignment, the class was broken into pairs and told to interview each other then write up a personal profile of our partner based on the conversation.  All I now remember from Nicola’s and my exchange was her raving about the pseudo-Christian rock group, Pedro the Lion, and inspiring me to download one of their albums.  To this very day I will concede that “Options” is exceedingly listenable.  On the grand scale of interrogations, this was no Frost/Nixon.

My fourth and final interview was for a high school environmental-science project about the Biosphere 2 Experiment (that was the actual self-sustainable “Bio-Dome,” upon which the 1996 Pauly Shore/Stephen Baldwin film is loosely based).  I was fortunate enough to interview Abigail Alling, one of the original crew members who lived inside the sealed biosphere for two years in the early nineties.  I believe I spent most of the interview trying to get her to say that the Earth’s environment was heading into dire straits and that someday all humans would be forced to live inside biospheres – possibly on the moon.

Needless to say I do not boast an extensive repertoire when it comes to mono-e-mono journalistic inquiry. 

On the flip side of this, I have only ever been interviewed (for publication) once.  It was in response to a national student playwriting competition I managed to win during my senior year of college.  The interviewer was a freshman (probably a journalism student), assigned to compose a write-up for a Northwestern University online news-source.  Far from a budding Barbara Walters (or even Wendy Williams), the poor girl was soft-spoken and seemed nerve-wracked to the extent that it made me uncomfortable just sitting across from her at the university Starbucks.  In my mind I had cultivated a slew of artful answers, designed to showcase myself as an under-spoken theatrical genius, but the awkwardness of the exchange got the better of me and I wound up sounding like the typical star-struck dullard upon whom an unexpected honor has been bestowed (which, to her credit, was very much a more accurate representation than the one I had devised). 

Needless to say, I don’t have much experience answering questions for the purposes of transposition into editorial presentation.

Ok, Dale.  I bet at this point you’re wondering, “so what?”  A lot of people haven’t been interviewed or interviewed others and the only ones who would get upset about that are experienced journalists (which I’m not) or entitled egomaniacs who believe that anyone actually gives a crap about their sad and meaningless lives.  Oh Dale, you know me all too well.

Look, I figure now that I’ve got this blog, it’s a perfect forum for me to try my hand at certain journalistic endeavors whose intricacies I had always hoped to explore.  After all, here’s a media platform in which I’m in total control, and you, Dale, have to read what I write, no matter how self-indulgent it may be.  In the spirit of such sentiment, I am going to kill two birds with one semantic stone and interview myself.

Now do pause a moment before you rush to judgment, Dale.  While I may be an unabashed egoist, I am an unabashed egoist with some semblance of journalistic integrity.  I’m well aware that interviewing myself creates the obvious problem of media bias.  If I’m the one asking myself the questions, I will by that very nature angle my inquiries to include only things that I want to be asked in the first place and whose responses are certain to cast me in a favorable light.  Basically, it will turn into any Bill Maher interview with a left-wing politico (minus the weird velociraptor face – does anyone else see that?  The man looks like he should be chasing terrified moppets around Jurassic Park). 

Since I’m not looking to soft-ball myself (however kinky that might sound), I’ve opted to go another route with this interview: one that will afford me practice at both ends of the interrogatory spectrum without resorting to the aforementioned issue of bias.  How, you ask, do I intend to both ask and answer my own questions without slanting them to my advantage?  By utilizing an intermediary: a go-between.  What I will do is write ten questions as though I were interviewing not myself, but beloved film star Johnny Depp.  I will design these questions as earnestly as though I were granted access to the former Mr. Scissorhands himself, asking him things I would really want him to answer with no softened stances or alternate intentions.  I then will take these same ten questions and answer them myself as though another personage were directing them at me.  Again, I will be fully honest in my retorts, as strange as some of my answers may come out: I will answer these questions as though Larry King were there shouting them at my face from his suspenders. 

