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'Transcendence' star Johnny Depp claims 'old-school' brain and low-tech tendencies

Gene Triplett Published: April 18, 2014
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Scene from 'Transcendence'
Scene from 'Transcendence'
BY GENE TRIPLETT

LOS ANGELES — After more than an hour of waiting for the cast and filmmakers of
“Transcendence” to show up for a scheduled press conference, some reporters were
beginning to joke that Johnny Depp was still trapped in a computer somewhere.
In this new science-fiction thriller from Warner Bros., Depp plays Dr. Will
Caster, a brilliant researcher who has perfected a way to upload a conscious
mind into a super computer dubbed PINN (Physically Independent Neural Network),
which is capable of processing history’s collective knowledge and the complete
range of human emotions.
When Caster is fatally wounded by anti-technology extremists, his wife Evelyn
(Rebecca Hall), a fellow computer scientist, “saves” her husband the only way
she knows how — by uploading him into PINN.
And with all the knowledge he gains comes unstoppable power, and the question
arises: Will he use that power for good or sinister purposes?
Meanwhile, it’s obvious that star power allows one to be late without apology.
When Depp finally arrived here at the Four Seasons Hotel, looking elegantly
ragged in a fedora with a hole in the crown, black denim jacket over a crew-neck
shirt, etc., no explanation or expression of regret was offered for the delay,
but the man with the goatee was so amusing that no one seemed to mind anymore.
Someone asked if playing his virtual “Transcendence” character mostly from
computer flat screens and projected images made him feel like “Max Headroom,” an
artificial-intelligence TV host created in the 1980s new-wave era of cable
television.
“I did feel a little bit like Max Headroom,” Depp said in his trademark lazy
mumble. “And I guess the worst part is I liked it. You know what I mean? I liked
being in my little dark room and they were on the other side and we couldn’t
find each other sometimes. All this was done through video tape and sound. So,
yeah.
“But I essentially think this film is about a man who’s chosen by God to grow a
long beard, grab a few insects, a couple of owls, and know that the rest of the
world will be slaughtered, but the animals will … No, that’s another movie.
Oh, ‘Noah.’ … I was in that one as well. I played Russell Crowe.”
Another reporter said, “Your character seems to age backwards, once he’s in the
–”
“That’s ‘Benjamin Button’,” Depp interrupted. “I was in that, too, as Brad
Pitt.”
Someone tried to cut to the chase, asking Depp for his thoughts on artificial
intelligence.
“Well, having no intelligence, I’m looking forward to gaining something, whether
artificial, superficial, super-duper, as in some of the names of the Chinese TV
shows that you do, like ‘Super Happy Fun-Ship Rocket Hour Cowboy Time.’ I did
that.”
Depp was referring to his well-received visit to China in March to promote
“Transcendence,” which is co-produced by Beijing-based studio DMG with Alcon
Entertainment, Straight Up Films and Warner Bros.
As the laughter died down, Depp continued, “No, we did feel that — Don Rickles
is up after us, by the way. I thought there was something very beautiful to
(director Wally Pfister’s) idea, the sort of disintegration of the character (of
Will Caster), and to really watch him slowly kind of go out … and that’s
pretty much the progression.
“Essentially I suppose once he’s inside PINN he could become anything. I think
that one of the things hopefully that came across is he got a little brighter,
chippier, a little bit more sort of a younger version of Will. He became the
version of Will that Evelyn wants to see, as opposed to the Will who cannot
button his shirt correctly and all that.”
Someone asked if Depp’s character in the film — who seems in the beginning to
be a good man dedicated to making the world a better place through scientific –
was in reality inherently evil, and easily corrupted by the power of ultimate
knowledge once he achieved “transcendence.”
“When we were doing the film we were all very closely mapping everything out
just to make sure that everything came together in the right order, especially
for Will in terms of that map,” Depp said. “It should be a little vague. I mean,
is he losing it? Is it like any of us? You know, you could make an analogy to a
security guard guy who, three weeks prior to, was mowing lawns for a living. The
second he puts a uniform on and that badge, boing! He’s like, ‘the Man.’ I
imagine the majority have felt the kind of wrath of the ‘overzealous security
guard guy.’
“Is there something lying dormant in the man that’s waiting to be pumped up with
that kind of power? Don’t know. Does it reveal him? Don’t know. Does it change
him? Don’t know. When Will is in the computer, as he’s growing along with the
computer in this rapid pace, growing up through PINN, does any bad person think
they’re doing bad things? Historically, they all thought they had a pretty
decent cause. A few were off by quite a lot. And they were dumb.
“But no, I think Will is dedicated to the cause, and maybe, yeah, the power,
when you realize it, essentially, you’re God. Essentially. You know. There ain’t
nothin’ on Earth more powerful than you. You can do anything you want. Transfer
every cent from the Bank of England into an account in Syria. You know what I’m
saying? You can do anything you want.
“I think Will was just so focused on the cause and it’s sort of like this Che
Guevara in a way. You get into it too far.”
Could Depp himself fall victim to such technologically-bestowed power in same
way his character did in the film?
“Things go wrong all the time, especially between me and technology,” he said.
“I’m just not familiar enough with it and I’m too old-school of a brain — dumb
– to be able to figure it out. But anything that I have to attack with my
thumbs, you know, for any period of time, makes me feel stupid. So I try to
avoid it as much as possible.
“A great bit of the technology (depicted in the film) is active, is actually
happening. The technology we’re talking about in terms of uploading even
consciousness is probably not all that far away.”
Travel and accommodations provided by Warner Bros.