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Johnny Depp: A movie star on his own terms

by Sean Axmaker
Special to MSN Movies

Is Johnny Depp a star because of his idiosyncratic choices or despite them? He doesn't play by movie star rules, and he has consistently steered clear of big budget, high profile productions, focusing rather on a wide array of challenging roles and eccentric characters. Depp plays in the kinds of films that garner great reviews but small audiences. That is until the acclaimed actor starred in "Pirates of the Caribbean," his first bona fide hit, which he made after taking a yearlong sabbatical to be with his romantic partner, French pop star Vanesa Paradis, and their newborn child.

While Depp had small roles in a pair of iconic 1980s hits -- as the doomed boyfriend in Wes Craven's genre-reviving "A Nightmare on Elm Street," and as a young grunt in Oliver Stone's landmark "Platoon" -- it was TV that first put Depp on the map. "21 Jump Street" made Depp a pop icon, but it was the succession of vividly realized, often wildly eccentric screen characters that made him an actor to reckoned with.

Currently playing Willy Wonka in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and preparing to bring his unforgettable punch-drunk pirate con-man Jack Sparrow back to the screen in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel, Depp still plays the Hollywood game by his own rules, and by the looks of it, he's having as much fun as his characters.

Here's a brief survey of the idiosyncratic career and memorable characters in the career that Depp built.

"21 Jump Street" (1987-1990)
This 1980s pop equivalent to "The Mod Squad" gave Depp his first starring role as patrolman Tom Hanson, a rookie cop placed in a special undercover unit dealing with teen crime and high-school assignments. The show is as dated as a Kajagoogoo music video, from its faux-MTV fashions to its tiresome synth score, but therein lies its flashback appeal. And Depp transcends his pretty-boy casting to show off his understated wit, undeniable range, and easy charisma. After three seasons on the show, Depp was ready for the big screen again, and this time he returned as a leading man.

Next: 'Cry-Baby'
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