The key element to remember here is that I will not be consciously designing these questions with the intention of later answering the myself, even though that is the eventual intention (if that makes any sense).  Likewise, I will answer them not as though I were Johnny Depp (because I am not, in fact, Johnny Depp – despite what it says on my small business loan application) but as though I, Mike, were being handed these questions by what will undoubtedly seem like a very mistaken interviewer (which will pretty much be the case).  I know this may seem gratuitous and silly and in no way, shape, or form an example of responsible journalism, but in this modern world of democratic media and limitless unconstrained web content, at least I can say it’s got plenty of company.  Here we go:

Mike: When the phone rings and it’s Tim Burton, do you think, “yippee!  Here’s another darkly comedic character role for me to sink my teeth into,” or “Oh great.  What childish fantasy does this asshole want me to denigrate with another sadistic, overtly homoerotic caricature of a portrayal?”
Mike: As the good Mr. Burton has never once telephoned me, I’m going to assume this is hypothetical.  (Does he even have a telephone?  Part of me assumes the guy communicates by a squadron of trained bats dispensing silken parchment letters calligraphied in blood.)  If he did call me under the pretense of offering me a role in one of his films, I would certainly be excited, however not as excited as I would be were the voice on the other end of the line that of Spielberg or Scorsese or Wes Anderson or either Coen brother (especially Joel, aka the sexy one), or Affleck (Ben – not Casey), or Bigelow (Kathryn – not Deuce), or Gilliam, or Eastwood, or David O Russell, or David Wain, or even fucking Steven Frears (with whom I really have no problem, but I just kind of like the sound of superfluous profanity before his name). 
What I mean to say is that I’m just not that impressed by Tim Burton.  While I’m not sure whether the shifting scales of pop-cultural opinion hold Burton-bashing as brashly blasphemic or counter-culturally cool these days, I can assure you I have long believed him an overrated offshoot of Gen-X punk/gothic profusion and a 1990s obsession with kitsch.  Donning my 3-D goggles to watch him defecate all over the beloved psychotropic fantasy of Alice in Wonderland only sealed for me the notion that T-Burts can be counted amongst the most overrated filmmakers to consistently garner slobbering Hollywood praise over the past twenty years.  Sure, his takes on the first couple Batman movies were cool and creepy in that late ‘80s “if we low-light ornate set pieces, we can make silly movies into scary movies” way (see also Gremlins, Aliens, and Hellraiser), and I’ll admit I enjoyed the 45 minutes of Big Fish I caught on HBO that one time, and hell, I’ll even give him Nightmare Before Christmas since most folks seem to adore it and it is a pretty refreshing take on the Christmas-flick genre, but my accolades end there.  I’m sorry, hipsters and children of the eighties, but Beetle Juice has aged about as well as the rest of Michael Keaton’s filmography (that’s poorly – no matter how timeless you believe My Life, The Squeeze, and Johnny Dangerously to be),  and no amount of maudlin crane shots of Winona Ryder gazing wistfully at topiary can salvage Edward Scissorhands from being an excruciating viewing experience (seriously, what do people see in that movie?).  I will admit I have never seen Ed Wood (and hear good things), but since 1999 the man has done just about nothing but whimsically eviscerate preexisting material, none of which needed his clammy pale hands herking and jerking it into campy macabre (or macabre camp, depending on how you see it) in the first place.  To that end I will now observe a moment of silence for the despoiled legacies of Dr. Zaius, Willy Wonka, and the Mad Hatter.  Screw you, Tim Burton.  What was the question again?

Mike: Is there anyone in Hollywood today of whom you’d honestly call yourself jealous?
Mike: Come on: is there anyone in Hollywood today of whom I’m not honestly jealous?  Who among us would not wish to be grotesquely overpaid to practice a craft that he loves, gain unfettered access to the most famous and attractive people in the world, be wined and dined and borne from one exotic shooting locale to the next – and if that’s not enough, have the very definition of nation-wide hipness and style actually derive from his personal actions and traits?  Look, I get the old adage that money doesn’t buy happiness (however it can buy a bouncy-house filled with puppies, and I dare you to be unhappy around that, Mr. Adage-minder).  I’m also aware that not all Hollywood celebrities are happy (just look at Droopy Dog) and there are clearly downsides to living in such a competitive and high-profile world (just look at Lindsay “droopy-dog” Lohan).  And obviously there are other, more important things in life than wealth and fame and being able to speed-dial Hugh Jackman to brag about the phenomenal love-making session you just had with Mila Kunis on the deck of a yacht somewhere off the coast of—oh God, who the hell am I kidding?  Of course I want to be a Hollywood celeb – I’d even settle for a Bollywood celeb (love that Bhangra) or a Dollywood celeb (personally I think I’d look great with blond hair and a gigantic rack).
Look, do you ever hear Mark Ruffalo say “boy, I lead a great life, but I’d trade it all in for a chance to be a mid-level VP at an investment banking firm?”  Hellz no!  Even if you happen to be the sort of person whose notion of fulfillment lies wholly outside the standard self-actualization available to, say, Ashton Kutcher, can’t being a wealthy celebrity just make achieving those goals all the more possible?  Hoping to help people in need?  Look at George Clooney or Brad Pitt or Bono.  Want to wield political influence and change the world?  Look at Arnold Schwarzenegger or Steven Colbert or Bono.  Want to put up an over-budgeted atrocity of a Broadway musical and cripple several stage actors in the process?  Look at Bono.  I know Hollywood is sleazy and cold and filled with Jews, but those at the top are awash in so much currency of every type (not even just the money type) that they’ve truly earned our envy.  Or at least my envy.  So yeah, I’m pretty jealous of them: even the untalented ones.  Even Dane Cook.

