A gracious and deliberate Johnny Depp was joined by “Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan” director and music video/documentary filmmaker Julien Temple on Sunday for a San Sebastian Festival press conference about their documentary, playing in the main competition.
“I’ve had a long, long history with Shane,” Depp started out, explaining his involvement as executive producer on the film. “Even before I met him, I was fascinated by his language, his ability to make these incredibly moving, powerful songs. He was so prolific while at the same time being on the heels of the devil.”
Temple recalled his early relationship with MacGowan as well, which goes even farther back. “We shared the punk moment,” referring to the U.K.’s thriving 1970s musical movement. “But I also actually did the first interview with Shane on a little crazy half-inch reel to reel video that you had on your shoulder like a tape recorder.”
Before this documentary, Depp had filmed with MacGowan as well, and recounted a story of his own when, on a Friday afternoon in New York City, he got a call from MacGowan with an urgent request.
“Johnny, do you wanna make a video?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like for me, one of my songs, make a video?”
“I said yeah, I’d be honored,” Depp remembered. The shock came when MacGowan asked him not only to appear in the video, but to direct as well. More surprising still, MacGowan wanted it done on the following Monday. So, Depp put together a team, worked out a brief narrative and, after one day of shooting and two of editing, had a finished music video for Shane MacGowan & The Popes’ “That Woman’s Got Me Drinking” less than a week later.
In the video, MacGowan plays a “very dapper, super cool bar owner,” Depp recalled. While the actor-director wrote for himself the role of “a trash barrel that just rolled into the bar. So, I played me,” he joked.
While Depp and Temple both spoke about the frequent difficulties created by working with a famously unreliable protagonist, they concurred that what might on the surface seem a problem, MacGowan’s aversion to interviews, being on time and in some cases even showing up, was actually an asset.
“It makes you think on your feet. Makes you think of things you wouldn’t have otherwise,” Temple pointed out.
“There are times when, as a filmmaker or actor, it’s really good to find yourself in a corner and having to fight your way out,” Depp agreed.
“In a weird way, he was kind of guiding it (production). If he’d sat in front of a camera and done two days of talking, it wouldn’t be as genuine and real as all the bits of sound we managed to find,” said Temple.
MacGowan is one among a list of high-profile, anti-celebrities that Depp is often grouped with, and the actor was asked about justifying his own mainstream persona with the anti-establishment ideals of friends such as Keith Richards, or the late Hunter S. Thompson and Marlon Brando.
“First and most important is to never consider yourself a Hollywood celebrity,” he replied, as quickly as any of his responses on the day came back. “That’s death and grotesque.”
“I’ve always been drawn to…” he started, before taking the day’s longest pause to choose his words carefully, “people who are diligent in remaining themselves.”
He remembered being a 15-year-old kid, unable to put down “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” then waking up 15 years later as a houseguest and dear friend of the author.
“(Thompson) was everything to me, like Marlon Brando was everything to me. A father, a friend, a brother, teacher, mentor. I have always been somewhat attracted to (the idea of) what is considered normal and the question of ‘What is normal?’ People say Brando-crazy, Thompson-crazy, Shane MacGowan-crazy, Keith Richards-crazy, him,” he said, pointing to his own nametag on the table, “Crazy! Maybe it’s true, I don’t know. Maybe you need to be, maybe that’s freedom.”
When asked about his opinion on the current political climate in the United States – as nearly every American invited to speak at the festival has been in the past four years – without being dismissive, Depp chose humor to diplomatically express his own misgivings about the current occupants of the White House.
“I watch Trump speak and I laugh. He’s… it’s good comedy, great comedy,” he said tongue in cheek. “Frightening comedy,” more seriously.
“I’m not so political in that way,” he went on. “Especially in terms of the States… It’s divide and conquer. People are in panic; they’re being fed fear. So, I don’t really give a f— about politics, but I would like to take the people out of fear and danger, and I don’t believe he’s the one to do it.”
In his final rumination of the day, Depp praised the San Sebastian Festival, ranking it among the best global events for what he called “real cinema.”
“This festival always has the least of… let’s call them Hollywood types,” he said. “I feel San Sebastian is truly a festival about cinema, about the filmmakers, about the people who work on them and get these films made, which is miraculous.”
Johnny Depp, Julien Temple