Article taken from The Face Volume 4 Issue 002. Order your copy here.
Halloween in New York, 4pm. The sky is stygian and threatening. The wind force: gale. Trick-or-treaters are being blown around all over America’s East Coast, as well as into Claudette, a French café in Greenwich Village. Lily-Rose Depp is sat sipping a green tea that’s more brown (“This is definitely not green tea, but it smells really good so I’m just going to drink it”) when a small child dressed as a blue unicorn drifts in. Depp palms her brown-green tea between both hands like it’s a personal campfire and looks sideways at the café entrance.
“Aww, isn’t she so cute?” she beams. The blue unicorn fills a plastic pumpkin bucket with a handful of the café’s free sweets. When finished, she clip-clops back out into the wind tunnel of Fifth Avenue. A few superheroes step in – Spidey, Wonder Woman, maybe a Green Lantern – and a small girl with glasses and a clipped brunette wig. Edna Mode?
“I love a wig,” Depp gushes in the girl’s general direction. “It’s like character work to me – transforming into different characters, and wigs are a fun way to do that. I always love drastically changing my look,” she says. “But not permanently.” She was thinking about dressing up as Natalie Portman’s pink-wigged stripper character from Closer this Halloween, but didn’t have the time to “find the exact top and everything”. (In the film, Portman mostly wears a tasselled bra, a thong, and nothing else.)
Depp isn’t wearing a wig today. The 20-year-old actor’s blonde flyaway hair is pulled into a little bun at the back of her head. She has ripe Gala apple cheeks and a half-mast gaze. She’s make-up free, except for the dusty pink lip-liner fighting a war of attrition with the borders of her “very pale” lips. Though the insouciant, broody pulchritude of her father, Johnny Depp, flares up at times, she is an exact replica of her mother, the French singer and actor Vanessa Paradis, who reared her on her seductive chansons in their French countryside mansion. She was raised in Hollywood by her father, and currently resides in her new hometown of New York.
Waving a hand in front of her bare face, Depp tells me she prefers to be “quite beat”. “I’m not ashamed of it, you know? I like to beat my face,” she says, conjuring up images of her red-carpet-stalking, smokey-eyed appeal. She’s dressed casually in a plaid navy and black bomber jacket, jeans and sneakers, a similar outfit to what she was papped in recently while out picking up a salad. Despite this, she gives off a sense of reckless abandon, one that makes me imagine her mowing the lawn in high heels, given the opportunity.
She’s talking in circles about contouring, the French no-make-up look and the genius of the late Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld – a family friend who would whisper funny little things in her ear at important dinners. Then a three-foot-tall cop with comic-book musculature and a twinkling badge ambles into Claudette, placing some goodies under arrest. “Oh my gawd, a little policeman!” she announces to the empty café. “So cute I, like, lost my train of thought.”
Depp is five-foot-five, shorter than the shortest runway model, but has been in the crosshairs of Chanel since she was an infant. A photo of her exists in which she is wearing nothing but a diaper and her mother’s Chanel pumps. Hard evidence that she was predestined for the role of brand ambassador, the ubiquitous duty-free face of Chanel No 5 L’Eau. She tells me that she sometimes spritzes it on herself just to walk around the house, because “you don’t have to smell good for nobody!” There is no reason not to believe her.
Even with a team of PAs, agents and lawyers, it’s her glamorous French grandmother, Corinne, who handles all of her Chanel business.
“She’s known the team [at Chanel] for so long, so she is the middleman for all that stuff,” Depp explains. She was summoned to be le visage of Chanel in 2015, following in the stiletto-clacks of her mum, who’s been an ambassador for the brand since 1991. “It was a call from my grandmother, and I actually could not believe it. I called the team that I now know pretty well, that I love so much. I talked to them, talked to Karl, and it was just a really special moment for me.”
At 17, Depp closed the brand’s couture show as the Chanel bride, floating around a mirrored set at Paris’ Grand Palais in a ruffled blush gown. “I’ll never forget what it felt like to wear that dress,” she says, exhaling. “Maybe I’ll get married in it.”
