Fatherhood has a way of changing people, even iconoclasts. "When I became a dad for the first time, it was like a veil being lifted," Johnny Depp says, as he leans forward, rolling loose tobacco into dark brown paper and using his knee as a table. "I've always loved the process of acting, but I didn't find the occupational hazards particularly rewarding." Occupational hazards like being stalked by paparazzi, mauled by strangers, packaged to sell bubble gum and other side effects of fame. "I can't use the word 'fame' with myself, but yeah," he says. "I just ... there was a long period of confusion and dissatisfaction, because I didn't understand any of it. There was no purpose to it." He leans back, lights the cigarette, exhales. "I was never horribly self-obsessed or wrapped up in my own weirdness, but when my daughter was born, suddenly there was clarity. I wasn't angry anymore. It was the first purely selfless moment that I had ever experienced. And it was liberating. In that moment, it's like you become something else. The real you is revealed."
The Real Johnny Depp. How long have we searched for him? No one in Hollywood, it's fair to say, has worked harder at not
being a movie star than Depp has, and yet he has evolved into one of the most adored actors of his generation not in spite of that persistence but because of it. "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" may have grossed $653 million worldwide, made Depp a $20 million man and earned him an Oscar nomination, but he still seems an unlikely addition to the A-list. Top-tier stars, even those who are great actors, stay on top by being true to their personas. We pay $10 to see Will Smith or Julia Roberts precisely because they don't surprise us. It's not that they're playing themselves. It's just that the force of their personalities swamps everything else. They're more than actors. They're brands. Depp, 43, is almost pathologically unpredictable. He can be bizarre, hilarious, unsettling—even annoying. But he is never the same. He's the anti-Tom Cruise. "Nothing against Tom, but Johnny may be a bigger star now," says director John Waters, who cast Depp in 1990's "Cry-Baby." "Nobody is sick of Johnny Depp."