In this exclusive online interview with The Winona Ryder Media Centre from May 2006, Nigel talks to Charlotte Rasmussen about his work on the third update of his original 1999 biography of Johnny Depp…
Is it a surprise that you have now updated your bio of Johnny Depp for a third time, and now in hardback?
Nigel: Yes, it certainly is, and I think it is the first time that an original softback or paperback has been updated into a hardback version, and I think I am right in saying that this is the very first hardback to be published on Johnny, so I am simply delighted that the book has become such a success and such a favourite with the Depp fans, and hopefully some of Winona’s too. There is a lot of material in the book that I didn’t use in Winona’s bio.
Have you read any of the other books on Johnny as there seem to be quite a few doing the rounds at the moment?
Nigel: The only one I have read is the one that Brian J Robb wrote called A Modern Rebel, which I thought was very good (but then Brian is a very good writer, so I would never expect anything less from him). It was first published in 1995 and was last updated two years ago, but I haven’t read the updated version. I really must at some point as I do enjoy the way Brian writes. He also did an excellent bio on Brad Pitt.
I heard that you were going to contribute to a book called Johnny Depp: Movie Top Ten back in 1999. Is that true?
Nigel: Yes it is. Basically the book was part of a series of film studies which each focused on an individual actor/actress, seeking to re-evaluate their screen persona and career by analysing their ten most engaging or offbeat films, roles or performances. And I remember I was asked to write about What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, but I was committed to another project so was impossible for me to do. I remember suggesting to the publisher at the time about doing a movie top ten on Winona, and for a time, I remember it being seriously considered, but in the end, it got shelved.
Can you tell us some of the Winona passages to look out for that weren’t in Winona’s book?
Nigel: Just more about their relationship really, and how they are today still good friends. And, of course, since my first bio on Johnny, there is all the stuff about Saks – and that is simply included, not to be sensationalist, but to illustrate Johnny’s concerns for one of his exes. In fact, in the new version, that same Johnny concern is touched upon again with Kate Moss.
So talking about Winona and Saks, any comments?
Nigel: Well, it happened, and it is kind of sad that it happened, because I do feel that it has set Winona’s career back a little. Funny thing is that Johnny can punch out a photographer in the middle of London, and the public love him for it, and Winona goes shoplifting, for whatever reason, and they hate her for it. I think the really sad thing is that a lot of celebrities shoplift this and that from stores in Beverly Hills, and the stores turn a blind eye because celebs spend so much money with them over the course of a year, and with Winona, it did seem she was used as an example – and a warning, probably, to other celebs, that the stores were not going to tolerate it anymore. And why should they? Perhaps the stores had got fed up with celebs taking stuff for free – and because Winona went a little over the top, to say the least, they probably thought, “you know what, let’s make an example out of her, so no other celebrity will ever think of leaving a store without paying for something ever again.” I don’t think it helped either that Winona kind of appeared to be, just slightly, a little smug about it. And if you asked the troubleshooter pr guy about it (which a friend of mine did) – yes, he would tell you that she was also a little smug off camera too! So not surprising it ended up as it did.
Were there any plans to update your biography of Winona when all that was going on, or when the trial was over…
Nigel: It was discussed with my publisher during the trial, but in the end, because almost every newspaper in the land had covered it and covered it well, my publisher felt that it probably wouldn’t have done that well as a book, everyone who wanted to read about it would have read it in the tabloids, so the public certainly wouldn’t buy a book on it to read again, and her profile did drop to earth with a bang, so unless she had been sent to jail or had followed Mr Deeds and the trial with another hit movie, no, the publisher thought not a good idea. Maybe it will be updated one day, but I cannot see it in the foreseeable future. I think it is going to take a lot more than the movies she has coming out to raise her profile again and get her film cred back. She really needs another Dracula, or Little Women or Age of Innocence to make her career big enough to get the book out there again.
So what is in in the new book that wasn’t in the previous update What’s Eating Johnny Depp?
Nigel: Well there is an updated introduction and two new chapters which amount to about 12,000 words, which basically cover Johnny’s movies from where the previous book left off, plus of course, some off-set stories, including Johnny’s own version of what happened the night he got arrested for chasing photographers through the streets of London with a plank of wood.
What are the movies?
