Monday, June 26, 2006

Adam Sandler

A genial, laid-back stand-up comic and graduate of NBC's "Saturday Night Live,” Brooklyn-born Adam Sandler was a class clown in Manchester, New Hampshire after his family moved there when he was six. He has gone on record that Rodney Dangerfield, Cheech & Chong and repeated viewings of the movie "Caddyshack" (1980) were his inspirations, so it was not surprising that he made his first forays into performing comedy while an undergraduate at New York University. While still at school, he also landed a recurring role as Theo's friend Smitty on the NBC sitcom "The Cosby Show.”

After dropping out of college and settling in L.A., he hit the local comedy clubs including the Improv, where "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Dennis Miller "discovered" him. Miller recommended Sandler to Lorne Michaels, who hired him as a writer for the series in 1990. Within a year, Sandler started to make onscreen appearances. Though his gallery of weirdly off-center dunces—including Iraqi Pete, Canteen Boy and Cajun Man—quickly caught on with the audience, it was Opera Man, a bewigged and caped tenor who sings in satirical, often moronic non sequiturs, that persuaded Michaels to anoint him a performing regular.

Sandler joined the growing list of "SNL" performers who made the transition to the big screen with his feature debut in Bobcat Goldthwait's uneven cult comedy "Shakes the Clown" (1992). He followed with a small role in "Coneheads" (1993), based on "SNL" skits from the 1970s, and a more substantial one in "Airheads" (1994) as a member of a heavy metal band who inadvertently take over a radio station to secure airplay for their self-produced demo. Sandler finished out the year in Nora Ephron's "Mixed Nuts" (1994) playing a goofball with an unrequited crush on co-star Rita Wilson, a part that called for variations on his "SNL" characters, most notably Opera Man. He then co-wrote and starred as "Billy Madison" (1995), the scion of a wealthy family who tries to prove to his retiring father that he's worthy of taking over the family business by attending grades 1-12 in six months. In December of that year, his comic "Hanukkah Song" became a surprise hit on radio stations nationwide.

Sandler proved the commercial success of the critically panned "Billy Madison" was no fluke by co-writing another low-brow starring vehicle, the golfing comedy "Happy Gilmore" (1996), which took in more than $40 million. Adding further proof of his box-office appeal, that year's "Bulletproof", teaming him with Damon Wayans, opened at Number 1, but none of these coups prepared anyone for the breakout phenomena of "The Wedding Singer" (1998), a relatively sophisticated product (by Sandler's standards) which grossed $80 million and finally brought women to the ranks of what had previously been his male fan base. He reverted to his classic outsider image for "The Waterboy" (also 1998), its $39 million opening weekend flying in the face of conventional wisdom saying moviegoers prefer more serious fare in the fall.

With everyone calling him the heir-apparent to Jim Carrey's low-comedy throne, Sandler, whose underdog quality and vulnerability separates him from his comic peers, headlined "Big Daddy" (1999), as a slacker who adopts a boy to win back his girlfriend. The film had more heart than "The Waterboy" and while it was not as overwhelmingly successful, it did register as another solid hit for Sandler. While helping fellow SNL alumnus out by producing their comedies ("Joe Dirt" for David Spade in 2001 and "The Animal" for Rob Schneider, also in 2001) he put out the mediocre comedy "Little Nicky" in 2001. He followed up with "Mr. Deeds" in 2002 which also performed poorly, suggesting maybe Sandler's golden touch was beginning to tarnish.

Perhaps sensing the need for a change of direction, Sandler starred opposite Emily Watson in the critically acclaimed dramatic comedy "Punch-Drunk Love" (2002) which premiered at Cannes and took home The Golden Palm award there. Taking on a more mature role in the romantic comedy created expressly for him by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, Sandler successfully built upon his likeable sad-sack persona and added darker edges in a more true-to-life scenario. The new dimension impressed both critics and moviegoers. In 2003, Sandler joined Jack Nicholson as the unlikely pair took on the roles of patient and therapist in the clever David Dorfman comedy "Anger Management," with Sandler's uptight, rage-repressed everyman serving as the perfect foil for Nicholson's wild-eyed, unshaven and slightly psycho psychotherapist.

