It has been said that acting is all about making choices. The choices an actor makes will determine how well they perform their respective character. Johnny Depp is an actor who is known for making bold and risky choices in every role he takes, and that's what has made him one of the most exciting and popular actors working today. Depp has said that he draws his inspiration from images, people or other fictional characters to help base his characters. Some of his inspirations include the Rolling Stone rocker Keith Richards, in whom Depp said he based his most famous character, Captain Jack Sparrow. His performance as Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow was said to be based partly on Angela Lansbury, because Depp thought Ichabod was a character who was very much in touch with his feminine side. In Edward Scissorhands, Depp perceived the character as behaving like a puppy, to help convey Edward’s fragile but lovable nature. Throughout his career Depp has excelled at playing these quirky outsider characters; characters that are often strange and don’t seem to belong in the world they live.
In Ed Wood, Johnny Depp plays a character that is an outsider of Hollywood, who desperately wants to get into the business of making his own films but has trouble finding studios to finance them. Depp’s real-life character, Edward D. Wood Jr., has famously been proclaimed as the Worst Film Director ever, but like every director he didn’t set out to make a bad film. He had a passion for film making that was almost unrivaled; it’s just that his passion blinded him to the fact that he really had no knowledge or talent as a director.
To help him portray this real-life person of Ed Wood, one might think that Depp would draw his insight from what he could learn about the real person (as he did for his roles in Donnie Brasco, Blow & Public Enemies), but there wasn’t a lot of material about the real Ed Wood. So Depp thought of three characteristics from three different sources that helped him develop his character of Ed Wood. These inspirations that Depp drew from have no connection to the real 1950's Hollywood hack director he’s portraying, but combined together they formed his character. His inspirations for the character were: the blind optimism of President Ronald Reagan, the smile of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, and the voice of Casey Kasem – a popular American radio host.
The character of Ed Wood is one of the most optimistic people you’ll ever meet. After every first-take that he directed he would call cut and say it was “perfect!”, even if there were unintentional mistakes. In one of the movie’s funniest moments, Ed calls up the head of Warner Bros. Studio and asked what he thought of his first movie. We hear, “Worst movie you ever saw? Well my next one will be better!” Depp’s performance in this scene is hilarious because of his deadpan delivery. President Ronald Reagan was known for having a sort of “blind optimism” that prevented him from ever really seeing the problems of our country at the time; he’d only focus on the positive, just like Ed Wood.
The character of Ed Wood carries a very distinguishing overdrawn smile on his face throughout the movie, which makes him look like a puppet. Depp’s inspiration for that aspect of the character came from the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, who always tried to maintain the biggest smile on his face throughout his ups and downs. For Ed Wood’s unique high-pitch voice, Depp listened to Casey Kasem, who was a popular American radio host and did numerous cartoon voices. Ed Wood’s voice is almost completely unrecognizable from Depp’s own voice; and it helps maintain the character’s relentlessly upbeat attitude throughout the movie.
If another actor would have portrayed Ed Wood, they most likely would have worried about making the character realistic and bringing many different layers to the performance. Johnny Depp’s performance as Ed Wood is certainly not realistic, and he’s also completely one-note throughout the entire movie. Only an actor as courageous as Depp would have taken these risks. Depp says he took the approach he did with his character because, “Even if you’re playing a sort of heightened character and living inside of a heightened reality, you can apply your own truths to the character. But it certainly is more fun. I’ll tell you what’s more fun. It’s just being able to try something that maybe hasn’t been beaten to death. To try and do something a little bit different- What’s the risk? The risk is you fall flat on your face or make an ass of yourself and get fired.”(link)
Johnny Depp certainly didn’t fall flat on his face with his performance as Ed Wood, and his unique one-note performance made Ed Wood one of the most endearing characters in all of movies. Depp, like a lot of Hollywood actors, is a good looking man, but unlike most actors he never exploits his looks for his character. Depp does the opposite, he’ll go out the way to make himself uglier for his character. He certainly did that with Ed Wood with his high-pitch voice and his freaky smile throughout the movie. Also, the character of Ed Wood is a transvestite who loves to dress up in woman’s clothing and has particular fetish for Angora sweaters. Whenever his character appears in woman’s clothing, Depp’s performance is notably calmer and you can tell that his character really is most comfortable wearing woman’s clothing.
I'm always looking forward to the next Johnny Depp performance. He’s willing to take risky choices and draw inspiration from unconventional sources. He's created some of the most memorable film characters ever, including my favorite, Ed Wood.