When Lagerfeld died in February this year, “it was a personal loss before a global loss or a fashion world loss,” she says, adding that she was touched by the way the world mourned because it signalled “a great awareness of the fact that there will never be another Karl Lagerfeld”.
Depp the actor-model blows at her tea, waits and then ventures a sip. As far as career prospects, she first wanted to be a princess. She grew up watching Catherine Deneuve bake a love cake in a gown like a Ferrero Rocher wrapper in Jacques Demy’s 1970 French fairytale musical Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin). “There are these insane dresses and costumes in it,” she sighs at the memory. “I remember being a little girl, watching, like: ‘Oh my God, I would do anything to have that dress.’”
She kept a notebook as a child, its pages marked with boundless dreams. Little Lily-Rose drew her fantasies, all these “crazy landscapes and worlds that draw you in”. She probably dreamed about holding court from her childhood bedroom.
“I’m just a normal person,” she says of her childhood. It’s a somewhat hard admission to swallow, especially when she tells me that she grew up playing Barbies with her godfather, Marilyn Manson, or about those cosy dinners with Lagerfeld, or about hanging with her Planetarium co-star Portman.
When she was younger, Depp dreamed of being a singer like her mum. But a cataclysmic school talent show at the age of 10 dashed those hopes. Then her friend’s dad, Clerks director Kevin Smith, reached out and offered her a small cameo alongside his daughter Harley Quinn (and her own dad, credited as “Guy LaPointe”) in his 2014 body horror, Tusk. Aged 14 at the time, she made the low-budget indie “just for fun”. Smith liked his daughter and Depp’s characters so much he then wrote Yoga Hosers as a showcase for their acerbic wit as yoga-enthused, Nazi-fighting gas station attendants.
“That was the beginning for me,” she says of the horror comedy, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. “That’s when I really realised: ‘Wow, I love this.’ You know when you just start doing something, you begin to feel like this is where you belong? I had never truly felt like I was in the right place before, career-wise. Now I know that this is what I want to do forever.” With that, she dropped out of her college-prep high school in Hollywood at 16 to be an actor.
“This is a bigger conversation to have,” she begins, again cupping her tea between both hands, before launching into a diatribe about the vice-like grip of societal convention. “I think that the American school system puts a lot of pressure on kids, so if you don’t go to college, then you won’t be successful or you won’t have a good life or you won’t realise your dreams. That’s a really dangerous pressure to put on kids. And also a false one; there’s no truth to that. Everybody has their own path. And, for some people, it’s college. What’s been important to me, always, but especially since I’ve left school, is to never stop learning.”
A committed documentary watcher, she also rattles off a few books she’s reading (including Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind) and podcasts she’s been enjoying (Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know and Overheard at National Geographic).
A dwarfish Tutankhamun cuts a path to the candy bowl, stomping along with his staff, catching Depp’s attention and cutting her off mid-flow. The pharaoh is trailed by a tired-looking parent holding a baby dressed as a tiger. “Oh my God, it’s a baaaby!” Depp exclaims, ignoring King Tut. “Oh my God, this is so distracting, it’s so cute. I’m gonna miss all the trick-or-treaters. Do you think they come at, like, eight? These are early birds!”
It’s nearly 5pm, and already dark outside. Depp’s answers are long-winded and circular, a Möbius strip of chatter that, whether by accident or design, conveys very little by saying a lot. She is Teflon, media-trained, a true daughter of both Hollywood and European arthouse cinema.
“I realised my love for intense preparation from this movie that I did called A Faithful Man,” Depp is now saying, stealing glances when she can at the café’s door. “It was the first time that I had rehearsed and prepared for a role so, so much, because I was really nervous to play the character.”
The 2018 French-language romance, directed by and starring Louis Garrel, is Depp’s best performance. Her accent is flawless, proving she can adeptly switch between Valley Girl English and a French Marlboro fug at the drop of a beret.
