By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist February 22, 2011 at 2:00AM
We're sure our kids won't believe us when we tell them, decades from now, but once upon a time, Johnny Depp was an oddball character actor. Sure, he'd occasionally take a studio paycheck gig, like "Nick of Time" and "The Astronaut's Wife," but for the most part, his career was made up of interesting projects with acclaimed directors with Jim Jarmusch, Sally Potter and Roman Polanski being among his collaborators.
But since he became a bona fide A-lister with "Pirates of the Caribbean," things have changed. Other than a favor for Terry Gilliam on "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," and the upcoming, long-delayed Hunter S. Thompson passion project "The Rum Diary," Depp's become a firmly tentpole-based kinda guy, spending 2010 turning in horrible performances in two terrible films -- "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Tourist."
For the last year or so, however, it looked hopeful that Depp might squeeze in a project that sounded far more promising. The actor was set to reteam with his "Arizona Dream" director Emir Kusturica on a biopic of the legendary Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. The project, based on the novel "The Friends of Pancho Villa," by James Carlos Blak, had the title "Wild Roses, Tender Roses," and would co-star Salma Hayek, and originally planned to go before cameras this month.
But with the recent news that Kusturica was planning an adaptation of the Bosnian novel "The Bridge on the Drina," we speculated that the project may have fallen by the wayside, and Depp seemed to confirm this, telling a Spanish website that "I think this role has to be played by a Mexican actor" -- presumably a fact in no way connected to the star being set to film "Dark Shadows," "The Lone Ranger" and two further "Pirates of the Caribbean" films in the next few years.
The bad news is, according to Serbian site Blic (via Bleeding Cool), that Depp appears to be officially off the project. The good news is that the film seems to still be alive, and has two other acclaimed actors circling the central role, in the form of Gael Garcia Bernal and Benicio Del Toro. The site reports that Kusturica is set to met both actors in Cuba in the near future, and will then begin production "shortly."
Both seem like good choices, although Bernal seems both confident and excited about the prospect of the film. At the helmer's Kustendorf Film Festival recently, the actor was quoted as saying (via what seems like some slightly dodgy translation) "I will probably land the leading role because of physical resemblance with Pancho Villa" and "I believe Emir is the only director who can do the Pancho Villa story. Even better than any Mexican director. You know why? Because he is a kind of Pancho Villa in his own right."
Whichever of the two lands the role (and both have fairly clear slates at present, although Del Toro's attached to the crime flick "The Iceman" and his name keeps cropping up for "The Three Stooges"), it seems that they'll co-star with Hayek, who still seems to be attached. The film also seems to have reverted to its original, somewhat lengthier title; "Seven Friends of Pancho Villa and the Woman With Six Fingers." There's no exact word on when the film will shoot, but it looks like it's definitely Kusturica's next project, and we're excited at the prospect to be sure.