Johnny Depp advises filmmakers from Saudi Arabia to 'go against the grain of Hollywood'

Pirates of the Caribbean actor speaks to The National on the sidelines of the Red Sea International Film Festival

US actor Johnny Depp at the opening of the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah. AFP
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Johnny Depp’s advice to filmmakers from Saudi Arabia and the region is to avoid templates worn out by Hollywood and instead find novel ways to tell their own stories.

The Pirates of the Caribbean star was in Jeddah to attend the Red Sea International Film Festival.

“What I believe, in regard to the opportunities of the Saudi film industry, is to build facilities and go against the grain of everything that Hollywood is putting out,” Depp told The National.

“Because it’s time. Because I think the majority of audiences are really bored [with Hollywood]. It’s a prefabricated template. These three-act structural kind of thing, people are sick of it. I think it shows pretty well in what's happening in Hollywood today.”

The US actor has been a staple of Hollywood for decades, famous for his portrayal of Jack Sparrow in the Pirates franchise, as well as his longtime collaboration with director Tim Burton.

Directors such as Burton, David Lynch and Emir Kusturica have “endured for the right reasons” precisely because they defied Hollywood traditions, Depp said.

Like them, there are “wonderful filmmakers all over the world”, from whom emerging talents in the Gulf can learn and sidestep hackneyed Hollywood structures and styles.

In Jeddah, he was also promoting Jeanne du Barry, a French film by Maiwenn, in which Depp stars as King Louis XV.

The actor said he was amazed by the rapid growth and potential of the kingdom’s film industry and feels lucky to be able to witness it firsthand.

“The experience with the festival itself is impeccable,” Depp said.

It is not his first visit to the kingdom.

“The couple of times that I've been here before, I’ve experienced an incredible hospitality,” Depp said.

“I believe that what’s happening here in Saudi Arabia, with regards to various sort of expressive outlets, creative outlets, art, cinema, everything is opening up beautifully,” he added.

“In that sense, [it is] giving more opportunity to anyone and everyone who have something to say. What seems to also be thriving beautifully here is youth culture, because it is a fascinating culture.”

Most youths in other parts of the world dream of going to other places to achieve their dreams, Depp said.

“If you’re from Kentucky, you dream of going to New York or Los Angeles or this or that.”

When it comes to youth in Saudi Arabia, however, that may not be the case, he said.

“I feel that most of the youth [here] are going ‘uhmm, maybe not'. Things are pretty good here. Things are opening up’,” he added.

Depp said he first became experienced the energy of the change sweeping the kingdom during a previous visit when he attended an MDL Beast event.

“It was like having some drape taken away from my eyes,” he said.

“You don’t know what to expect really, but what I witnessed was people freely having fun, thousands and thousands of them, with an incredibly elaborate stage, and enormous amount of thought and care that went behind that festival.”

Depp said he felt a similar pulse of energy at the Red Sea International Film Festival.

“The possibilities now are endless,” he said.

“It’s a very respectful place for a film festival. I hope to come back.”

The kingdom’s filmmaking potential also stems from its natural landscape and history, Depp said.

“The idea of shooting a film here is so beautiful. There’s such mystery, so many vistas, it’s visually stunning and the history that’s here is fascinating.”

The Red Sea Film Foundation is supporting Depp’s next release, which is also his first directorial effort in film since The Brave in 1997. The film, titled Modi, revolves around the life of Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani and stars Riccardo Scamarcio and Al Pacino.

“I just finished [the film],” he says, adding that it is scheduled to be released in September.

Updated: December 03, 2023, 8:44 AM