Sandler reunited with his "Wedding Singer" co-star Barrymore for "50 First Dates" (2004), a romantic comedy that cast Sandler as Henry Roth, a man who falls in love with a woman with a disorder that eliminates her short-term memory and forces him to woo her anew each and every day. The actor was better served in his next project, writer-director James L. Brooks' "Spanglish" (2004), playing a chef grappling with the challenges of his out-of-control wife (Tea Leoni) and the emotional damage she inflicts on their daughter, even as he is attracted to the beautiful and sensitive maid who doesn't speak English (Paz Vega). The film's serio-comic tone did not work for everyone, but Roger Ebert summed up the opinion of most critics when he said of Sandler's performance that he likes Adam Sandler most when he's not in typical Adam Sandler movies. The actor delivered another sweet and sensitive portrayal suggesting that he, if not all of his fans, had evolved away from the wacky, "dumb guy" comedies that made him a superstar. His remake of prison football comedy "The Longest Yard" (2005)—with Sandler in the Burt Reynolds role of a jailed NFL quarterback leading a team of inmates against their guards—was a half-step backward: although missing much of the original's charm and edge, it proved popular at the box office.

Out of the limelight for a stretch to spend time with his new family—he and his wife had a baby girl in May 2006—Sandler returned with a new comedy, “Click” (2006), in which he played—yet again—a misunderstood everyman. This time he was a hard-working architect whose life passes him by while he tries to impress his slick and ungrateful boss (David Hasselhoff). While shopping at a kitchen and bathroom store, he stumbles into the back room where he meets a strange employee who gives him a remote control that allows him to rewind, fast-forward or pause his life. But as the device starts to decide what events he’ll experience and which he won’t, he begins to have appreciation for everything in his life—good and bad. Meanwhile, Sandler appeared in a supporting role for “Romance and Cigarettes” (lensed 2004), a musical black comedy about a man’s journey into infidelity and redemption through his doomed relationship with a fiery-haired seductress (Kate Winslett), then shifted gears to heavy drama for “Empty City” (lensed 2006), about a man who lost his family in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and is helped through his long-running grief by his former college roommate.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Angelina Jolie

With her long legs, ample bee-stung lips and striking deep-set blue eyes, Angelina Jolie may have been destined for screen stardom even without the benefit of her acting lineage or her considerable talent. The daughter of actors Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand, she began studying acting at age 11 at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute in NYC. Even before commencing her formal training, Jolie made her screen debut as a tyke in a bit part in the Hal Ashby-directed comedy "Lookin' to Get Out" (filmed in 1980; released 1982). Co-scripted and co-produced by her father, the movie was savaged by reviewers but its littlest thespian emerged unscathed.

Abandoning her youthful plans to become a funeral director, Jolie segued to show business as a professional model and actress in music videos. She went on to appear in five student films directed by her older brother, James Haven Voight, and as part of the Met Theater in Los Angeles honed her craft alongside such veteran players as Holly Hunter, Ed Harris and Amy Madigan. Jolie returned to the screen in "Cyborg II: Glass Shadows" (1993), a better than average direct-to-video sci-fi actioner in which she played a heroic human-machine hybrid but garnered more attention and better notices in the cyber-thriller "Hackers" (1995). Playing Kate (a.k.a. 'Acid Burn'), she was paired with rising young British actor Jonny Lee Miller as teen computer whizzes battling an evil genius. The film fizzled at the box office but the romantic leads sizzled and were briefly married from 1996 to 1999.

More film work readily followed, initially in small-scale character-driven indies including an indifferently received adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates' novel "Foxfire" (1996), where she played a mysterious outsider named Legs Sadovsky--described in Variety as "sort of a female James Dean"--who helps some other teenaged girls stand up for their rights. Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna's romantic comedy-drama "Love Is All There Is" (also 1996) displayed Jolie in a humorous and innocent light as half of a pair of star-crossed lovers divided by their families' feud. That same year, she appeared in the high-minded suspense drama "Without Evidence", playing a drug-addicted teen, and "Mojave Moon", opposite car dealer Danny Aiello as what Variety called "a male fantasy figure who rapidly alternates between nymphomaniac and ice maiden". "Playing God" (1997) was next, and Jolie capably essayed a woman torn between her gangster boyfriend (Timothy Hutton) and a discredited doctor (David Duchovny) in his employ. While the films remained unseen by most moviegoers, Jolie received strong notices for each of these projects.