Mike: Have you ever— You’ve killed a man, right?
Mike: Not to the best of my knowledge, though I suppose via chaos theory it’s entirely possible that some minute action of mine inadvertently triggered a sequence of events that led to someone’s untimely death.  Like for instance there’s the time I stabbed that guy. 

Mike: Is Helena Bonham Carter actually attractive in person or just hot in that sort of damaged, freaky-chick, might-be-a-coke-whore-or-possibly-a-pyromaniac kind of way?  Kind of like that girl in high school who all the jocks were terrified of, but still wanted to bang – basically the opposite of Rachel Ray.
Mike: Oh boy.  Well, she loses points for sleeping with Tim Burton (see above), but the British accent definitely helps when she uses it.  I also don’t know how I feel about the whole “I just rolled out of bed after having several hours of vampire sex” look (that’s what she’s going for, yes?).  At the end of the day, I would probably sleep with her – I would just make sure I had some garlic, a silver bullet, a cup of holy water, and the script to Mighty Aphrodite close at hand.

Mike: At what point in an artistic career does one gain the ability to explicate the details of his method or particular craft without coming across as a pretentious douche-bag?  In other words, what is the ‘James Lipton tipping point,’ at which one can utter something like “with each new character I try to assimilate a consciousness into the extensions of my being and transform myself into a vehicle for his countenance and chemistry,” and not be laughed off the set of Big Mamma’s House 3?
Mike: First of all, I don’t think there was any laughter anywhere near the set of Big Mamma’s House 3.  Secondly, I have always wondered, when coming across an interview with any particularly outspoken “visionary” of popular art, whether this person always espoused the same creative views he currently spouts as dogma, or if such ideologies were a) obtained over the course of a storied career or b) present from the get-go but kept unspoken until he assumed himself to have acquired the necessary credibility to start proselytizing his system. I mean, can you imagine taking a college acting or film class with a nineteen-year-old Dustin Hoffman or Quentin Tarantino if they sounded back then like they do now?  Wouldn’t you just want to smack the pretentious little grins off their stupid, sly faces (that is, even more so than you probably still do anyways)?  Yet with the strength of their resumes behind them, those guys can spew all the over-intellectualized, self-important artistic rhetoric they so desire and we have to agree that the success of their output warrants it worth a listen.
So the question becomes, where does this changeover take place?  Could Vince Vaughn, for instance, give an interview about the Stanislavskian approach he brings with him into every new role and not have us rolling our eyes at his bombast?  Could Bradley Cooper cite a Meisnerian influence as the inspiration for his character portrayal in What About Steve and get away with it?  And, in fact, what about Steve… Steve Gutenberg?  Or Daniel Radcliffe?  Or Ellen Page?  Or any number of young, mid, or even late-careered artistic professionals?  How do we decide collectively who is full of shit and who has earned the right to invoke a bit of bravado in their pronouncements?
One way to settle this would be necessitating a physical marker of accomplishment – an Academy Award – before one gained the leeway to wax poetic about the particulars of his or her personal methodologies.  But do we really want to agree that the artistic philosophizing of Three 6 Mafia is more authentic than that of Glen Close or Bruce Willis?  Likewise I’d love to chalk it up to the accomplishment of a truly transcendent example of output, but that creates problems in terms of both defining transcendency (does Tom Cruise have a “transcendent” performance on his resume?) and the question of whether one (or even multiple) endeavors fulfilling such criteria could still validate the babble of an artist whose opinions society already holds as unsound in the first place (even if Tom Cruise had 100 transcendent performances behind him, could we really ever take seriously anything he said?).  A third way one might think to go about this process of judgment would be to cite substantiation through education or training.  After all, in most fields doesn’t expertise derive from acquired knowledge and schooling?  This too falls flat, however, when one takes into account all of the profoundly brilliant cinematic artists who either dropped out of or failed to attend college (the aforementioned Mr. Hoffman, Sean Connery, and Julie Andrews just to name a few).  Really there’s no easy path in deciding who is allowed (or rather, able) to sound smart.  
So how do we then make this call?  What is the point at which Martin Scorsese goes from grandiloquent over-reacher to master of his craft?  My answer: there isn’t one. I do not believe there is a single moment or accomplishment to be named at which an actor, director, or really any artist at all can break from his or her philosophical shell and begin espousing vision with guaranteed credibility.  Much like snowflakes, every artist is different and every person’s perception of every artist is different.  To that end, it is up to the artist himself when he wants to start talking tall, and he’ll just have to see whether he gets laughed out of the room or respected as a merited theologian.  Otherwise he could just write it as a blog.  Everybody takes those seriously.  Right?

