Johnny Depp Makes First Trip to China

Johnny Depp hugs Wu Bing, president and co-founder of DMG, onstage in Beijing.
Johnny Depp hugs Wu Bing, president and co-founder of DMG, onstage in Beijing.
 AP

Johnny Depp arrived in Beijing for his first trip to China in a flurry of hugs, tales of tattoos and characteristically surreal quips to promote the sci-fi thriller Transcendence, which will open in China as a day-and-date release with the U.S. on April 18.

"My expectations were very high. From the very first second, I was impressed. It's beautiful, the foliage is different, the styles of architecture are different," said the actor, who hugged anyone he came into contact with at a meet-and-greet event in the Grand Hyatt in Beijing's Wangfujing district.

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In a culture where this is not unknown but certainly not common, the actor's warmth was a treat for Chinese fans. Depp is best known as Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Carribbean franchise, which were huge hits in China -- although the second part of the series, Dead Man's Chest, was banned for its ghoulish and ghostly elements.

"I would love to make a film here and spend time here. I could live here, easily. It's a very warm experience," he said.

Depp was in the Chinese capital for a two-day press blitz, arranged by Beijing-based studio DMG, co-producers of the film with Alcon Entertainment, Straight Up Films and Warner Bros.

He is the latest big Hollywood name to land in China -- the last couple of weeks have seen Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson and Chris Evans in town pushing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while Andrew Garfield, Jamie Foxx and Emma Stone were also recently here to promote The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

 

Last year DMG brought Robert Downey Jr. to Beijing to promote Marvel/Disney's Iron Man 3, which it also co-produced. It opened in China in advance of North America in 2013 and became the highest grossing Hollywood film of the year in China with $125 million.

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Asked about the growing closeness between Hollywood and China, Depp professed his disinterest in the business side.

"But Hollywood has a lot to offer China -- entertainment value, special effects, sci-fi, that sort of thing. China has a lot to offer Hollywood. There is a level of art, eons of culture here. We can learn a lot from each other," said Depp.

Transcendence will show in 2D, 3D, Imax and Dmax on an as-yet-unspecified number of screens in the world's number two movie market. China will be the only territory where the film will be screened in 3D.

He also said he would be more than happy to come back to China for the launch of Shanghai's Disney attraction, which is expected to feature a major Pirates of the Caribbean element.

Asked if it was true he had a Chinese tattoo, Depp said he had a character from the classic Chinese text, the I Ching, on his arm, which he said he had done with Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three, who were falsely imprisoned for child murder then released after 18 years. He then quickly rolled up his sleeve and showed off the tattoo on the back of his arm, drawing cheers from the crowd.

"I had this friend on death row, and the first thing we did when they were freed was get this tattoo done to show the power of the small," said Depp.

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He is due to appear at a number of events with popular Chinese actors, musicians and artists, including a gala event at the 798 art colony in the city.

Depp gamely posed in front of a giant cinema theater ticket, which he joked "was in my wallet yesterday. I was frightened going through customs, then unfolding it and unfolding it, then ironing it." And he showed people how to order a ticket using a cell phone. The Chinese media loved it.

Normally stars are encouraged to say something in Chinese, like 'ni hao' (hello) or their name, but Depp's first public attempt at Chinese was 'si kuai yi mao ba,' which means 4.18 yuan (67 cents), the cost of the ticket if ordered by cell phone.

DMG also is distributing the film in China and handling its local marketing. Transcendence stars Depp as a terminally ill scientist who downloads his mind into a computer, gaining powers beyond his wildest dreams.

It explores the moment in the near future when computer intelligence surpasses the power of the human mind. It co-stars Rebecca Hall, Morgan FreemanKate Mara and Paul Bettany.

"I was intrigued by the premise of the film. But if I were uploaded into a computer, I'd probably break it; my rotten brain would explode the computer," he said.

He answered every question at length, at one point hugging the translator for her patience.

Asked about Chinese food, he said he loved it.

"There are spices here that can transform you into another human! You have very hot things here. I've always been fascinated by your culture."

Some of the questions were more film-centric than others, such as one from a Vogue reporter asking if he was interested in designing women's panties.

"I think I could design party hats. Or women's shoes. With buckles," he said, neatly sidestepping the prospect of a Johnny's Secret label opening anytime soon.

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