Go, Johnny, Go!

Depp gives Disney the pirate’s booty


Deadline Hollywood
Wednesday, July 12, 2006 - 8:00 pm

We got our first hint that Depp, who came to stardom as the eye candy in that lame TV series 21 Jump Street, would have an interesting career when he went to work for John Waters in Cry-Baby. Today, looking through his catalog of performances, it’s hard to find any other actor of his generation who’s played such an amazing array of characters.

That’s why Johnny Depp is now the biggest movie star working in Hollywood, and soon the world, and not just because he has a couple of blockbusters under his belt. Rather, it’s based on the fact that he’s clearly the most exciting actor working. He says he tries to push himself to the “absolute brink of failure” with each role and it’s clear he’s unafraid of whether audiences and critics are gonna love him or hate him for it.

Give credit where it's due, and one who deserves credit is Walt Disney Studios chief Dick Cook. Though Disney has a notorious history of stiffing its working stiffs (as opposed to Michael Eisner and Michael Ovitz and Bob Iger), Cook, unlike so many other suits, deserves whatever bonus he negotiates.

Cook began his show-biz career in 1970 operating the steam train and monorail rides at Disneyland. When he was named chairman of Walt Disney Studios back in February 2002, Hollywood was skeptical that a bureaucrat from the marketing and distribution side was now in charge. Yet his selection underscored the new reality at Walt Disney Studios: FrankenEisner had spent the past two years slashing overhead by $600 million. Cook took over a deeply downsized movie operation at a time when the flailing company was desperate to avoid exposure to the humongous financial risks of tent-pole movies.

Now, four years later, a big-budget summer popcorn pic has ended the weekendwith $133 mil. Pirates2 buried the previous record holder, Sony’s Spider-Man. It was a truly historic opening, and it had been eons since Disney shareholders had something to cheer about. Now Disney has network prime-time hits and box-office booty. And, to further curry favor with his penny-pinching Disney bosses, Cook immediately launched a plan for substantial layoffs and a production slate that will go down from 18 to eight films. All of the remaining pics will be Disney-branded, which may prove to be a deathblow to Touchstone and many production deals on the lot. The idea is to “improve the studio’s return on investment.” (Warners did the same thing after its banner 2005.)

So why isn’t Disney’s stock price soaring?