As with many performers, Jolie had no compunction about working on the small screen and, in fact, has appeared in a handful of exceptional productions, including a co-starring role alongside Annabeth Gish and Dana Delany as Texas pioneers in the 1997 CBS historical miniseries "True Women". Jolie then brought a fiery passion to her portrayal of Cornelia Wallace, the politician's first wife, in the biographical miniseries "George Wallace" (TNT, 1997). But it was her dazzling turn as another real-life figure that catapulted her into public consciousness. Her brave, sensitive performance as the drug-addicted, AIDS-stricken model Gia Carangi in HBO's "Gia" (1998) brought her widespread critical acclaim. Jolie was twice Emmy-nominated in 1998 in the supporting category for "George Wallace" (losing to co-star Mare Winningham) and as in the leading one for "Gia" (losing to Ellen Barkin). She did, however, win back-to-back Golden Globe Awards for the performances.

After this spate of acclaimed appearances in highly-rated television productions, Jolie found her way to roles in films that similarly showcased her acting strength. She received special notice for her work in the comedy-drama "Playing By Heart" (1998), as Joan, an outgoing club kid smitten with the sullen Keenan (Ryan Phillippe). Vivid and engaging, Jolie easily held her own among an ensemble cast featuring such luminaries as Gena Rowlands and Sean Connery. The actress joined John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton in Mike Newell's NYC-set comedy about air traffic controllers, "Pushing Tin" (1999), playing Thornton's raucous wife, and played a tough detective assisting a quadriplegic colleague (Denzel Washington) in the search for a serial killer in the crime thriller "The Bone Collector". Jolie rounded out the year landing the sought after co-starring role of a sociopathic inmate in a psychiatric hospital in "Girl, Interrupted", based on Susanna Kaysen's best-selling memoir of her own two-year stay in a similar institution. Her showy co-starring turn netted her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar and her equally showy personal life--which included a eyebrow-raising close relationship with her lookalike brother James Haven, exotic tattoos, knife collections, provocative revalations and intimations of a profoundly edgy sex life--captivated the public.

Media saturation ensued when she became the fifth wife the equally eccentirc and significantly older actor Billy Bob Thornton, a match made in tabloid heaven, in May of 2000--the couple's constant declarations of love and erotic devotion to each other was capped by the revelation that they wore vials of one another's blood around their necks. On-screen, the actress continued portraying tough young women, this time a car thief, in the flashy but unfulfilling car heist thriller "Gone in 60 Seconds" (2000) opposite Nicolas Cage and as the flesh-and-blood embodiment of the titular, wildly popular, shorts-wearing video game action heroine "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (2001), an Indiana Jones-style adventure which failed to impress critics but racked up a healthy box office take--the action flick also marked her first adult collaboration with her father, who played her character's father in the film. Jolie was unable to capitalize on her goth sex goddess image when she played opposite Antonio Banderas in the dismal wannabe noir "Original Sin" (2001) despite some steamy--and heavily hyped--erotic sequences, and her follow-up dramatic vehicle "Life or Something Like It" (2002), in which she played a superficial, platinum blonde newscaster forced to examine her existence more closely, also fizzled quickly.

Jolie subsequently took a significant hiatus from film but continued to make headlines in her personal life, including taking a significant interest in the plight of violence-torn nations, and publicly feuding with her father after he suggested on television that she was having emotional problems and ultimately divorcing Thornton in 2003 amid rumors of his infidelity (which he denied). The actress returned to familiar territory for her comeback screen vehicle, the sequel "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" (2003), a lackluster follow-up to a lackluster first outing; followed by a turn in the too-righteous political/romantic drama "Beyond Borders" (2003); then a dangerous foray into Ashley Judd territory by starring the routine thriller "Taking Lives" (2004) as an FBI profiler caught up in dangerous and erotic intrigue. Slowly squandered in subpar films, Jolie remained an actress who excites interest but whose projects to not capitalize on her potential. The actress adopted another arch accent as she winkingly played the eyepatch-sporting Captain Frankie Cook, the leader of an all-female amphibious attack squadron, in the retro action-adventure "Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow" (2004) opposite Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, battling giant robots in an Art Deco, 1930s-era envionment. Then she lent her voice to the finny femme fatale Lola in DreamWorks' CGI-animated underwater underworld opus "Shark Tale" (2004) and has a bizarrely seductive turn as Alexander the Great's mother Olympias, who raises her son to believe in his impressive destiny, in Oliver Stone's epic historical drama "Alexander the Great"--despite being only one year older than the actor playing her son, Colin Farrell.

