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Keith Richards and Johnny Depp: Blood Brothers

The actor/musicians tell 'Rolling Stone' why they're pirates onscreen and off

May 31, 2007
Keith Richards Johnny Depp Rolling Stone
Keith Richards and Johnny Depp on the cover of Rolling Stone
Photo by Matthew Rolston

Come in, it's a beast out there."

With those words, Johnny Depp swings open the door to his sleek air-conditioned trailer and offers blessed relief from the brutal California heat wave. Here on the Disney lot in Burbank, where production is under way on Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Depp's trailer — where reggae and African music are currently blasting — is his personal oasis from the rigors of three-peating his Oscar-nominated turn as pirate king Jack Sparrow in the alleged final chapter in this box-office treasure chest ($1.7 billion to date). For the past few days, Depp has been graciously sharing the digs with another unimpeachable source of cool. That would be Keith Richards, on a break last September from the Rolling Stones' Bigger Bang tour, to film the small but pivotal role of Jack's far from dear old dad, Captain Teague. It's damn near typecasting, since Depp admits he used Richards as a model for the dreadlocked, mascaraed Jack. As Roger Ebert wrote, "Depp seems to be channeling a drunken drag queen, with his eyeliner and the way he minces ashore and slurs his dialogue ever so insouciantly."

Even with the heat, there's no slurring today. Never mind those stories later circulated by Pirates castmate Bill Nighy that Richards was so soused and wobbly on the set that director Gore Verbinski had to hold Richards' shins steady while he filmed his scenes. At this moment, both Depp and Richards are ready for action, dressed in full pirate regalia for the day's shoot. Richards, who's actually been up and working all morning, appears fantastically torn and tattered, with a bandanna and braids, scars and patches, facial hair and a puffy shirt. The joke is he doesn't look that much different onstage as the lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones.

Couples and Collaborators on the Cover of Rolling Stone

Depp's trailer is movie-star expansive and well swabbed with couches and wall tapestries, yet the joint also has the scary vibe of a voodoo lounge. After all, Richards, a certified wild card, recently told a Brit magazine that he was so close to his late dad, Bert, that he snorted his ashes with a bit of blow. He said he was kidding, of course, but with Richards you never know. Days earlier, another reporter earned the wrath of Keith for mistaking Richards' famed skull ring for an Iggy Pop copy. The blunder led the rock icon to threaten the journalist with sodomy by banana.

Richards, 63, and Depp, 43, have been casually friendly for a decade. Depp is downright solicitous of his big-screen father, who today has taken to calling him "Johnny, me boy." Depp even offers to fetch cigarettes, making him the highest-paid gofer in Hollywood. "I could use one, yeah," says Richards. "Thanks, mate."

It's clear that Depp, a longtime musician and guitar freak, is having the time of his life during Richards' solo stop on the Disney lot. For all the rock edge that Richards brings with him anywhere, his affection for Depp is clear even when he calls him an "asshole."

The first question is for you, Keith. Has your career as a rock star all been Method preparation for playing a pirate?
Richards: Actually, you could look at it like that. Both are ways to make a good dishonest living. Pirates are very democratic. Everything's for sale: left leg so much, testicles so much. I mean, they did have a deal going on those boats that was way ahead of the Constitution.

You have some band experience too, Johnny, from your teen years with the Kids. Have you figured out if there are any differences between pirates and rockers?
Depp: I always thought of pirates being the rock stars of the eighteenth century. With both, the myth arrives before them. The word comes around the bend months before they arrive.

Do you remember when you were first aware of the myth of Keith?
Depp: Very, very early. Simply found his music. It was always my first love, even as a small kiddie. I remember when I started fucking around on a guitar for the first time. Keith — he goes to the forefront. Have you gotten a chance to play together?

Richards: Not yet.

And how would you compare yourself as a player to the guitar god over here?
Depp: I wouldn't even, like, begin.

Richards: Johnny's probably better than he thinks. I'm probably not as good as he thinks.

Depp: I was almost afraid to meet him for a long time, because there is always a fear that your heroes are going to be shitheads.

Richards: I met him. At first it was like, "Not another one of my fucking son's friends." Johnny started kind of like that and then he worked his way up with me.

How long ago was that?
Richards: I think around '95, in New York. My son Marlon told me, "You've really got to meet this guy. He is really a fan." And so I got to know Johnny via that. I knew the name, but I didn't know really what he had done. I thought he was some guitar player, and then I thought, "Oh, he's made some movies, too, another one of those blokes." But then over the years we got to know each other rather better. Hence I'm wearing this [laughs at himself in pirate outfit].

Was it hard to convince you to be a part of this Pirates film franchise?
Richards: It was the right place at the right time with the right guys. And, you know, because he's an asshole.

Depp: Truth be told.

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