Mike: What is it like to know that hundreds of millions of women around the world want to sleep with a misguided assumption of who you are based on the characters you have played?
Mike: Really?  I was unaware of this.  Considering the last three roles I portrayed were a cameo as “Guy who offers Sasha a sandwich” for a sketch comedy show, “Kid who presumably gets raped by his roommate,” in a short film my friend, Polish Greg (yes, that’s what we called him), made in college, and “Goopy, the Plentimaw Fish,” in a children’s-theatre reimagining of Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, this strikes me as, at very least, a grotesque overreaction (either that or I’ve drastically underestimated the raw power of my own sexuality).  That said, I’m flattered.  Where are these women, by the way?  Do they have names?  I mean, overreacting or not, I’d certainly like to meet them.  And I’ll be as Goopy as they want me to be.  Eww.

Mike: Who did more blow on the Pirates of the Caribbean set: Orlando Bloom or Keira Knightley?
Mike: If I had to guess, I’d say Knightley, despite the smaller nostrils.  You just know there’s some seriously damaged goods lurking beneath that goody-two-shoes facade.  I bet Geoffrey Rush could talk her into anything.

Mike: As someone who has done a lot of notorious method acting, do you ever feel like you have lost your sense of self?  Do you know who the real You is anymore?
Mike: It’s an interesting question (you’re really quite the excellent interviewer, Mike), and one that I’ve been tossing around inside my mind-brain for some time now.  While I do not know how much my acting and theatre background factor into it per se, I can disclose with strict sincerity that I’m not entirely sure who I am these days.  Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not all that shocking for someone in their early/mid twenties to feel a little lost at sea when it comes to self-identity (hell, add an indie soundtrack and you’ve got a Zach Braff movie in the making), but in my self-obsessed way, I cannot help but wonder if my fragmentation of character is not more severe than your average quarter-life-crisis-sufferer. 
What I mean is that ever since I can remember, I’ve been without any one personality to which I could point and say, “that’s the real me!”  Depending on who’s around me, what impression I hope to leave behind, what friends I’ve most recently spent time with, even what book I’m reading or what band shuffled onto my IPod that morning, I could find myself becoming any of a number of different Mikes.  There’s “gangsta Mike” (who sure says “aww hell naw” a lot), “nerd Mike” (whose lack of social graces is only exceeded by his irritating attention to grammatical correctness), “nice Jewish boy Mike” (mothers love this one), “silly Mike” (let’s just say if you’ve met him, you know it), plus a whole slew of other personalities as different from one another as the kids who rode the Magic School Bus. 
I don’t think this is all internal either.  Over the past few years I have grown increasingly aware of the radical differences in the way that I am perceived by one group of friends versus another.  Certain collegiate pals, for instance have long-lauded me as some sort of passion-rich lothario, while others, I’m sure, would be surprised to discover I had ever so much as kissed a girl.  I have, within the same week, been both accused of being a “weird, shy loner” and told that I was “the most popular person” a friend of mine knew.  I have literally been selected last in a game of pickup football with one bunch of chums, played in said game, then walked across the field to a different (no less athletic) group and been the first one taken off the board.  This, I’m sure, had less to do with my actual level of on-field talent (pretty average – sort of a slower Wes Welker type), and more with the persona I had exhibited to each group: whether I’d emphasized my passions for theatre or my high-school wrestling career respectively (“spritely Mike” vs. “jock Mike”).