Jolie's profile as both a movie star and public figure was raised to more epic proporions when she co-starred with the equally gorgeous actor Brad Pitt in the Doug Liman-helmed action-fest "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (2005), in which the actors played a bored married couple surprised to learn that they are each secretly assassins, ultimately hired to kill each other. Rumors quickly abounded that a on-set romance between Jolie and Pitt was a contributing factor to Pitt's subsequent spit from his high-profile marriage to Jennifer Aniston. Though both actors initially refuted the rumors--and, after frequently being photographed together in their private lives, took a coyer stance later on--the intense media and public interest in their possible relationship propelled the film to huge box office receipts, thanks in large part to their palpable on-screen chemistry. Their "are they or aren't they?" coupling captivated star watchers and was the most written-about celebrity story of 2005 (prompting the coining of the term "Brangelina") as their relationship gradually emerged in the public eye as Pitt accompanied Jolie on her missions of mercy to third world nations, petitioned to adopt her two adopted children, and ultimately revealed that he and Jolie were expecting their own biological child together as well.

Away from the screen, Jolie's expressed a dedication and commitment to increasing awareness and aid to counties devastated by internal and external conflicts, disease and third world conditions. In 2001, after the actress made several trips to the war-torn nations of Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Pakistan, Jolie was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In 2002 she adopted a baby boy from a Cambodian orphange whom she named Maddox, and in 2005 she adopted an infant daughter from an Ethiopian orphanage whom she named Zahara.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Halle Berry

A former teenage beauty queen, Halle Berry traded a successful modeling career for acting in the late 1980s. After high school, this youngest daughter of a black father and white mother, entered the Miss Teen Ohio Pageant and won, representing the state at the Miss Teen All-American Pageant. An over-achiever since she was a child, Berry attempted to add another crown as Miss Ohio in the Miss USA competition but placed as first runner-up. After finishing in the top five at the Miss World pageant, she moved into modeling, working first in the Chicago area and later in NYC. By 1989, Berry had begun the transition to performing when she was appropriately cast as a teenage model in the short-lived ABC sitcom "Living Dolls". Guest work in other comedy series followed before she was able to convince Spike Lee she could handle the demanding role of a crack addict in his "Jungle Fever" (1991).

Delivering a harrowing performance in that film, Berry proved she was more than just a beauty. Finding roles that challenged her abilities, however, proved more daunting. She was cast as a femme fatale in "Strictly Business" and Damon Wayans' stripper girlfriend in "The Last Boy Scout" (both 1991) before portraying a career woman who falls for Eddie Murphy in "Boomerang" (1992) and a headstrong post-Civil War woman in the titular role of "Queen", a CBS miniseries, based on the book by Alex Haley. Berry then landed the role of a sultry secretary in the live-action "The Flintstones" (1994), winning the part after Sharon Stone rejected it. As a former drug addict struggling to regain custody of her son in "Losing Isaiah" (1995), the actress showed she could handle more serious fare, holding her own opposite powerhouse co-star Jessica Lange. Her hard-as-nails flight attendant was one of the few high points of the otherwise run-of-the-mill "Executive Decision" (1996), and she once again broke racial barriers as the spouse who finds herself framed for murder in "The Rich Man's Wife" (also 1996). Berry looked lovely but seemed miscast in the lead of the TV miniseries "The Wedding" (ABC, 1998), set in the upper middle class black milieu of Martha's Vineyard in the 1950s. She fared better as an intelligent woman raised by activists who gives an older politician (Warren Beatty) a new lease on life in "Bulworth" and as the singer Zola Taylor, one of the three wives of pop singer Frankie Lymon, in the unfortunately overlooked biopic "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" (both 1998).

