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Whitey may be a gangster but he's still human ...if he likes my portrayal of him perhaps he will send me a letter; JOHNNY DEPP FINDS THE GOOD IN KILLER ROLE; EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: EMILY RETTER

He could have remained a squeaky clean Hollywood poster boy, but Johnny Depp quickly rebelled and embraced his dark side.

From drink and drugs in real life, to perfectly capturing a host of less-thansavoury characters on screen, he has never shied from the shadows during a career spanning three decades.

Even down to his decision to shun the regulation Tinseltown pearly whites, he's insisted on remaining ever-so-slighly less than perfect (if Johnny Depp can ever be called that).

Tellingly, he says: "I have this sense of being someone who has an innocent side and a devilish self."

The devilish side is something he loves to express in screen roles such as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

It perhaps comes as little surprise, then, to hear him relating to a murderer.

In his new movie Black Mass, Depp, 52, plays infamous Irish-American gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, who terrorised Boston from the 1970s to 90s.

But Depp is quick to express some understanding for the mobster, now serving a life sentence for 11 murders.

"My intention was not to go out and create someone who is evil," he says.

"Because I don't think any of us wake up in the morning, shave and brush our teeth and think, I'm so evil, I'm so horrible.

"I approached Bulger as a human being who is multifaceted and had a side to him that was human, loving and all that.

"I found the evil in myself a long time ago. I accept it, we are old friends.

"With Bulger, whatever they've done in their life, good, bad, they're still human at the end of the day."

There's a moment in the film where the ever-violent Bulger teaches his kids to beat up their schoolmates if they cause them trouble.

And Depp - who has children, Lily Rose, 16, and Jack, 13, with former partner Vanessa Paradis - reckons there's nothing wrong with that.

Shrugging, he says: "I didn't find it at all strange, that advice. I remember when I was a kid, maybe six years old, and there was some little horror at school who was needling me. I think I told my mom and she said to me, 'Alright, here's the deal.

"The next time anybody puts their hands on you, pick up a brick and lay them out'. And I've taken that advice ever since. So it worked for me, and if somebody tried to bully my kid, if they didn't destroy the little booger, I would."

So intrigued was he with Whitey he asked to meet him in jail before filming. The mobster "respectfully declined" but Depp still hopes for contact.

"Hopefully if he is at all taken with the portrayal, he'll come out of nowhere and maybe send a letter," he says.

Instead, Whitey's lawyer spent time discussing his character with him.

"He was very helpful with regard to finding the heart of the man," he says. "A cold heart, of course, but still a heart."

He empathises: "He's a Catholic boy and in a weird way a pillar of the community, very sensitive in a lot of ways.

"He had his work - his criminal activ-ities and the violence that came with it - and then he had his family and intense sense of loyalty to friends and loved ones.

"He'd help an old lady bring groceries into her home - and then a few minutes later go bash somebody's head in."

He admits he has more than a bit of admiration for the man who skipped town in 1995 and evaded arrest for 16 years, despite being on the FBI's Most Wanted list, before being caught in 2011.

"With no disrespect to any victims or families of victims, there was some element for me that was kind of glad that he got away," he says.

"For 16 years he was on the run and he wasn't causing any trouble. He was living his life, so good for him."

Depp, too, has always bridled at authority and convention. "I think I will always see myself as an outsider," he says. "I also have a need to feel I've protected my individuality and identity as an actor.

"During the years I've been playing Captain Jack I've been drawn to his irreverence and desire to run against the current. That's part of my rebellious side."

Another aspect of this is refusal to care about mass appeal at the box office.

The star has had a few flops in recent years, including 2013's The Lone Ranger, in which he played Tonto, and 2015's Mortdecai. But he says he doesn't care.

"If you feel you've done service to the director, to yourself - then to me, that's a success," he says.

"Box office is none of my business. Am I going to play Tonto as the Native American with no humour or pride or warpaint? Am I going to play Mordecai straight? No, I'm going to have fun with it. All these films were sh**-canned for hopefully none of my doing."

He adds: "I want to do what I want to do, and if it works, great, and if it doesn't, f*** it. I can pump gas again."

As he regularly makes clear, he is well used to the simple life. He now has an estimated worth of PS225million, but his beginnings were humble.

He grew up in Florida and refers to his family as "hillbillies". At 15 he dropped out of school and started a garage band, The Kids. They went to LA, but as they struggled he had to get jobs including telemarketing and selling pens.

After he met star Nicolas Cage, who told him to try acting, Depp landed his first role in A Nightmare on Elm Street. So that dark side kicked in early on. It did off-screen too, as he took to drugs and booze - "really stupid", he says now.

After a row with then-girlfriend Kate Moss he trashed a hotel room and was jailed. The drug overdose death of friend River Phoenix at the LOVE With new missus Amber The Viper Room, the LA club Depp owned, was a huge wake-up call. He later went on to enjoy huge hits such as Edward Scissorhands.

And now he is tipped for Oscar glory as Whitey - having previously been nominated for his roles in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Finding Neverland and Sweeney Todd.

Depp's personal life is going strong too. He wed actress Amber Heard, 29, in February, and raves about his close relationship with his children.

But he had a scare last week. Lily Rose was in Paris as terrorists struck. She texted immediately to say she was safe. He admits: "I'll never stop worrying about her. It's a fatherdaughter thing." But he'll always encourage her to walk her own path - just as he himself has.

"You can still deal with reality and fight to retain your spirit and individuality," he says. "That's what I've tried to do."

emily.retter@trinitymirror.com

If someone bullied my kid, if they didn't destroy the little booger I would

CAPTION(S):

The real Whitey, main pic and left, and Johnny playing the Boston gangster, right

dark side Depp says he feels an outsider

HIT As Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean

Playing Tonto, right, in The Lone Ranger

LOVE With new missus Amber
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 21, 2015
Words:1231
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