Johnny Depp is in Berlin today for the world premiere of Andrew Levitas’ Minamata. A Berlin Film Festival Special Gala Screening, the drama also stars Hiroyuki Sanada, Minami and Bill Nighy. Depp plays celebrated U.S. photographer W Eugene Smith in the true-story thriller that pits Smith against a powerful corporation responsible for poisoning the people in Minamata, Japan in 1971. It’s based on the book by the photographer and his wife Aileen Mioko Smith, and adapted by David K Kessler.
Depp is also a producer on the film and Levitas today credited the star with being the driver on the project. “Johnny is too humble to say it; this came from him. All the passion and what we were able to do in terms of pulling it together came out of Johnny’s heart and built from there, it mattered.”
For Depp, “it was almost impossible to believe” what had happened in Minamata, “not only in such a horrific way, but it spared no one and there was absolutely nothing that they could do about it.” Learning the history “was shocking… As someone who was interested, I believed it was a story that needed to be told. And anytime that you can harness the power of media or cinema or whatever art, I think anytime you can harness that power and use it to open people’s eyes to something that did happen and does continue… If you can take an idea, bring it to a page, somebody decides they are interested in putting the thing together, somebody chucks money in because they care… Films like this don’t get made every day. We are very lucky to have the honor to bring this to people and maybe spark some degree of interest or care.”
He added, “Not one person on the film had anything other than intense dedication and felt the responsibility of having to tell Aileen and Gene’s story.”
Regarding Smith, Depp said he “always felt like he was very isolated or locked into his own peculiar understanding of fate, I suppose.”
Talking about social and political responsibility on the part of actors and filmmakers, Depp said, “I think just as people, all of us are faced with huge monolithic-sized problems at times in our lives. Whether it be some horrific disease such as the Minamata disease, or fires blazing or worlds collapsing, there’s a beautiful symbol in the I Ching that means the power of the small. So when you have these huge monolithic opponents in front of you, screaming at it is not going to do anything, trying to take the whole building down by yourself isn’t going to do anything. The power of the small is the idea that we recognize the issue and it just starts with one, you chip away little by little and then that problem can be toppled. I think that’s what it’s all about for all of us really. We are specks of dust, we are the small, so if there’s something that needs to be dealt with that’s of such magnitude, just start chipping away and people will follow hopefully.”
Depp was also asked if he might go back to directing, but noted that on 1997’s The Brave, “my head felt like it was going to explode every day,” because he was also acting in the film. “I definitely wouldn’t cast myself in a movie for sure. I think about it if I didn’t have to parade around in front of it.”
HanWay is handling international sales on Minamata with CAA Media Finance on U.S. rights.