In 1999, Berry was able to realize her life-long dream of portraying the singer-actress who broke racial barriers by becoming the first black woman to nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award in the HBO biopic "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge". Although both Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston had expressed a desire to play Dandridge in a film biography, Berry got there first, not only delivering a career-enhancing performance that netted her several awards, including an Emmy, but also serving as one of the producers of the project as well. The following year, she took sci-fi fans by "Storm" playing a beautiful mutant in Bryan Singer's big-screen version of the Marvel comic "X-Men". Her success was overshadowed a bit when she was involved in a car accident and left the scene to go to the hospital for treatment, leading to stories in the tabloid media. The actress pleaded no contest and settled a civil lawsuit out of court.

In 2001, Berry was reduced to being nothing more than decorative in the unspectacular thriller "Swordfish", a fact made all the more clear when she appeared topless for the first time in her career. The gratuitous scene did little for the film's plot, but it generated copy (including unfounded rumors that she got a $500,000 bonus to do the scene) and helped keep her in the spotlight. Later that same year, she delivered a brutally honest and moving performance as a struggling waitress coping with a husband on death row and an overweight child in "Monster's Ball". Downplaying her looks and tearing into a rare dramatic role that challenged her, Berry won critical plaudits for her work, which included a three-minute-long love scene with co-star Billy Bob Thornton. Her performance generated buzz, yielded some prizes from groups like the National Board of Review and the Screen Actors Guild. In March, she made history by becoming the first black woman ever to earn a Best Actress Academy Award.

Enjoying her newfound prominence in the industry, Berry accepted the role of Jinx in the 20th James Bond feature, "Die Another Day" (2002) opposite Pierce Brosnan's Agent 007. As the first A-list, Oscar-winning Bond girl in a generation, Berry was trumpeted in the role from the moment she began filming to the day the movie was released; she even gamely paid homage to the series' roots by appearing in a tangerine bikini reminiscent of Ursula Andress' in "Dr. No." And while Berry's performance was not necessarily Oscar-bait, she did display a strong chemistry with Brosnan as his equal in both espionage and in bed, and a spunk that inspired MGM to make plans to launch a spin-off film starring her character. After completing that role, she segued to "X2" (2003), the sequel to "X-Men" in which she reprised her role as Storm, a part which was expanded somewhat to suit her award-winning status. Nevertheless, rumors of friction between her and director Bryan Singer circulated and Berry did not participate in the massive press push for the blockbuster, putting her role in future sequels in question. Later that year she starred in the horror thriller "Gothika" (2003), playing Miranda Gray, a doctor in a mental institute who becomes incarcerated in her own hospital after seemingly becoming possessed and murdering her husband. Berry provided a convincing and relatable presence in the stylish and atmospheric but otherwise clichéd and implausible film.

After weathering yet another public split with a spouse—this time her husband, singer Eric Benet, with the split blamed on his sex addiction and serial infidelity (Berry publicly vowed on "Oprah" to never marry again—the actress took on the role of Batman's popular comic book villainess/paramour "Catwoman" for the 2004 film that departed from the original Selina Kyle character and cast Berry as Patience Phillips, a shy, repressed woman whose death earns her feline powers from a mystical cat so that she may avenge herself. Although Berry's spectacular body--showcased in flesh-friendly skintight leather outfits--and her appropriately cat-like attitude at the whip-wielding Catwoman were appreciated, the film was otherwise a dismal loser all around, including Berry's inauthentic portrayal of meek Patience.

Surprisingly Berry's next genuinely impressive performance was for television when she appeared in the Oprah Winfrey-produced ABC telepic "Their Eyes Were Watching God" (2005), an adaptation of the popular Zora Neale Hurston novel in which Berry played Janie Crawford, a iconoclastic, free-spirited woman whose unconventional mores regarding relationships upset her 1920s contemporaries in her small community. Meanwhile, she lent her voice to Cappy one of the many mechanical beings to inhabit the animated feature, “Robots” (2005). She next revived Storm for the third installment of the series, “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006), directed by Brett Ratner. This time, the mutants face a peculiar choice after a cure for mutations is found: retain their uniqueness and remain isolated from society or give up their strange powers and become human. Meanwhile, Berry began shooting “Perfect Stranger” in early 2006, a crime thriller about a woman who goes undercover on the Internet to investigate a friend’s murder.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Johnny Depp

The delicate-featured Johnny Depp played with over 15 rock bands before turning to acting. While he could have been a conventional leading man, the charismatic actor has, instead, often chosen unusual and odd roles. Although he did not initially prove to be "big box office" for these quirky choices, Depp nevertheless won the respect of Hollywood and the critics as a serious and dedicated artists--indeed, he was an "actor's actor." He would eventually emerge as an audience favorite as well, as his reputation for delivering fine, unpredictable performances grew with each new role.

