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Talking Tech and 'Transcendence' with Johnny Depp and Wally Pfister (VIDEO)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood April 16, 2014 at 1:37PM

You can always bet on a lively press conference with Johnny Depp, but the recent tech talk about "Transcendence" and the inevitability of uploading human consciousness into a super computer brought out his more vulnerable side. Depp admitted, among other things, that he's too clumsy when it comes to texting and that his role as an AI scientist-turned megalomaniac was difficult without a flamboyant mask to hide behind.
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Johnny Depp in 'Transcendence'
Peter Mountain/Warner Bros. Johnny Depp in 'Transcendence'

You can always bet on a lively press conference with Johnny Depp, but a recent Los Angeles tech talk about "Transcendence" and the inevitability of uploading human consciousness into a super computer brought out his more vulnerable side. Depp admitted, among other things, that he's too clumsy when it comes to texting and that his role as an AI scientist-turned megalomaniac was difficult without a flamboyant mask to hide behind.

"Things go wrong all the time, especially between me and technology," Depp quipped. "I'm not familiar enough with it and I'm too old school to be able to figure it out. But anything that I have to attack with my thumbs for any period of time makes me feel stupid. So I try to avoid it as much as possible, to protect my thumbs, of course."

Joining Depp at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills were Wally Pfister, the Oscar-winning cinematographer-turned-director -- who's learned a lot about efficient storytelling from Christopher Nolan -- as well as co-stars Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, and first-time screenwriter Jack Paglen.

However, Bettany offered the most telling tidbit: He met a Caltech professor who predicted that the science of "Transcendence" will be available within 30 years. Mind you, the fact that the professor was listening to Wagner while looking at a slice of the human brain made the encounter even creepier. "It was a terrifying thought that they were all unified in the opinion that we have always been on a collision course with technology and that the next stage of our evolution will involve machinery," Bettany suggested.

But for Depp, the role of Dr. Will Caster was a bit more nuanced than the obvious "Frankenstein" analogy. While working to create a sentient machine combining unlimited intelligence with the full range of emotions, he nonetheless turns into a different kind of mad scientist.

"You can make the analogy to a security guard who three weeks prior to was mowing lawns for a living. The second he puts a uniform on, man that badge, everything -- boing! He's like a man. I imagine the majority of us have felt the wrath of the overzealous security guard guy. Is there something lying dormant in the man waiting to be pumped up with that kind of power? Don't know. Does it reveal him? Don't know. Does it change him? Don't know. When Will is in the computer, as he's growing along with the computer at this rapid pace, growing up through Pinn [the primary computer system], does any bad person think they're doing bad things? Historically, they all thought they had a pretty decent cause. A few were off by quite a lot. And they were dumb. But I think Will is dedicated to the cause and, yeah, maybe the power, when you realize it, essentially, you're God. There ain't anything more powerful on Earth... I think Will was just so focused on the cause and you get too far into it."

This article is related to: Transcendence, Johnny Depp, Immersed In Movies, Wally Pfister, Interviews, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.