Depp's life is like a box of chocolates

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JOHNNY DEPP might be the most famous man who does not want to be famous.

He has been twice nominated for Oscars and once voted the Sexiest Man Alive - but awards ceremonies scare him and Hollywood just annoys him.

But after his performances in Pirates Of The Caribbean and Finding Neverland, and his latest outing as Willy Wonka in Roald Dahl's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, the 42-year-old is suddenly very hot property in Hollywood.

It is not a position in which he is particularly comfortable.

"Very selfishly and simplistically I like keeping a distance from Hollywood and the social expectations there because I'm not good at it," he says.

"I find great comfort in having that distance because I don't have that pressure or responsibility of knowing who is the top dog this week and who is out from last week. I don't know who anybody is and I really like that."

Instead, Depp spends six months a year in Los Angeles and the other six at his home on the French Riviera. It is an idyllic family life with his children Lily Rose Melody, six, three-year-old Jack, and their mother, model and actress Vanessa Paradis, 32.

The star says his life started with the birth of his first child. And despite the pressure of his career he is determined not to be separated from them. "The most I've ever been apart from my kids and my girl was four or five weeks and that drove me mad," he says.

"One shouldn't have to do that. I can't do it. So, as much as I can, I try to bring them on location with me. If Vanessa's doing a film and I'm not working I'll go on location with them."

For now that means living in the Bahamas, where he is on location filming the next two instalments of Pirates.

He bought a Caribbean island for about 1.5 million this summer, and the family travels with a minimum of 30 suitcases wherever they go.

As he relaxes in a hotel suite, wearing his trademark glasses and a hat on the back of his head, he laughs: "My family are here with me. They're always with me. We're doing all the fun stuff - running around on the beach with the kids, taking them swimming, going out on a boat. They love it.

"But we don't spoil them - we're very careful about that kind of thing."

If life seems rosy now, Depp has also had his share of bad press, despite his long and respected career.

Film star River Phoenix collapsed and died outside Depp's club in LA, The Viper Room, in 1993, while the actor has also had a few brushes with the law for trashing a hotel room and a brawl with photographers.

He has also had a number of failed engagements, including to Jennifer Grey, Winona Ryder, and Kate Moss, while his 1983 marriage to Lori Anne Allison collapsed after two years.

A self-styled rebel and high school dropout, his big break came after a chance meeting with Nicolas Cage, who introduced him to his agent - which resulted in a small role in the horror classic, A Nightmare On Elm Street.

"I really have a lot to thank Nic for," he says.

He followed that up with a string of roles including Edward Scissorhands, an undercover FBI agent in Donnie Brasco starring alongside Al Pacino, as Hunter S Thompson in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas plus parts in Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow.

Bigger roles started coming his way and in 2003 he took Hollywood by storm with an Oscar-nominated performance as Captain Jack Sparrow in the 300 million-grossing Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, before being nominated again the following year for his portrayal of Peter Pan author JM Barrie in Finding Neverland.

"I try not to think about that kind of thing," he says. "I'm really flattered and honoured that I've been able to get the nominations for various awards. That was totally unexpected and shocking to me.

"But that's enough for me. I don't want to go up in front of all those people and say thanks - that just scares me. It would be nice but I don't need it."

While his movie career has skyrocketed recently, he has suffered personal blows, most notably the suicide of his close friend Hunter S Thompson, who penned the novel Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.

"I found out about an hour or two hours after it happened and it was devastating," he remembers. "He dictated to life what it was going to be like so he made his exit in the same way. But that doesn't make it hurt any less."

Now all eyes will be on to see whether Charlie And The Chocolate Factory will give him another shot at Oscar success.

He was selected for the part by long-time collaborator, director Tim Burton. It is their fourth film together since Depp starred in Edward Scissorhands in 1990.

"We were having dinner and he said: 'You know that story Charlie And The Chocolate Factory? Well, I'm going to do it and I'm wondering if you'd want to play . . .'

"And I couldn't even wait for him to finish the sentence. I said: 'I'm in, absolutely, I'm there, no questions about it'.

"To be chosen to play Willy Wonka is a great honour," he adds, explaining he's a long-time fan of author Roald Dahl.

But Depp admits he felt a heavy sense of responsibility playing such a well-known children's character. Dahl and his widow Felicity were never fans of the first Wonka film, although Gene Wilder's performance remains a popular classic.

So he was relieved when Felicity called his partnership with Tim Burton "the ideal combination" and the movie "absolutely unbeatable".

There is no doubt that the new movie is a treat for the eyes, conjuring up the magical world inside the chocolate factory, and is reportedly much more faithful to the book than the original.

With Freddie Highmore, who starred alongside Depp in Finding Neverland to critical acclaim, playing Charlie, it is set to be a huge success - with children and their parents.

Part of the magic of filming for Depp was that his kids loved watching their dad rule over a giant chocolate kingdom. He even took them on to the set to sample the giant marshmallows and meet an Oompa Loompa.

"I think both my kids would be closer to Charlie's personality," the actor grins. "Luckily, they're pretty well balanced, pretty well grounded."