Debuting as the heroine's doomed boyfriend in Wes Craven's original "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984), he next starred alongside Rob Morrow in the teen romp "Private Resort" (1985) and appeared as the translator Lerner in Oliver Stone's Oscar-winning "Platoon" (1986).

With his chiseled looks, thick hair and sleepy-smoky voice, Depp achieved teen idol status as Officer Tom Hanson in Stephen J Cannell's "21 Jump Street" (Fox, 1987-90). His character, established in the pilot as the son of a cop, looked too young to intimidate street thugs, despite being over 21 and an honors graduate of the Academy. Instead, he was assigned to a unit of undercover cops who infiltrates a seemingly never-ending supply of high schools where ne'er-do-wells want to keep the good kids from learning. After four seasons of the foolishness, Depp wanted out and the show did not survive his withdrawal. Hoping to make the transition to the big screen, he eschewed offers of conventional young leading man roles and returned to features with two memorable, offbeat characterizations: John Waters' "Cry-Baby" and Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands" (both 1990). His physical grace and expressive features proved apt for the Chaplinesque Edward and the nimble Elvis-inspired “Cry-Baby.”

Depp's subsequent film career has exhibited an unwillingness to settle for standard heartthrob roles and a predilection for distinctive filmmakers and material. In Emir Kusturica's cult film "Arizona Dream" (1992), Depp, portrayed a young man unwillingly called to Arizona by his uncle (Jerry Lewis) who wants him to take over the family car dealership, anchoring the uneven feature which veered from slapstick to bathos. "Benny & Joon" (1993) presented Depp as a modern-day circus performer who, in the course of romancing a mentally disturbed woman (Mary Stuart Masterston), performs set pieces that recall the silent clowns (i.e., Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd). That same year, he lent gravity to the title role in Lasse Hallstrom's "What's Eating Gilbert Grape", a Midwesterner trapped in a small town by familial obligations. He went on to win considerable critical acclaim in a reunion with Burton, "Ed Wood" (1994), a biopic that cast him as the famed cult director whose fondness for cross-dressing doesn't prevent him from creating delightfully bad films.

Finally capitalizing on his good looks, Depp donned a mask and Castilian accent for the title role in the contemporary fairy tale "Don Juan DeMarco" (1995), playing a modern incarnation of the famous lover opposite fellow risk takers Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway. Following his foray to action features in John Badham's "Nick of Time" (also 1995), he turned up in Jim Jarmusch's quirky Western "Dead Man" (1996), as a mild-mannered accountant named William Blake who finds himself branded as an outlaw. Adding to his cast of outsiders, Depp essayed the title role in Mike Newell's "Donnie Brasco" (1997), an FBI undercover agent who infiltrates a crime family and befriends its volatile leader. Well cast (in his first truly adult role) and more appealing than in some of his previous efforts, Depp won much praise for his layered portrayal and especially for his interplay with co-star Al Pacino (as his mentor). Their surrogate father-son relationship drove the film and brought humanity to a story that could have devolved into standard Hollywood cliché.

Depp made his feature directorial debut with "The Brave" (1997), a film he also co-wrote (with his older brother D P Depp and Paul McCudden) and in which he starred as a father who agrees to play the victim in a snuff film to earn money for his family's well-being. Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, "The Brave", which also featured Brando and Clarence Williams III, earned mostly negative reviews, with most faulting its weak script. He suffered another box office disappointment as gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson's drug-crazed alter ego Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998). Always looking to step away from his pretty boy persona, Depp shocked some fans by sporting a bald pate, but his clipped staccato delivery and unusual body language could not bring substance to the essentially one-dimensional character—besides, Bill Murray had done a better impression of the Good Doctor in “Where the Buffalo Roam” (1980). Despite being a near-literal translation of Thompson’s novel, the movie failed to bring to life his rambling and often hilarious prose.

