Hollywood Flashback: Johnny Depp Embraced Absurdity in 'Arizona Dream' in 1993

Berlin International Film Festival
From left: Emir Kusturica, Johnny Depp and Vincent Gallo at the 43rd edition of the Berlinale in support of 'Arizona Dream.'

The actor was just emerging from the matinee-idol phase of his career when he starred in Emir Kusturica’s sprawling and divisive two-and-a-half-hour comedy.

Johnny Depp is no stranger to complicated souls.

In 1993, he was just emerging from the matinee-idol phase of his career and was rapidly cultivating a reputation as a fearless actor unwilling to trade on good looks alone. Depp opted out of Hollywood blockbusters (those would come much later) and into work by equally fearless filmmakers like John Waters (Cry-Baby), Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man) and a young Tim Burton (Ed Wood). That same year, he played Axel Blackmar, a young man living in New York who travels home to Arizona in search of freedom, romance, fish and a way to an Inuit village — it’s unclear really — in the appropriately monikered Arizona Dream.

Co-starring Vincent Gallo, Faye Dunaway and the legendary Jerry Lewis, Serbian absurdist Emir Kusturica’s sprawling and divisive two-and-a-half-hour comedy ultimately took home the Silver Bear at the Berlinale that year.

This year, Depp is back in the Berlin lineup with Minamata as reclusive war photographer W. Eugene Smith, who returns to Japan in the early 1970s to chronicle the effects of mercury poisoning in the titular village. Andrew Levitas’ sophomore feature signals a return to Depp’s roots as an interpreter of complexity — Smith was a perfectionist with a famously thorny personality — and a reminder that the well hasn’t run dry, despite the Mortdecais and Grindelwalds that define the actor's career now. 

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 22 daily issue at the Berlin International Film Festival.