Johnny Depp equally adept as lizard king or ‘Belieber'
BY GENE TRIPLETT
When casting voice talent for animated characters, call Tom Hanks for the smiling rag doll cowboy, or Matthew Broderick for the regal young “Lion King.” Ray Romero is solid as a
bored, barely tolerant “Ice Age” mammoth, and Mike Myers is perfectly suited for a big green ogre with a Scottish brogue.
But when it comes to a nervous lizard lost in a desert landscape straight out of an acid-altered Hunter S. Thompson nightmare, Depp is your deftly deranged, fully qualified dude. After directing the eccentric actor in three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, Gore Verbinski knew who should speak for “Rango.”
Besides, Verbinski said he likes working with Depp because “I like the way he smells.”
“I’ve been told I smell good,” Depp said. “I don’t look like I smell good.”
On this morning the actor was wearing a peaked black stocking cap over his long black curls, black horn-rimmed glasses that magnified his piercing eyes, and a black suit coat, all matching the goatee that framed the playful grin with the flashing gold tooth.
“You know, early on, some of the talks that Gore and I had had about the character, I mean, you know, talk about two grown men, you know, middle-aged men discussing the possibility of one of them being a lizard,” Depp recalled.
“So it starts off on a surreal kind of note, anyway. … Finding the voice, finding the character, it was like we talked about when people, people in life, when they have a tendency to exaggerate or lie or whatever, you always sort of notice that their voice goes up quite high, you know? It goes to another, a completely different register.
“Whereas, if I’m talking to you and speaking and babbling nonstop, and then suddenly I’m really nervous about telling the truth — you know, but I’m lying — so that’s kind of where it came from. Just this, you imagine the character to be incredibly sort of, you know, just really like a nervous wreck.”
Imagine, if you will, Don Knotts trying to convince a saloon full of bad guys that he’s a fearless killer in “The Shakiest Gun in the West” — one of the key inspirations for “Rango.”
That’s how Depp described his reptilian rascal of a character during a news conference at the posh Four Seasons Hotel, which was teeming with activity on Grammy Awards weekend.
This sand-blown, sun-parched animated fable from screenwriter John Logan (“Gladiator,” “The Last Samurai,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”) follows the comical, transformative journey of Rango, a sheltered chameleon and aspiring actor with a major identity crisis, who’s been living as a family pet until a highway mishap leaves him stranded in the middle of the desert.
He ends up in the gritty, lawless town of Dirt, which is populated by all manner of creatures large and small, all suffering from a severe water shortage and living in constant fear of a hungry, ever-circling hawk. When Rango, who’s been affecting false swagger, accidentally does the bird in, the critter citizens believe the less-than-courageous chameleon is the hero he’s been claiming to be, and promptly elect him sheriff.
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