Jim Gaffigan has a terrific standup bit about having to prep different groups of his friends when they meet each other because each group knows a completely different version him (“these people over here, uh they don’t think I drink.  And don’t be thrown off by my British accent”).  I’d say this pretty well applies to my whole life.  If I had to describe my personality in one word, I would go with “fluid.”  I hesitate to call myself fake, because I don’t feel consciously dishonest when I bounce from personality to personality, but maybe that’s a little bit of what I am too: a hollow shell, desperate to do and say the right things to fit in.
No, that can’t be all of it, at least, because often times I don’t fit in but keep up some strange fa├žade of a character nonetheless – mostly because I don’t know what original personality to revert back to when I find myself drifting into unfamiliar territory.  Which brings me back to the question of where the real me lies.  Is it the personality I exude around those to whom I’m closest?  Maybe.  But I feel like even they get a wide gamut of Mikes – and who’s to say the first Me they met wasn’t a devised persona to which I became so committed it evolved into a part of who I really am?  Am I really the Me most familiar to those who have known me the longest?  Again, maybe.  I do tend to resort back to this when I visit with high-school or middle-school pals.  But don’t personalities naturally evolve?  So isn’t temporal regression as illegitimate a representation of my present self as any newfound act I might embody?  Maybe the legitimate me is the voice in my head when nobody else is around.  God, I hope not.  That is one scary fucking voice.  Besides, that voice plays more make-believe than any of my various outward presentations of self, so unless my real personality is some weird conglomeration of The Hulk, John Cusack, and Hunter S Thompson, I don’t think my inner monologue is the right place to go soul-searching.
So what am I left with?  Is my true personality none of the above?  Is it everything combined?  Are there commonalities amongst the varying selves to which I can point and say “that part’s gotta be the real me – all the Mikes are doing it!”?  Or am I like 100 jigsaw puzzles all scrambled together in one box – pieces fit here and there, but I’ll never be able to manufacture one great picture?  Come to think of it, why do I care?  If in the end I’m just some shape-shifting clusterfuck of pragmatism, biological urges, societal influence and psychological filings too deep and expansive to put a finger (or a label) on, why should this phase me in the least?  As long as I keep following Descartes’ logic to prove I’m still existing (am I thinking?  Check.), I don’t need to know exactly how that existence manifests itself.  Wasn’t I always told growing up that I could be anything I wanted to be but also that I should always be myself?  What necessitates that these be mutually exclusive ideologies?   So I guess to answer your question, there really is no standardized “real” me.  I am both every persona I project and none of them at all, and there’s no reason for me to get worked up about showing off a more authentic version of myself than whatever I happen to embody at present times.  And that, if anything, is the method to how I act.

Mike: Have you and Jack White ever just switched places for a few weeks to see if anybody noticed?
Mike: Can’t say that we have.  I did dress up as my friend Deavon once for Halloween.  He’s 6’5” or something crazy like that and wears size XXXL.  I felt like one of the Mon-Stars in Space Jam, only after they’ve returned their stolen powers to the magical basketball and shrunken back down to their original size.  And while I’m on the topic of Space Jam, you know who needs to make a sequel?  Tiger Woods.  Think about it: he gets pulled down the same golf hole Jordan did; helps the Looney Toons win a skins game against, I don’t know, the Russians by launching a final drive that circles the moon, banks of Foghorn Leghorn and drops into the cup; bangs Lola Bunny and gets back to earth just in time to rejoin the PGA tour.  Are you telling me this wouldn’t revitalize his career? 

Mike: On a weekly basis, how often do you just look at yourself in the mirror and think, “fuck yeah, I’m Johnny Depp?”
Mike: Twice.