[draft of a letter to johnny depp]
dear johnny depp,
given what follows, i feel it is almost unnecessary to say, but i will nonetheless begin this letter with my supreme respect for your talent as an actor and your choices in roles and projects throughout your career. i have seen many, (but not all) of your films and have been more than a little impressed with your performance in every one, whether or not i ultimately like the film as a whole. to me, your choice of roles and projects shows a personal courage in your art that i very much appreciate in a hollywood actor (few of them have it, and those that do tend to have come from either theatrical or non-american backgrounds).
enough with the preamble. i've read in interviews that you have contemplated acting on the stage, and in that musing, the title Hamlet has come up. i'm writing to ask you to give it a try, now, and in the way i propose. i have a concept for a production of hamlet that i think would greatly benefit from your portrayal of the title character. i want to lay the concept our for you and illustrate why i believe you could do my hamlet justice. if my interpretation of the character doesn't sound intriguing to you, of feels outside of your comfort zone or interest, i totally understand. but please take my offering you the role as a compliment to your skill and your acting choices to date, nothing more or less. here is the main gist of my request:
i want you to play a queer hamlet. and i want you to play him with all the depth and sincerity and honesty with which you play everything else. this is not a camp version, this is a queer reading of a character with great emotional depth. i use the word 'queer' deliberately, and not in the old sense of the word, but in the more recent adoption of it by the younger generation of lgbtq's--in the sense of being broader than strictly gay or lesbian or bi, of encompassing the possibility of alternate gender identity as well as sexuality. (or at least seeing both of these as on a spectrum.) to my knowledge you have never played an overtly gay character, though i've read of you joking that all of your characters are secretly gay. i appreciate that thought because i feel it hits on something very important in your acting, namely, that you queer all of your characters (in using 'queer' as a verb here i imply not purely dealing with sexuality, but more as a way of fucking with dichotomies and dominant thought around a specific idea, in this case, manhood or masculinity). i feel as though your portrayals of male characters in many of your movies are somewhat subversive to the dominant society's idea of a man, and certainly of a hollywood-star/leading-man. this feels so important for so many reasons, most notably for folks of the younger generation (well, all generations, really) to see examples of men who, not only do they not fall into the intensely masculine/macho part of the spectrum (ie, brad pitt in fight club), but are also able to integrate aspects of the feminine into them as well (ie, you as e. scissorhands, i. crane, w. wonka, and cap'n j. sparrow).
i want my hamlet to play with both sexuality and gender throughout the play, to flirt with men and women alike, to have sexual (or at least romantic) history with both ophelia and horatio, to be dealing with how to emulate the role models of his father and his mother, to perform multiple genders (even dressing in drag at one point). i feel you would be incredibly good at the chameleon nature of this request. i also feel that the central problem for hamlet in the production i propose is one that you often deal with in your projects (particularly with tim burton). i think hamlet's journey is one of discovering how to grow up. i think there is a definite tendency early in the play for him to treat everything as a game, as not quite real, or more precisely, not quite serious enough to rise to the challenge--to mature enough to truly deal with. he is good at trying on mourning, trying on madness, making as if to revenge his father, performing the role of prince, of lover, of friend, of son. but it takes for the stakes to continually get higher and higher, for others to take him more seriously than he takes himself, for people to start dying around him or trying to kill him, for him to take real action by making sure as to his heart's choice (horatio) to speak plainly to his betrayers (r&g) to let his mother in on his plans, to frankly apologize to his rival (laertes) and to finally follow through with his rashly made promise to his dead father's ghost. throughout the play i see a struggle for hamlet between his ability to maintain control of every conversation he engages in (which he can do with ease and a surplus of double entendre which keeps everyone he speaks with wrongfooted) and having no control of his life (his location, his direction, his domain, his family, his company, his ability to carry out his plans, anything). he is lost in his homeland, he is a cynical innocent, he is the prince cum court jester, tilting at conversational (and soliloqual) windmills of his own contriving because any more realistic target is to much for him to handle. slowly he learns how to come into himself, to acknowledge and communicate his desires, to hold himself and others responsible. this process could very easily entail a coming out of sorts within it, or it could not. i propose an overt portrayal of hamlet's and horatio's attraction and relationship and also hints of attraction in multiple other relationships (r&g, laertes, a sailor, etc) but i don't want his love affair with ophelia to be undermined in its sincerity and weight by his attraction to men. there is a true and complex romance/attraction goin on there, but hamlet is too immature to sufficiently deal (in a non-performative way) with it even at her grave. she is not the first, nor is the the only casualty of his folly (i would like the possibility of he and laertes having a history to be real) but her death i believe is a major catalyst for his finally taking things seriously and rising to the challenges laid in front of him. hers is the death of innocence, and it ramifications shake him to his core.
enough of my analysis for now, please let me know if the idea of this project excites you in any way. i would be happy to hear your suggestions of other actors with whom you would like to work (helena bonham carter is more than welcome to take on ophelia once again, if she is interested. i think she might like my take on her character as well...)
i eagerly await your reply.
my most sincere regards,
ray van fox (x)
[you may well laugh at the pretension of my letter, i do myself, but i say to you that there is no other actor working in hollywood right now that i would trust with this character like i would mr. j. depp. (not that i was looking for a hollywood actor for this project but i read an interview where he mentioned wanting to do a stage production of hamlet before he gets too old, so you know, my mind went there...) i have however spoken before about his genderqueerness (see johnny depp's eyeliner) and i think he's the one that could pull this off with flying colors. i'll take suggestions of anyone better, but i don't believe they exist.]