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Young Johnny Depp: Rare Photos From ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ to ‘Pirates’

Take a look back at some of his earliest roles!

Although his family eventually put down roots in Miramar, Florida, a young Johnny Depp was actually born in Owensboro, Kentucky in 1963.

Born John Christopher Depp II, it was the gift of a guitar at age 12 that prompted him to begin playing in various bands. Visions of being a rock star blinded Depp for a while, and he dropped out of high school at age 16 before attempting to return two weeks later.

The principal actually denied his request, urging him to follow his dream of being a musician. Pursuing those ambitions, Depp began playing in a local band, The Kids. After modest success in Florida, the band moved on to Los Angeles.

The actor in 1988
Johnny Depp, 1988Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Changing the band name to Six Gun Method, a 20 year-old Depp had to work a variety of jobs – telemarketing being one – in order to pay bills. Before a record deal was signed, the group disbanded, and Depp began playing with Rock City Angels.

A young Johnny Depp takes on his earliest roles

It was a fortuitous introduction to already established actor Nicolas Cage that resulted in the duo becoming drinking buddies. When Depp’s new band broke up a number of times, Cage had encouraged him to pursue acting.

Nicolas Cage and Johnny Depp, 1988
Nicolas Cage and Johnny Depp, 1988Barry King/WireImage/Getty Images

The idea had actually been in Depp’s mind ever since reading a James Dean biography, The Mutant King, and watching Rebel Without A Cause several times. It was with Cage’s help that Depp got a chance to audition for director Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.

With no acting experience, but armed with a determination to succeed, he got the role of one of Freddy Krueger’s victims in the classic 1984 horror movie. “Wes Craven was the guy who gave me my start, from my perspective, for almost no reason in particular,” Depp said in a 2015 Q&A as reported by Variety.

“I read scenes with his daughter when I auditioned for the part. At the time, I was a musician. I wasn’t really acting. It was not anything very near to my brain or my heart,” he said.

Nick Corri, Amanda Wyss, Johnny Dep  and Heather Langenkamp, A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984
Nick Corri, Amanda Wyss, Johnny Dep and Heather Langenkamp, A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984New Line Cinema/Getty Images

Depp continued to be cast in films, making enough money to pay past debts and go forward. In 1985, he got the starring role in the comedy Private Resort and then segued into a minor supporting role in director Oliver Stone’s 1986 Vietnam War drama Platoon.

The best was yet to come for Depp, and it finally arrived in the form of the 1987 TV series 21 Jump Street. He played Tom Hanson, an undercover police officer doubling as a pupil in a high school operation. Depp shot to stardom and instantly became a teen idol throughout the 80s.

Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson Peete, Steven Williams, Dustin Nguyen and Peter DeLuise, 21 Jump Street, 1987
Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson Peete, Steven Williams, Dustin Nguyen and Peter DeLuise, 21 Jump Street, 1987Bonnie Schiffman/Getty Images

A young Johnny Depp takes on eccentric roles

Although 21 Jump Street wasn’t the best experience for Depp, it gave him entrée into feature films. He began taking roles he found interesting rather than those he thought would be box office hits. It was 1990 and his first film was Cry-Baby, an offbeat musical comedy set in the 1950s. Not an immediate success upon its release, the film has since generated a cult following.

One of his first oddities in film was in the same year’s Edward Scissorhands, where he played the title role of a young man/child with horror hands that frantically shaped hedges into animal topiaries.

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Dianne Wiest and Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, 1990
Dianne Wiest and Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, 1990Twentieth Century Fox Film Corpo/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

I loved playing him because there’s nothing cynical, jaded or impure about him. It’s almost a letdown to look in the mirror and realize I’m not Edward,” he told the New York Times. Depp received high praise for the part that had few words, but loads of emotional “dialogue” said through Edward’s bright black eyes that matched Depp’s own dark, intense ones.

The actor in Edward Scissorhands, 1990
Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, 1990Twentieth Century Fox Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

For his role, Depp was nominated for his first Golden Globe. Following the film’s success, he carved a niche for himself as a serious, somewhat dark performer. Three years after Scissorhands, Depp appeared in the romantic comedy Benny and Joon, where he played an eccentric and illiterate silent film fan who befriends a mentally ill woman. He received his second Golden Globe nod for this role that was compared to the great Buster Keaton’s stone-faced portrayals.

Next in 1993 was the drama about a dysfunctional family in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, alongside a young Leonardo DiCaprio, and the third film that year was the comedy drama Arizona Dream, which won the Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival. All told, not bad for a youngster who didn’t really have a passion to act.

Cast of What's Eating Gilbert Grape, 1993
Cast of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, 1993Paramount/Getty Images

In 1994, Depp reunited with Scissorhands director Tim Burton for Ed Wood, a biographical film about one of history’s most inept film directors. He got the title role and along with it came his third Golden Globe nomination.

In 1997, he played an undercover FBI agent in the fact-based film Donnie Brasco opposite Al Pacino, and the next year he appeared in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, another offbeat role. There definitely seems to be a recurrent theme there.

Young Johnny Depp ends the 20th century on a high note

The last year of the 20th century was a busy one for Depp. He teamed up again with Burton in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1999), in which he brilliantly portrayed Ichabod Crane. After the film wrapped, he adopted Goldeneye, the one-eyed Andalusian horse who played Gunpowder, Crane’s steed in the movie.

Johnny Depp, Sleepy Hollow, 1999
Johnny Depp, Sleepy Hollow, 1999Paramount Pictures/Corbis via Getty Images

He co-starred with Charlize Theron in the sci-fi thriller The Astronaut’s Wife and later in Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, in which he was a seller of old books who becomes entangled in a mystery.

Ringing in the new millennium

Depp absolutely stole the show in the finale from Robert Rodriguez’s “mariachi” trilogy, Once Upon A Time in Mexico (2003). His next roles were based on historical persons: In Blow (2001) he starred as cocaine smuggler George Jung, who was part of the Medellin Cartel in the 80s. He was also Frederick Abberline in From Hell (2001), an inspector on the Jack the Ripper murders in London.

Johnny Depp, Blow, 2001
Johnny Depp, Blow, 2001New Line Cinema/Getty Images

Later came the family blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), where he played a character that only the likes of Depp could pull off with his charming, roguish persona of Capital Jack Sparrow, complete with smoldering black eyes.

Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, 2003
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, 2003Zayne/MoviestillsDB

The film broke box office records and opened up doors not considered worthy of Depp previously. He received an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA nomination, and won a Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Best Actor. He reprised Captain Sparrow in three sequels. Depp’s ensuing career continued with frequent box office success.

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