Denis Meikle | Johnny Depp: A Kind of Illusion (Titan Books)

It is also hard to take seriously an author who gets so many facts so very wrong.



Capitalizing on one of the hottest stars in Hollywood today, author Denis Meikle has released the sixth edition of his “biography” of actor Johnny Depp entitled Johnny Depp: A Kind of Illusion. The nearly 500-page paperback traces Depp’s life from his childhood and is “fully revised and updated” to include his most recent work such as Rango and the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Unfortunately, Meikle did not bother to revise his poor writing style or glaringly inaccurate and lazy research.
A Kind of Illusion is the type of second-rate drivel that can be found in the periodical aisle of any Walgreens or grocery store. Meikle uses little more than a Google News search and any found archival interviews with Depp, his co-stars and collaborators. He hasn’t bothered to include, or apparently even attempt to obtain, any firsthand knowledge of his subject through personal encounters. While the author does cover pretty much every period of Depp’s life and all of his films, including minor works, any first-year college student could do equally shallow research with little difficulty.
Meikle heavily focuses on Depp’s nomadic childhood, which began in Kentucky, and his parents’ ugly and ultimately failed marriage to explain the actor’s behavior later in life. He weaves together a story of a young boy who is not at home in his own house, so he turns to music for an escape from his everyday pain. Meikle does a decent job tracing Depp’s days drifting from band to band without ever finding one talented enough to deserve the success he so desperately wanted. We do get to discover one of the reasons Depp is so far removed from mainstream Hollywood: he is not an actor at heart; he is a musician. His persona and appearance wouldn’t be given a second thought if he was known as a guitar player, but as an actor, his ragged clothes and slovenly appearance is constantly a bone of contention for interviewers and columnists alike.
It is also hard to take seriously an author who gets so many facts so very wrong. For example, Meikle says that Leonardo DiCaprio won on Oscar for his performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape; he was nominated, but lost to Tommy Lee Jones. Meikle also writes that the screenplay for Depp’s Donnie Brasco was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, but lost to, wait for it…Good Will Hunting! That’s right, somehow in that year, an adapted screenplay lost to an original screenplay. Thirty seconds on the website is all Meikle would have had to invest in order to get these very simple facts straight. One would think that after FIVE previous editions that he or his “research associate” Dr. Robin Moody would have noticed these inexcusable errors.
When not giving shallow and hollow reports about Depp’s on-set antics or love life (culled, no doubt, from those bastions of hard-hitting journalism People and Us Weekly), Meikle has the audacity to wax intellectual on the art of acting and filmmaking. Each of Depp’s films is accompanied by Meikle’s armchair-film-critic analyses which usually fly in the face of most mainstream critics. He also drops absurd gems such as this: “The primary assets of the screen actor are physical attractiveness and the facility to exude ‘charisma’ that a camera lens can see.” There is no argument regarding the second part, but physical attractiveness is integral to an actor’s success? Really? What about Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Paul Giamatti? These actors are regarded as some of the best of their generation, yet none have done so because of their looks.
There are at least half a dozen biographies of Johnny Depp available for purchase. If you insist on reading one, do yourself a favor and read any but this one. | Matthew F. Newlin

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