Nigel: Finding Neverland, The Libertine, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the upcoming new Pirates movie, and we also have a most intriguing film glossary, which of course you provided for the book. I think that is a real bonus because it tells and guides readers to some terms and definitions they may not be sure of or understand. How many times have we heard about blue screen for instance and often wondered what the hell it means. Well, now readers no longer have to be confused. Nor do I?!!
You once said that the three people you wanted to meet most were Johnny, Winona and Tim Burton. Is that still true?
Nigel: Yes, I guess. I am hoping to get some tickets for the London premiere for POTC 2 so I can perhaps get my chance to say “hi” to Mr Depp, and another favourite of mine, Keira Knightley. Don’t you think she looks like Winona?
Uhm, yeah it’s eerie..! But what would you say to him if you met him?
Nigel: Oh my God! You always ask questions like this. Let’s see now… could do some banter from POTC. Especially if Johnny said something like, ‘you must be the worst writer I have heard of…’ I could reply ‘Ah yes! But you have heard of me!’ … Ooh! That was a terrible answer!
Do you have a favourite Johnny movie?
Nigel: I have several. It is always difficult to pick out a favourite from such an impressive body of work as Johnny has. But among favourites I’d say What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Edward Scissorhands, Secret Window, and of course, Pirates of the Caribbean.
What has been your bestselling book?
Nigel: Kylie Naked, and then Johnny. I am hoping that perhaps my new Being Davina bio may out do Kylie though. But then again Johnny is doing well. What’s Eating was reprinted four times and did about 21,000 and even got published in a Japanese foreign language edition, so maybe it’s going to be quite a battle to see who gives me the bestseller now – Davina or Johnny?
Last time we did an interview you said you were reading the bio of Natalie Wood which I presume you have finished by now, are you reading anything currently?!
Nigel: I am about to start Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, which has just been published as an expanded and illustrated edition. So now it is how King envisaged it originally. Authors always envisage their books differently to how they end up. I am a huge fan of the David Soul movie version of the book, so it is a must read for me as I have never read it. And I love what King says in his introduction: ‘Turn off the television – in fact, why don’t you turn off all the lights except for the one over your favourite chair? – and we’ll talk about vampires here in the dim. I think I can make you believe in them.’ It’s now almost 600 pages, so may still be reading it next time we talk!
Your Johnny Depp book must be reaching almost the same number of pages.
Nigel: Well, not quite. I think it now runs at about 400 pages, so next year, when the next paperback edition comes out, could well be!!
So, who are you going to be writing about next?
Nigel: British actor Ray Winstone. It won’t be out till next Spring though. For those who can’t place Ray, he played one of Clive Owen’s knights in Jerry Bruckheimer’s 2004 blockbuster King Arthur and will soon be seen in Martin Scorsese’s latest venture The Departed and Angelina’s Jolie’s upcoming Beowulf. He is also a popular regular on British TV dramas. Like most of my subjects, he is another to have a very colourful background.
Have you considered writing about another actress again?
Nigel: Oh yes, I prefer to write about actresses than I do actors! I know you would like me to say Brittany Murphy here but the one I would really love to write a book on is Angelina Jolie, but cannot seem to get any publishers here in the UK interested. There is now a leaning towards bios on British stars. They seem to sell better than Hollywood biographies at the moment, so I have to go with the flow, so to speak. I have a few friends who keep asking me when am I going to write one on Keira, but Keira is still very young and still has a lot more to do yet so not quite the right time, although there is apparently a very well-researched illustrated bio out over here in the UK on her at the moment, and that puts me off. Like James Cameron says about his Titanic movie, unless you can cover new ground there is very little point in re-telling something, just for the sake of it or to make a few bucks.
Is it true that you make a point of mentioning Winona in every one of your books since you wrote about her.
Nigel: Yes, that is true. It really started when a friend of mine, and my key researcher Keith Hayward (a big Stephen King fan), told me that in every one of King’s books, the same character always appears, and Keith suggested that I should mention Winona in the same way, so I have, so far. How she will fit into Ray Winstone’s bio, I have no idea at the moment!
When is The Secret World of Johnny Depp out?
Nigel: Should be within the next few weeks. It was scheduled to be in stores on 30 June, but it has been bought forward for some reason. I have no idea why, so please don’t ask!! Probably to make sure it is out there when POTC 2 arrives in your local multiplex!