The following is an exclusive online interview with A Fan’s Page For Johnny Depp from July 2004 in which Nigel talks to Vicki McKay about his updated and completely revised edition of his Johnny Depp biography…
What’s different to your new biography of Johnny compared to the original published five years ago?
Nigel: Well, there are three completely new chapters, a new introduction, much longer this time, a new filmography with US box office receipts for each movie and another new or revised section is the awards and nominations listing. I have also updated throughout the book, changing things that may not have been completely accurate before, and adding new bits of information on various topics. Like there is more info about the making of Johnny’s student film Dummies. More about Sleepy Hollow and so on. I would think at a guess, there must be about 15,000 new words in this new addition. I have also changed some of the chapter titles, which I feel just fit better than they did 5 years ago.
Can you tell us what other books you have written in between the two versions?
Nigel: I worked on three books in all. The most successful one was on Kylie Naked, the biography of Kylie Minogue, who you most probably remember as the ‘Locomotion Girl’, and whose current album is Body Language. She’s been doing the chat show rounds on your side of the pond recently, Jay Leno and the like. It’s interesting, and I won’t tell you where, but there are about three references to her in the new Johnny book. They’re not direct links to Johnny, but more to do with her various boyfriends that either have co-starred with Johnny or have some other connection to him, like Michael Hutchence, who Kylie dated and had played on stage with Johnny at the Viper Room. I always think its fun to state what is perhaps not obviously obvious. The other two books I did, was one on Elvis’ concert tours, a sort of day by day chronicle which never got published, and the other that was published was the bio on Demi Moore.
And you’ve been doing the TV rounds lately as well…
Nigel: Yes! That became like a second career to me for a while. I think it all kicked off with the Winona Ryder E! True Hollywood Story, which E! started production on a month after she was arrested for shoplifting. What a lot of people don’t know is that Winona kind of gave her blessing and approval for the programme to be made, and although she didn’t want to do any interviews, or couldn’t because, I guess, of her legal restrictions, she did have her reps co-operate as much as possible. So the director Mark Greczmeil flew over to London for 24 hours and we shot my interview in a studio on the Thames Embankment in London (where most of the UK political broadcasts are done). And I did some outside shots. I remember it was January and it was freezing!! And I had to sit on this bench thumbing through my book, so the time we got to the tenth take or whatever, I was completely numb and Mark had to keep running out with some hot coffee for me! In fact, it’s from that interview where the footage of me talking about Johnny and Winona on the Johnny E! True Hollywood Story comes from. And I think they used some of that footage on another show called Winona Ryder Love Chain, is that right? And since then, I did another E! Tue Hollywood Story on Demi Moore, which I flew to LA for, and another two programmes on Winona, one for VH1 and one over here for the UK Channel 4: The Real Winona Ryder, for which I got taken on as a programme associate, which basically means I was helping out with any background information, guiding them to places, people, answering questions about Winona’s life and career whenever they needed assistance, and supplying them loads of cuttings from my archive, and filming an interview, of course. It was great fun. They’ve all been great to do and be involved with. I was recently asked to do an interview for the A&E Biography that is currently in production on Johnny, but couldn’t as the production company didn’t have the budget to come over here or fly me out to LA.
Do you have a different favourite Johnny Depp movie than you did five years ago?
Yes and no, really. I still adore What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which I’m pleased to say has just been released on DVD in the UK, and long overdue. And of course, now the most played Johnny movie on my DVD is Pirates of the Caribbean. In fact I watched it again for the umpteenth time the other evening. It’s one of those films that you never tire of. It’s like playing a music album, there is always something new to discover each time you play it.
What can you tell us about the new picture sections? Where there many changes made to that part of the book as well?
Well, all the images had to be re-cleared for use, so my editor really chose what stayed and what was replaced. Of the new images, we have a still of Johnny and Keira from Pirates, with Orlando and Keira at the Disneyland premiere, Johnny with his mom and Vanessa at this year’s Oscars, a pic of their place in France, a new one of Johnny with Hunter S Thompson, and another new one with Winona, and there is a picture of Johnny’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which I took myself when I was out there in 2002! Otherwise the picture sections are petty much the same.
Who’s idea was it to re-title the book What’s Eating Johnny Depp?
Nigel: That was mine, or that is what I suggested to Blake Publishing. I thought it was such a good title, which I have to admit I nicked from the UK Channel 4 documentary. We have also added a sub-title of An Intimate Biography, which I thought was slightly better than ‘The Biography’… so many books these days are called ‘The Biography’ and I really wanted to get away from that and give the book a more interesting title.
Is it true you approached Keira Knightley’s agent requesting an interview?