But he admits he was no Charlie as a boy himself.

"I would like to think I was like Charlie, but I don't think I was. My mum says I was a hellion. I wasn't obnoxious or precocious but I was curious and there were a lot of practical jokes. I got on her nerves basically."

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory opens in cinemas across the Capital tomorrow.


FREDDIE HIGHMORE is already getting the kind of critical acclaim many actors triple his age would kill for - not bad for a 13-year-old, who has already casually announced he is planning to give up acting when he's an adult.

After his award-winning performance in Finding Neverland, he is setting the seal on that reputation with his role in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

Highmore himself seems fairly unfazed about the idea of starring in the huge summer blockbuster - but after working alongside an array of stars in the past couple of years, perhaps that is not surprising.

Johnny Depp, who plays Willy Wonka, recommended Highmore to director Tim Burton after they worked together on Finding Neverland.

"The great thing about Highmore is that he's had huge success as a young actor but it does not remotely interest him," Depp says.

And the admiration is mutual. There is no doubt that he is in awe of his Oscar-nominated co-star, who he calls "fantastic" and "an amazing guy".

"Johnny doesn't treat anyone differently even though he is a famous film star," says Highmore.

"He's a really great guy to work with and he can get into his character so well. He can change an ordinary scene into a fantastic scene."

It's not just the cast which made filming a magical experience - being able to eat the scenery on his latest set can't have hurt either.

"There were bits of chocolate all around the set and there were even real marshmallows," Highmore says with a grin.

"I love all sorts of chocolate - milk chocolate and dark chocolate, chocolate brownies and chocolate pudding - and the film certainly hasn't put me off chocolate."

A fan of the book, he jumped at the chance to play Charlie Bucket.

"I read the original book before I got involved in the film but I never dreamed that I was going to play Charlie one day," he says.

"It's a really great book. Roald Dahl was amazing and it's a really great thing to see all the things he wrote."

And he was delighted to be invited to the Dahl family home in Buckinghamshire to see the workroom where the author penned his popular children's books.

"He wrote with a silver ball on his desk because he loved chocolate and that's basically how the story came about because he loved chocolate. The silver ball had all the wrappers in it from all the sweets he'd eaten while he was writing this."

Willy Wonka produces a satisfying dark tale

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (PG) ****

PPREVIOUSLY filmed as Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory in 1971 with Gene Wilder as the frizzy-haired confectioner, Roald Dahl's delicious yet twisted fantasy has been ripe for a remake for some time.

With visionary director Tim Burton as its guiding creative light, this new adaptation looks sensational and the mood - like some of the chocolate - is frequently dark and bitter, just as Dahl would have wanted.

Following a great opening titles sequence, which follows bars of Wonka chocolate along the production line, we arrive at the tiny, tumbledown Bucket residence.

Here, good-hearted boy Charlie (Freddie Highmore) lives with his mother (Helena Bonham Carter), father (Noah Taylor) and bed-ridden grandparents: Grandpa George (David Morris), Grandma Georgina (Liz Smith), Grandpa Joe (David Kelly) and Grandma Josephine (Eileen Essell).

Times are hard and dinner usually consists of a bowl of watered- down cabbage soup, but the Buckets don't complain. They are glad to be together.

Excitement grips the world following a momentous announcement: after 15 years hidden from prying eyes, eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) is opening the gates to his factory to five special children who find golden tickets inside his Wonka bars.

The lucky quintet will learn the secrets and magic of the Wonka factory. Moreover, one of the youngsters will be rewarded with a very special prize indeed.

Within a few days, four of the tickets have been claimed. The winners include gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), spoilt brat Veruca Salt (Julia Winter), championship gum chewer Violet Beauregarde (Sophia Robb) and video game fan Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry).

Miraculously, Charlie becomes the fifth and final ticket-holder when he unwraps a bar of Wonka Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight and sees the unmistakable glint of gold.

At the allotted time, in front of the world's media, Charlie and Grandpa Joe venture excitedly into the factory with the other children and their parents for the adventure of a lifetime.

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory remains remarkably faithful to Dahl's book, from the frothy chocolate waterfall and merry Oompa-Loompas (all played by Deep Roy thanks to some nifty digital trickery) to the trained squirrels and impossible glass elevator.

Screenwriter John August adds some neat touches of his own, including flashbacks to Willy's traumatic childhood with his deranged dentist father (Christopher Lee) and some tongue-in-cheek dialogue: "Don't touch that squirrel's nuts."

Deep Roy is utterly mesmerising as a man-child who clearly hates children, delighting when his pint-sized visitors' greed leads them to their doom.

Highmore is heartbreaking as Charlie and there are colourful supporting turns from the young cast members.

The Oompa-Loompa musical numbers are elevated to Busby Berkeley song and dance spectaculars, melding Dahl's lyrics with Danny Elfman's score to brilliant effect.

Utterly scrumptious as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is, the film's emotional heartbeat is rather faint at times, overwhelmed by the dazzling art direction and technical virtuosity.