Johnny Depp is a prince among actors – a solid performer, unafraid to take on risky parts, friendly to his fans, accommodating to journalists. Well, accommodating if you can get to him. At last week’s press gathering for his new film “Transcendence” at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, more than 100 feature writers requested some one-on-one time with him. Alas, he was only there for a few hours, and most of us – myself included – had to make do with the hopes of getting a couple of questions in when the microphone was handed to us at a crowded press conference.
In the smartly written science fiction thriller “Transcendence,” Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a brilliant artificial intelligence researcher who, after an attempt is made on his life by anti-technology terrorists, has his mind melded into the Internet. Complications ensue.
I had two questions for Depp. Being a science fiction buff myself, I wanted his memories of which SF films knocked him out as a kid. I also knew that Wally Pfister, former cinematographer and now first-time director of “Transcendence,” shot a video for Paul McCartney’s lilting song “My Valentine” a couple of years ago, which featured Depp hand-signing to McCartney’s singing and string-syncing one of the coolest acoustic guitars I’d ever seen. I wanted own one of them. My (non-film-related) second question would be about the make and model of the instrument.
Alas, the press conference ended early; I was never handed the microphone. But as Depp was headed for the door, surrounded by handlers, I made a beeline to him and blurted out the question.
Me: “Johnny, what was that amazing guitar you were playing in the ‘My Valentine’ video?”
Depp: “Oh, right, yeah, that’s a beautiful old guitar. It actually has two f-holes on the back.”
Me: “Who makes the guitar? I want to buy one.”
Depp: “Oh, man, umm, it’s Uni ... Uni-something. (He closed his eyes, trying to come up with the name.) Maybe Unitone? I think it’s a Unitone.”
Then his handlers pulled him out of the interview room. My question was asked, but catching him off guard, I got only a quasi, unsure answer in return. Hey, a good try. I went off to do other interviews, wrote a review of the film and, about four hours later, headed to the hotel’s business center, where I Googled “Unitone guitars,” but came up with nothing. Again, a good try, but you’ve got to know when to give up. I signed off, gathered up my papers, opened the door, walked out ... and bumped right into Depp as he was passing by, still surrounded by handlers, on the way to one last interview of the day.
He recognized me and let out a genuine, “Hi, how are you doing?”
Page 2 of 2 - Me, walking with him: “Great, but I couldn’t find anything called a Unitone guitar. Do you think it might have been another name?”
Depp (eyes closed tight): “Umm, umm, I can see it, but I just can’t remember. Are you staying here at the hotel?”
Depp: “Will you be here tomorrow?”
Me: “Yeah, but I’m leaving pretty early, probably before you’re up.”
Depp: “Do you have a card? I’ll call home tomorrow and find out the name, then I’ll get it to you.”
Me (reaching for one of my cards): “Oh, that would be very cool!”
While I was doing that, he closed his eyes even tighter, reaching deeper, thinking to himself, “What IS that name?” Then he opened his eyes wide. He had it.
Depp: “Vivitone! It’s definitely a Vivitone!”
Me: “Great! Thanks! Isn’t it funny how the mind works? Just like the mind stuff that was going on in the movie. Oh, I really enjoyed the movie.”
Depp: “Thank you. I hope you find one of those guitars. It shouldn’t be too much trouble. I’m glad you dug the movie.”
Then his handlers pulled him into the interview room.
Author's note: After online publication, an astute reader (in Connecticut) noted that Depp was mistakenly thinking of a different guitar. The one he used in the video is a Weymann, not a Vivitone.
“Transcendence” opens on April 17.
Ed Symkus can be reached at email@example.com.