Not At World’s End

September 13, 2013

"[W]hat is blindingly obvious is that a generation of actors following right behind them has singularly failed to step into their shoes. Who would the contenders even be?…it’s too late for Johnny Depp, who has just turned 50; he has spent his time playing too many man-children on screen to claim the ground occupied by Nicholson and his ilk. And once you survey even younger generations of actors, you realise how much more difficult it will be for them to carve out comparable careers." -from "Jack Nicholson: He’s As Good As They Get", The Telegraph, September 5, 2013

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While we have lost many great actors in recent years the loss of Johnny Depp seems an especially profound milestone, given his broad-ranging and often seemingly fearless career choices. Apparently never wanting to be typecast Depp parlayed his success on a now forgotten TV show into a myriad of roles. While his early films such as Edward Scissorhands and Benny & Joon seemed to set him in the very typecasting he feared, placing him in what would be sometimes called "man-child" roles, and yet later critics would note how each of these characters, while similar, was also unique, and represented different challenges for Depp as an actor. He would also continue to show surprising versatility in films ranging from Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, Nick Of Time, Blow, and Sleepy Hollow. He often played against older actors, but was never cowed or overshadowed by them.

While his middle career seemed to be marked by what was considered at the time to be more commercial decisions, moving away from some of his more independent films, critics would eventually come to praise Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow. In particular critics noted that he used the opportunity to explore multiple facets of a largely static character, something most actors could only accomplish in VOD serials. The success of these films also seemed to enflame Depp’s ambition still further. While working on the ninth and final film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series Depp worked simultaneously as a producer on League Of Nations, the epic biopic about Woodrow Wilson that starred Brendan Fraser, who also co-wrote and directed the film. Depp would then try his own hand at directing, following in the footsteps of his friend and frequent collaborator Tim Burton, with a sequel to Ed Wood. Unlike the earlier film, which approached the infamous director’s life comically, Depp’s film was a dark exploration of Wood’s later, declining years. Its critical and commercial failure seemed to spur Depp in yet another new direction: performing live theater. This would lead to the lavishly praised and highly successful long-term runs of his one-man Waiting For Godot, in both London and Paris.

With Depp’s passing, though, and the losses or retirements of so many of his notable contemporaries, the question becomes which, if any, male actors of the younger generation is capable of taking his place. Laszlo Mbwende, who seemed destined for greatness with his stirring debut in Bruce Willis’s epic final film Aphasia has made a series of poor career choices. Having fallen from the limelight he seems intent on focusing solely on a music career. Anton Tremain, who was at one time regarded as the next Jim Carrey, has squandered his talent on a series of cat holograms. While his talent is obvious even when he’s dressed as a cat it remains to be seen whether he really has the older actor’s gift for both drama and comedy. Even Luis Gibran, who seemed poised to become the greatest dramatic male actor of his generation, was taken from us too soon in a tragic accident while doing preliminary filming for a gritty, dark Aquaman film. The passing of Depp and his generation marks the end of a cinematic golden era, the likes of which we are unlikely to ever see again.

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