Do you like gangster movies?
Oh yes! I grew up watching those great Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney films like Angels with Dirty Faces.
Johnny Depp in Public Enemies [See Photos | Videos]
What attracts you about that period in History?
I like the style, the fashion, and the way men and women dressed and expressed their individuality. It was an Art Deco period.
In your eyes, who was John Dillinger?
He was an outlaw in the same style and tradition as Jesse James; who, incidentally, was his hero as a child. And, as he had 10 years of his life stolen from him in prison, I think he made a conscious decision when he got out to do what he was going to do because the clock was ticking and he knew that being in his line of work- he only had so much time.
Did he have some kind of a death wish?
I don′t think so, because I truly believe that if he hadn′t been sold out by Anna Sage he would have had another hit or two and gone to Mexico or South America to wait for Billie Frechette.
Their love story is key in Public Enemies.
It′s everything, and has much more to do with who he was than the fact that he robbed banks. Dillinger was always longing for that special woman in his life and Billie became his primary focus. They were perfect for each other.
What did they have in common?
They were both uninvited strangers that came towards each other like a couple of comets.
What did you think of Marion Cotillard′s performance as Billie Frechette?
Marion is so talented, interesting and has so much going on behind those eyes. Every moment with her was different and I was amazed with her dedication -I thought her English accent was wonderful.
Did you speak to her in French at times, or did you prefer not to in order to help her with the accent she was working on?
There were times when I would speak to her in French, and I′m sure it must have been refreshing for her to go back to her native language, but mostly we talked in English because I did feel she would probably prefer it. Marion worked very hard on her accent.
And what do you think Christian Bale brought to the role of federal agent Melvin Purvis?
Christian is great, and I was so excited when I heard he was going to be playing the role of Purvis because he is such a talented actor. And I was sorry we only really had one scene together in the movie -apart from when we were shooting at each other. Christian could have played him in a different way, but he represented him very respectfully and made him likeable. I was very impressed by his performance and I′m looking forward to us doing more stuff together down the road.
Dillinger and Purvis follow a cat and mouse routine and are on opposite ends of the story, one being the pursuer and the other the pursued; but do you believe they were also in a way similar to each other?
If those guys had been together in a room without trying to kill each other they probably would have found themselves to be quite similar. They were two forces to be reckoned with and surely connected on many levels -probably more than Purvis with J. Edgar Hoover. And they were both loyal southern gentlemen, in an age when chivalry was not dead, that had integrity in their own arenas. Years ago, when I did Donnie Brasco, I spent my days hanging out with FBI agents and my nights with people related to the mob to prepare my part. And one of the things I found fascinating was that in a way they weren′t that different to each other.
So, was John Dillinger a public enemy or a public hero?
I don′t think he was an enemy of the public, because the banks were; I think he was the public.
What do you admire about him?
I admire him for being a common man who stood up against the establishment and for what he believed in.
How did you prepare this role?
I just wanted to get inside Dillinger′s head and try to find that spark. I read everything I could on the guy and saw the footage that exists -even though there is no audio of him -but what clicked for me was the moment I realized he was born and raised not far from where I grew up. I think that was the first time I heard him talk, because he was not that different to my grandfather, who in the 1930′s kind of also took the ball and ran with it. All those ingredients helped me find John Dillinger.
Johnny Depp in Public Enemies
What was it like to work with filmmaker Michael Mann?
Michael is great; he knows perfectly well what he wants and has a great passion for detail.
It must have been a true and rare luxury to shoot in many of the locations where John Dillinger had actually been.
Without Michael Mann′s insistence on truth we probably would have ended up shooting the film in some generic sound stage instead of in the real places were it all happened.
How important was it for you to follow in Dillinger′s steps?
It was very important. Being, for instance, in Crown Point jail and going thru the exact same doors that John Dillinger went thru or firing thousands of rounds at Purvis′ boys at Little Bohemia helped me prepare the character and understand who he really was.
And Chicago is a character in Public Enemies too!
Very much so, Chicago plays a huge role. And especially The Biograph theatre, where John Dillinger was killed, which was another place that Michael insisted we shot in. My head landed exactly in the same spot that Dillinger′s did!
Even though gangster or outlaw movies are set in a specific time and place, they are and always have been very popular all over the world. Why do you believe that is?
I′m not sure, but maybe it′s because everyone enjoys watching somebody get away with something we would like to get away with. We all love Robin Hood because we like to see how the bad guy -who really is the good guy- wins. You know, there is so much we have to deal with in life that it′s fun to see someone go out there and beat the establishment.
Do you have some of Dillinger in you?
Yes, and I think we all do in a way because we are capable of putting ourselves in harm′s way for what we truly believe in.
What did you learn with this shoot?
I certainly learned a lot about John Dillinger! But, above all, and having spent so much time in all these different towns and places on location, I experienced the warmth of being surrounded by many people of all ages that were incredibly respectful with what we were doing. Feeling welcomed by them and shaking their hands left the strongest impression on me.