Depp may have chosen "The Astronaut's Wife" (the first of his three 1999 thrillers) for its opportunity to play good boy-gone wrong under alien influence, but the result was another one-note performance in a film that was not as bad as the studio's failure to screen it for critics had suggested. From one movie resembling Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby", he moved to "The Ninth Gate" (released in the USA in 2000), another supernatural thriller, this one actually directed by Polanski. As a rumpled, bespectacled book dealer in search of a 17th-century volume allegedly co-authored by Satan, Depp was the soft, unassertive core of a film thought by most (but not all) to be a journey to nowhere. His last movie that year, "Sleepy Hollow" (based on the Washington Irving "legend"), matched him again with the imaginative vision of friend Burton and officially ended his losing streak. The studio nixed his notion of playing Ichabod Crane with a long pointy nose, so he appeared looking quite beautiful for most of his biggest commercial hit yet, though he did go against the heroic type with his prissy, neurotic and not very courageous characterization.

The success of "Sleepy Hollow" did not make Depp pursue more mainstream fare. Desperately afraid of complacency, he continued to make movies at breakneck speed. He and friend Sean Penn acted in Julian Schnabel's anything-but-commercial "Before Night Falls"(2000), the story of Cuban poet-novelist Reinaldo Arenas, and he also donned gold teeth for his role as Christina Ricci's gypsy love interest in Sally Potter's World War II drama "The Man Who Cried" (2001). He returned to the world of drugs for Ted Demme's "Blow" (2001), playing George Jung, an American who became one of the major traffickers of cocaine for Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar. Depp next took on the role of Inspector Frederick Abberline, a London detective and opium addict embroiled in the Jack the Ripper murders of the 1880s in the Hughes brothers' adaptation of writer Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell's well-researched comic book series "From Hell" (2001). Although the movie was stylish but superficial, Depp was outstanding as the haunted policeman who comes alive and learns to love again amid the Whitechapel horrors. The actor was equally dazzling as Captain Jack Sparrow, the hero of "The Pirates of the Caribbean" (2003), a movie derived from the beloved Disney theme park attraction. Capping his teeth with gold and basing his performance on the swaggering, dissipated rock star Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Depp was a lively tour de force in the adventure film which was a surprise hit during the sequel-heavy summer of 2003. The actor's performance was so appreciated, he later found himself in the rare position of being nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for a comedic performance in a commercially-minded blockbuster. That same year, Depp had a turn as Sands, the corrupt CIA agent who lures El Mariachi out of seclusion for a dangerous mission in director Robert Rodriguez's third film in the successful series, "Once Upon a Time in Mexico."

In 2004 his turn as an author caught up in accusations of plagiarism and stalked by his accuser in the Stephen King-adapted horror/thriller "Secret Window" (2004) drew little attention, but later that year the actor mesmerized critics and audiences with his turn as "Peter Pan" scribe J.M. Barrie in the highly praised "Finding Neverland" Depp delivered a subtle but deeply emotional performance as the adult playwright who, despite his age and wisdom, wishes to never grow up. His plutonic relationship with the mother of four young boys (Kate Winslet) provided the film’s more poignant and honest moments, as the two shared a love devoid of any sexual tensions. Depp earned his second Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his performance.

Then it was on to another more outrageous characterization, this time the magical candymaker Willie Wonka for Depp's frequent collaborator Burton's version of author Roald Dahl's "Charlie & the Chocloate Factory," which had also inspired the 1971 children's favorite "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory." Burton's interpretation hewed closer to the book, and was thus darker, while Depp's Wonka was both inspired and a bit more off-putting--many viewers found shades of pop singer Michael Jackson in the performance, and while Depp admitted he saw the connection, parodying the singer wasn't his intention: instead he was thinking of Captain Kangaroo or Mr. Rogers, with a dash of another Rolling Stone, Brian Jones. That same year he provided the voice of Victor Van Dort, a Victorian lad whisked away to the underworld to wed a mysterious undead woman in his frequent collaborator Burton's stop-motion animated feature film "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride." He squeezed in one more film in 2005, "The Libertine," a rare all-out misfire in which he played the second Earl of Rochester, a 17th-century hedonist whose decadent life dissolves into self-destructive chaos and debauchery--he ultimately loses his nose. But as the Los Angeles Times opined "that a major lure for the venturesome Depp was the chance to play a grotesque...there's more in that role for the actor, however, than there is for us."