Following yet another big screen flop with Transcendence, Johnny Depp is leading a new documentary about the life of artist Ralph Steadman. The star will front "For No Good Reason" with a scheduled premiere of early June. Steadman, known for his radical work with Gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson, will be the focus of Depp's film, which will take a "richly creative look at the power and importance of art."
Few figures epitomize the counterculture more than Ralph Steadman. Wicked satirist, outlandish cartoonist and, of course, longtime Hunter S. Thompson co-conspirator, the British artist has been making mayhem for five decades. In "For No Good Reason," director Charlie Paul examines Steadman's creative process and, through a conversation between Steadman and Johnny Depp and rare archival footage featuring Thompson, captures the artist's mischievous spirit.
Paul will be directing the project, after spending 15 years gathering the footage and creating impressive animations in the anarchic spirit of Steadman's illustrations.
Depp will guide viewers through the wild, drug-addled period of Steadman's time with Thompson, the famous Rumble in the Jungle and his gun fights with Beat Generation giant William S. Burroughs.
(TW: suicide, animal abuse)
It's clear from the film you have an obsession with, a bit surprisingly, Leonardo da Vinci. You wrote a book about him, an illustrated biography, and he seems to fascinate you. Why?
What I always wanted to know is what it feels like to be Leonardo da Vinci. I started the book because of a book about Sigmund Freud, who said Leonardo was "a man who woke up in the dark." And I've felt like that. We all feel like that. I was inside my mother's womb for nine months and I was a genius because I figured how to get out.
You've lived through so many social changes and in fact you've been a part of them, agitating for the world to be a better place through your political cartoons and cultural bomb-throwing. Has all of this protest art made things better?
I don't think so. There was something quaint about the world back when I started. It was the lovely Beatles. "Eleanor Rigby." What happened to all of that? I don't think anything's come along like that. It seems to me now that money doesn't talk; it screams. Back in the '70s there was still a certain kind of innocence. The bankers hadn't yet taken over.
It's impossible to think of you without thinking of Hunter Thompson. How did that relationship flourish?
Subverting was key. He and I always believed authority was used as a weapon, not as control. We had a healthy disrespect for it. We'd call them [police and authority figures] pigs, but that was an insult to the pigs, who are really sweet little lovely things.
What was the adventure that best reflected your relationship?
Well, when we went to Kinshasa to cover the fight [Muhammad Ali and George Foreman's Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire in 1974], and I'd brought him a bottle of Glenfiddich because he'd never heard of it. And I said, "Are we going to the fight?" And he said [goes into baritone Thompson impression], 'No, we're not going to go the fight.' Instead he bought this giant bag of grass for $40. He called it medicine. And he said he would give it away. So people would come to the door. "Can I have some medicine?" And he would give them some. And then the moment the fight was over he said, "Let's get out of town." Because he always said that the minute whatever it is we were supposed to be covering was over even though we never covered it. I still don't know what he did with the rest of the grass.
There's a striking moment in the film in which we can see Hunter tormenting his pet bird and you say you sometimes felt like that bird. What did you mean by that?
He had that bird, Edward. And he'd rattle its cage or hold it and squeeze it and say, "Edward, there's no bird god that will save you now." And sometimes I was the bird. I'd internalize what he was doing to that bird. Because I was the innocent abroad, you see.
What was your reaction to his suicide in 2005? Did it shock you?
He had said to me that if he didn't know every minute of his life that he could commit suicide he wouldn't be able to live. He had that all his life; that is what he was going to do. So I knew he would do something crazy. It's just that old phrase, "I always knew I would take this journey, but I didn't know yesterday that it would be today."
Speaking of being an artist, one of the notable insights from the film is how you make your art without a net, just kind of drawing and seeing what comes of it. Why do you choose that approach?
The idea has always been that I don't use a pencil first. People say, "Why don't you use a pencil?" And I say, "No, I just go in." And they say, 'Don't you make a mistake?' And I say there's no such thing as a mistake. A mistake is an opportunity to do something else. We can't plan too much. We can't plan a boring life or an exciting life. That's the title of the film. "For No Good Reason." That came from Hunter. "Why are we doing this, Hunter?" "For no good reason, Ralph. For no good reason at all."
Ralph Steadman illustrations from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I Leonardo, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, Rolling Stone, Withnail & I
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