Johnny Depp still gonzo for Hunter S. Thompson: ‘He’s part of me’ [updated]

March 15, 2011 | 3:16 p.m.

Johnny Depp gave voice to Rango (on the windshield) and a Hunter Thompson look-alike (at the wheel) in "Rango" (Paramount)

Johnny Depp said goodbye to his dear friend Hunter S. Thompson back in 2005 — the actor is the one who paid the bill for the gonzo journalist’s outlandish and elaborate funeral — but sometimes it feels as though the late writer is still around.  “Hunter? He never leaves,” Depp said with a wistful chuckle, “he’s just always going to be there.”

Depp is certainly helping to make sure the iconoclastic author doesn’t fade from memory. The actor portrayed Raoul Duke, Thompson’s ever-slippery narrator and tripped-out alter ego, in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1998) and now he’s returned to voice that role again for a desert-highway cameo in the animated adventure “Rango.” Depp has the title role in “Rango,” too, as a quirky little lizard on a spiritual journey through an Old West-style adventure, and he says that Thompson’s mad Duke also contributed to the personality of the reptile in the Hawaiian shirt.

This fall, Depp will be on the hunt for the Hunter spirit again when he stars in writer-director Bruce Robinson’s The Rum Diary,” which also features Amber Heard, Aaron Eckhart and Giovanni Ribisi. The movie, filmed back in 2009, is based on the Thompson novel of the same title that was written in the early 1960s but not published until 1998. Depp plays a besotted freelance journalist named Paul Kemp who ends up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at a newspaper where the writers are fueled by booze, lust, disappointment, ego and adventure. Thompson wrote the book at age 22 and it was intensely informed by his own escapades in Puerto Rico, an island he traveled to in 1960 for a gig at an ill-fated sports publication.

The names may change — and, with Rango, even the species — but Depp will have brought Thompson to the screen in spirit four times with the release of “The Rum Diary.” It’s not lost on Depp that Thompson will be almost as persistent a presence in his career as  Jack Sparrow, the fey and decadent swashbuckler from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films.

"The Rum Diary" (Infinitum Nihil)

“It’s been a gas to do,” Depp said. “He’s part of me, you know? You know Hunter was one of my best friends and one of my favorite people that ever lived.”

Thompson died at age 67 in a gunshot suicide – his relatives said he was weary of the pain and prognosis associated with his assorted medical maladies — and his ashes were fired out of a cannon at his funeral, which also featured fireworks and about 250 guests, including George McGovern, Jack Nicholson, Ed Bradley and Sean Penn as well as Bill Murray, who also portrayed Thompson on screen (“Where the Buffalo Roam,” 1980) . At the time, Depp explained the event to the Associated Press as a loving farewell:  “All I’m doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out.” [Update: An earlier version of this post used the word "shotgun" instead of "gunshot" to describe the Thompson suicide. The former is incorrect, the latter is accurate.]

Thompson’s legacy is his larger-than-life persona — gun-toting, drug-gobbling master of the absurd and ferocious foe of the hypocritical — as well as gonzo journalism, where the writer steps to the center of the story he or she chronicles with a fire-breathing gusto. His best-remembered work appeared in the pages of Rolling Stone and in books such as “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream” and “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.”

It was “Rango” director Gore Verbinski who hatched the idea of inserting the Thompson look-alike at the wheel of a convertible that collides with the title chameleon in the animated film. “The beauty of that is here’s Gore, who is just fearless, and he goes and he puts that in the movie based on a riff,” Depp said. “We were talking about the lizard and the Lizard Lounge [hallucination scene] in ‘Fear and Loathing’ and then, ‘Hey wouldn’t it be funny‘ if this and then, pop-pop-pop, it’s in there. I recorded the Raoul Duke character’s voice and then of course Rango’s voice as well. And when we did it, I was back in the Hunter gear, you  know? It’s an interesting thing, let me tell you. And to have two characters that I’ve played on screen meet, that was sort of interesting. I’d like to have that happen more often.”

So perhaps we might see Depp’s version of Thompson step aboard the Black Pearl someday and exchange pirate grins with Sparrow? “I’d do it,” Depp said without hesitation. “Time travel is always an option.”

– Geoff Boucher

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Comments


12 Responses to Johnny Depp still gonzo for Hunter S. Thompson: ‘He’s part of me’ [updated]

  1. Rob Wallenberg says:

    It was not a shot gun suicide but a .45 cal suicide.

    • Fools! says:

      Gunshot Suicide… Learn to read…

      • Woops says:

        [Update: An earlier version of this post used the word "shotgun" instead of "gunshot" to describe the Thompson suicide. The former is incorrect, the latter is accurate.]

        ^Quote from the article

  2. Daniel /Oshkosh says:

    Hey geoff, if you are not sure of the facts. DON'T put them in print..

  3. T.C. Wits says:

    Good story, Geoff. I can read past the picky haters. BTW, Thompson and Depp fans out there: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is screening midnight, April 1st, at The Nuart. A perfect way to start that crazy day….

  4. gyrocaptain says:

    who cares how he shot himself, or with what?…all you need to know is he is dead…he could have used a musket for all i care…lets focus on hunters literary genius and depps unending respect and fondness for his good friend…nice job to you also geoff b…

  5. KCinCali says:

    Johnny Depp is the man haha

  6. Larry Herbert says:

    "They never really happened anyway!" (Wild and Twisted Nights).
    Thank you Hunter! We love you!!!

  7. savage henry says:

    Johnny has already channelled Hunter in the third Pirates film "At World's End":
    After hallucinating an argument with multiple Jack Sparrows, (a backhanded salute to Johnny's character in "Secret Window"), the real Jack turns away and mutters, in true Thompson staccato baritone, "I wash my hands of this weirdness." It is doubtful this line was in the script and was ad-libbed by Johnny a la Hunter. Bill Murray has stated Hunter creeps into every movie he has done since "Where the Buffalo Roam". He warned Johnny Hunter would never leave him.
    The good doctor said many times he wanted his epitaph to read: "It never got weird enough for me."
    Not yet, Hunter. But we're working on it.
    (Kudos to Larry Herbert for quoting the lost song from the audio book of "Songs of the Doomed"!)

  8. Josh Maulden says:

    Hunter S. Thomsop is one of the best writer’s this country will ever see.That being said, Johnny Depp it seem’s is one with Hunter.He undestands him! So protraying his parts for him is a breaze! I think him for his great deed and devotion to my favort writer! It has made him one of my favort actors. Unlike my high school day’s when all the girls thought he was so…cute and he was all over tiger beat & teen people!Great bounce back Depp! Oh…and it was a magnim 44 that was used in the suicde!

    • Anastacia DePrinny says:

      I am surprised and a bit disappointed that election day is almost upon us and I have yet to hear a whisper or see a beacon of light,, shining upon a poster with the double thumbed fist shouting ‘Dr. Gonzo for President!! With the Political Party the Voice’. And since the people can write in any one of their choice it really would be the voice.

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