Nigel: Yes, that’s true. She and her agent are based in London, so I sent a few e-mails and put in a couple of calls to see if Keira was interested in talking to me about the making of Pirates. I was told, I would hear back if she was, but guess she wasn’t as there was no call. I think at the time she was in Ireland making King Arthur. It’s not that surprising that she didn’t agree. Few ever do. Especially as she’s signed to do Pirates 2 with Johnny. But I did get hold of a couple of unpublished stories about her filming the “walk the plank” scene – so almost as good as an interview. In general though, people, like Keira, are very suspicious about co-operating with unapproved biographers. I would have loved to have done a book where I was able to speak to Johnny, his relatives, aunts, uncles, his mom, schoolfriends, childhood neighbours, former girlfriends, early business associates, members of The Kids and his other bands, co-stars and directors, but don’t think anyone has done that yet.
Did you re-approach Johnny for his co-operation, considering how close you got last time?
Nigel: No. I really did avoid going down that route because I think I knew the answer before I asked it. And I’m not really sure I did get that close last time. As most people know who read the acknowledgements of the original book, I asked Johnny’s publicist whether he would be interested in co-operating last time, and the answer was that maybe he would in a years time, would I hold off if there was a promise that he would, I said yes, so did my publisher, but they obviously needed some kind of commitment in writing, and that, combined with the plank of wood saga with the paparazzi, was really the stumbling block, I feel. I was told soon after that plank of wood episode in London, that he was still feeling uncomfortable about the idea, even a year from then, so I just felt there was very little point in re-approaching him, although I did leave a message at his publicist’s office out of courtesy, just to let them know what I was up to, but they never called back or got in touch, so that kind of told me they weren’t too interested. I have to say though that my dealings with Johnny’s publicist last time was absolutely great, she’s a lovely lady, but I also have to say that I have had so many other bad experiences with Hollywood publicists, especially Winona’s, that I’d rather not go through all that procedure to have the door shut in my face, or to be told my book is inappropriate or strongly be urged to hold off type of thing, so no, I didn’t ask. Whether, Johnny is aware that I have been updating my original book, I have no idea. With all the other books that have come out or are coming out, he probably doesn’t care a monkeys anyway!
Your book this time is dedicated to the memory of Edy Samson, can you tell us more about that?
Nigel: Yes, I’d love to. Edy and her husband, Chris Samson, were very good friends of mine, and kindly had me to stay with them when I visited Winona’s hometown of Petaluma in April 2002. Edy had been a very active member of the Petaluma community, mostly with public access television as a producer of programs and host of a community affairs shows, in which she very much enjoyed giving exposure to artists such as painters, musicians and writers, including myself, for which the obvious connection to Petaluma was Winona. Edy had also met and filmed Winona during the searches for missing child Polly Klaas in 1993, which as you may recall, ended in tragedy three months after Polly disappeared from her home. On my last day in Petaluma, Edy had fallen ill with crippling stomach cramps and pains, but by the evening seemed fine again. A few months after I returned home to England, Edy had fallen ill again and for the next year was in and out of hospital, which very sadly ended in May last year, when she died of cancer. She was two years younger than me and as I say in my dedication was a wonderfully spirited, joyful and loving woman. Probably it would have been more appropriate for me to dedicate a book on Winona to Edy, seeing she was the best guide anyone could possibly ask for to tour around Winona’s Petaluma, and in fact, Winona and Johnny’s Petaluma. Edy showed me all the places they used to hang out together, like the second hand clothes store they shopped at on Kentucky Street, which I think is a coffee place now, and the place they were thinking of buying up and turning into a hotel. Because there were no plans to update Winona’s book, and still aren’t as far as I know, and because I was desperate to make a dedication to Edy in print, the first most appropriate book was this new one on Johnny.
What book are you currently reading?
Nigel: I have so many to catch up on. I have a book about Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker, the autobiography of Christopher Lee and a book on the history of Dracula. which basically explores the terror with which the character was once associated, going backwards in time from the Hammer and Universal movies to the literary creations of Bram Stoker. Like Johnny has an interest in the beginnings of Hollywood, “a real history freak” as he calls himself, I also have that same kind of fascination with this sort of stuff, of how legends came about and all that.
Can you remember what Johnny Depp movie was the first one you watched at the cinema?
Nigel: Yes, Edward Scissorhands. But you knew I was going to say that didn’t you, because of Winona! I have the feeling that Johnny had the same fondness for playing Edward as he did Captain Jack Sparrow. The last couple of paragraphs in the new opening chapter will tell you why!
The book is out in June in the UK, but when will it be available in the States?
I am told by Blake and Trafalgar Square (who are distributing it in the States) that availability in selected stores will be from 1 July, and then generally everywhere from 1 September. I’ve also been told that a lot of stores are very excited about the book, so yes, it should be in almost every store, and I guess Trafalgar Square will be getting it out as soon as possible, if the demand from the stores is as exciting as they say it is!
Who are you going to write about next?
Nigel: I’m thinking Brad Pitt would make a good subject as there seem to be very few books about him, and the ones that I’ve seen don’t seem to be that substantial. And if Keira Knightley continues on her upward spiral, then look out for Keira Knightley The Biography in about ten years time! Although many say she’s a dead ringer for Natalie Portman, she reminds me a lot of Winona!