Everyone had something nice to say about the veteran actor, including his onscreen nemesis Jonny Pasvolsky, who said that the chance to work with Depp was one of “the obvious reasons” to join the film. “Keeping up with Johnny Depp is … well, the thing is, it never feels like you’re trying to keep up, because everything he offers lets you fly,” he said of his interactions with Depp on set.
Director David Koepp, who previously directed Depp in Secret Window (2004), even compared directing the actor to driving an Italian supercar: “With Johnny, you’re sort of driving a Ferrari, and it’s a very expensive car, and it runs really well, and it can probably drive itself. You just have to not crash it into the ditch, so we tried not to crash,” he laughed.
When writer Eric Aronson first came up with the idea to adapt Kyril Bonfiglioli’s novels into a film 12 years ago, Mortdecai was a long way from being a star-studded film. Luckily for Aronson, however, Depp’s office was in need of a writer to adapt a Tom Robbins novel into a film for Depp to star in, and luckily for Depp, Aronson gave them Mortdecai as a sample attached to his résumé. “Johnny read it and said, ‘Wait, what’s going on with this? I want to do this.’ So when that happened, that was like six years ago, and from then on, the thing just came together around Johnny,” said Aronson of the film’s early development. “Like all writers, I write all my characters for Johnny Depp, hoping that he would play them.”
After reading the script, Depp began to help assemble the cast, reaching out to good friend Paul Bettany to join him as his onscreen “man servant” — a role that Depp believes will finally showcase Bettany’s natural affinity for comedy. Soon the cast boasted the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor in significant supporting roles, as well as Jeff Goldblum and Olivia Munn, who appear as an American billionaire art aficionado and his nymphomaniac daughter.
Guy Burnet, who plays Ewan McGregor’s assistant, Maurice, in the film, readily admitted to being starstruck when shooting began. “At times I would just take a step back when I was doing scenes with them and try and observe what they were doing and forgetting I was in the bloody scene, and [I would] suddenly have to come out with my line,” he recalled.
“I remember doing one of my early scenes with Johnny Depp and feeling a little bit nervous about it … even though he puts you so at ease, because he’s just like your mate that you go to the pub with or something. … I had this idea for one of the scenes, which was just a simple thing, and I don’t know if it made it into the film or not, but he opens a book, and I go to touch it, and he slaps me, but it was a moment where I did it without really telling him, and he instinctively knew what to do, because he’s a step ahead, man, and even though it took me two months to even think of this idea, he was already there. And that, to me, was unreal, and that was really a moment where I went, ‘Wow, I have to work my ass off to even try and emulate him to a certain extent.’ “
Depp is known for donning quirky looks in most of his movies, and this one features a rather unique mustache, which wasn’t a constant characteristic of Mortdecai’s character in all of the novels. Although Paltrow’s Johanna gags each time she kisses Mortdecai in the film, she actually doesn’t mind when men choose to sport a mustache in real life. “I like mustaches. … Facial hair does not upset me,” she said with a laugh.
Meanwhile, Aronson said he already has an idea in mind for Mortdecai 2, should Lionsgate desire it: “I have been working on the sequel for six years; that’s how long I’ve been working on these books. … I know what the sequel is going to be already; it’s already mapped out in my head. And I’ve got a sense of what the third one would be, but none of those decisions are up to me,” he said.
Mortdecai hits theaters Friday. “Leave your serious bones at the door, outside, and come in and embrace some silliness,” said Pasvolsky.
From left: Depp and Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Lionsgate/AP Images)