Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie have each carved niches for themselves as two of the world’s biggest stars. Depp, of course, has been the master of quirky roles ranging from Captain Jack Sparrow, to the Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland to Edward Scissorhands, while Jolie has become the premier female action star on the planet through such films as Mr. And Mrs. Smith, Salt and Wanted.
In The Tourist, the dynamic duo team up for the first time in a film that marks a change of pace for each of them. For Depp, the film represents a rare chance to play a normal guy—a math teacher from Wisconsin—while Jolie gets a chance to play up her glamorous side as a U.S. government agent who has to draw in Depp’s innocent man into an elaborate spy adventure across Europe, and rely on her wit and seductive yet classy charm rather than breaking necks and hearts in equal measure.
The film—the American debut of German director Florian von Donnersmarck, whose prior film, The Lives of Others, won the 2006 Oscar for Best Foreign Film—is unusual in this modern age of slam-bang, over-the-top, frenetic noise and fury. It’s an attempt to bring back the sly charm and more subtle pleasures of romantic thrillers from the 1950s and beyond, such as Cary Grant and Grace Kelly’s To Catch a Thief. While the film doesn’t entirely succeed, it’s a quite admirable effort that should be especially appealing to Christian audiences thanks to its refreshing sense of restraint (for instance, only one swear word in the whole film, and no sex scene is deemed necessary to serve up the heat in their relationship).
Depp and Jolie sat down recently to discuss the film and their respective roles.
Tell us about your characters and what you thought was appealing about them.
Depp: He’s an everyman—an everyday, normal guy, a math teacher from Wisconsin—who is approached on a train to Venice by the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen—this enchantress, an unbelievable, interesting, cultured vixen, and is taken on the ride of his life. What would you do? How far would you go? How much danger would you allow yourself to be in just for the possibility of whatever poetry might commence between you and that woman?
Jolie: She is very much a lady, a European lady who fell in love with a criminal a few years ago and has been heartbroken and is on a quest to reunite with him. And in order to do that she has to trick a tourist into playing a game he isn’t aware he’s in.
And what are your impressions of each other as real people now that you know each other?
Depp: She’s everything for me. She has everything. She’s like a walking poem, this perfect beauty but at the same time very deep, very smart, quick, clever, funny and also has a very perverse sense of humor. She’s great.
Jolie: Johnny’s one of a kind, always looking for the freshest characters, yet so real and down to earth himself. Kind, always prepared, always looking for an inventive way of handling any situation in a script. I’d been wanting to find the perfect script to team with him forever, and when he said yes to this, I literally went running to Brad [Pitt, her partner] and said, "Oh my gosh! He’s doing it!"
What was it like working with Florian, since he’s an incredible talent having won a huge Oscar for his debut film, yet unproven on a big-budget American film?
Jolie: Well, my character’s very much a lady—who she is, is a mystery, but that evolves throughout the film. I’ve often played films with an edge or strength, a modern quality and the first note Florian gave me every day was to slow down, because my natural modern rhythm is quicker and harder.
Depp: When you’re talking about scenes, he was beyond collaborative. He was very much [about] things [having] to happen organically and knowing that when Angelina and I got in the ring together that if things were gonna take shape they’d take shape themselves. He was very welcoming of that and improvisation. Most importantly, he believed in the possibility of chance—for me that was a blessing, and it worked out very well.
Johnny, your character is way more scared than Angelina’s in the film. What was the riskiest part of the film for you?
Depp: Automatic weapons, intrigue, danger, fear are the key elements of the film. Running across roofs was the least of my worries. The worst was being dragged by boat through the Venice Canal, afraid of going into the drink because it’s a complete mystery what’s in there. Three days later you might find yourself growing a thumb out of your forehead. So yeah, that was my big fear.
What do each of you hope audiences get out of this change of pace ride?
Depp: What I hope they take away is that they’ve had an hour and 40 minutes of escape. It’s kind of an interesting story in the sense that it’s a throwback in a way to old-school thrillers but with a modern-day, contemporary take on it. I hope they’re entertained. They’ll get a good look at Venice, for sure.
Jolie: I think it just has a wonderful sense of fun and it’s light. I think it should make people feel good—there’s lovely twists, turns, romance, action, a lot of things and is delightful and pleasing to watch.