She plays seductive harpy Ève, who determinedly clamours after Garrel’s character, thirty-something Abel. He’s in a relationship with Marianne, a woman his own age (played by Garrel’s real wife, the model Laetitia Casta). Finally, unable to ignore her throbbing libido, Ève confronts Marianne. “I want Abel. Leave him for me,” she seethes through a clenched jaw in a pivotal scene outside her office. “What if I say no?” Marianne laughs in her face. She grins back: “Then it’s war.”
“Well, that’s her man,” Depp says when explaining what it was like to make an attempt to crowbar Casta’s lover away. “I was almost full Method that day. I was imagining the nerves that you’d be feeling in that situation, literally showing up at someone’s work and telling them: ‘Give me your man, or else I’ll take him myself!’”
Ève succeeds. She and Abel end up sleeping together. There’s a semi-nude scene, of little import, but I ask how she feels about the potential of going tits-out for a role. “I don’t know, I’m French,” she replies. “I’m not nervous about stuff like that. I grew up being, like, topless on the beach. I was raised by a French mother who taught me that there was nothing shameful about your body.”
In 1987, a 14-year-old Vanessa Paradis shocked even the libertarian French with her song Joe le Taxi, about a gap-toothed adolescent riding with the top down with an older minder. She also starred in a controversial 1991 Chanel ad, as a Lolita pin-up perched in a gilded birdcage. Detractors would graffiti “slut” on walls near her Paris apartment and shout obscenities at her in the street. “People were truly horrible to her. It was a different time,” Depp reflects. “Women weren’t as celebrated for being comfortable in their sexuality. My mum is a trailblazer, truly. She’s taught me a lot about self-confidence.”
Depp returns to the subject of her face. It was an easily won genetic lottery, perhaps, but her steely gaze – all wicked, umbral hostility – told casting agents she was determined and uncompromising, and her cupid’s bow pout told them she had cornered desire.
“I tend to put a lot of importance on my appearance in terms of self-worth and everything,” she says. “A lot of times, how I feel about myself is heavily related to what I look like as a person. And I think that’s not a healthy thing to focus on. As I’ve gotten older, I’m trying to focus more on who I am, and like, cultivating my brain and my knowledge. Being a smart person and a kind person is more important than being a beautiful person.” She takes a quick sip of her cooling, lichen-hued tea. “But I mean, like I said, I’m 20. Obviously, I have tons of insecurities, just like everybody else.”
Recently, Depp hired an acting coach, whom she won’t name for fear of losing her to a more important client. “With her, I’ve developed a way better understanding for what I do, and a desire to go deep into it.”
She duly went in hard to land her royal role in David Michôd’s recent Netflix period drama The King. Depp says that she wanted it so badly she express-delivered her audition tape, and claims it was the first one that Michôd watched.
Her character, Catherine of Valois, grew up with a heavy female presence in her family, so she comes from a place of strong-minded independence. Once again, Depp exercises that obstinate determination onscreen as France’s queen consort. She’s promised to King Henry V of England (played by Timothée Chalamet) and when he conquers her country she shows her adroitness in a face-off with Hal: “I will not submit to you. You must earn my respect,” she says, poker-faced in a tea-towel crown. It’s fist-pump feminism from a medieval grunt match, and Depp-as-Catherine more than holds her own.
“I loved that one of the creative licences taken was to give Catherine the voice that a lot of women in that time period didn’t have,” she states firmly. “That’s why I was so excited about the material when I first read it.”
Next, Depp is going to be in Nicholas Jarecki’s Dreamland. It traces three separate storylines of people affected by the opioid crisis. Depp plays a recovering addict, and the sister of Armie Hammer’s character Jake. She hasn’t seen Darren Aronofsky’s brutal junkie opus Requiem for a Dream (2000), but this film will not be as dramatised. She hopes instead it will humanise the struggles faced by addicts.
“There’s a reason that those movies tug at the heartstrings in the way that they do. It’s not pretend, [addiction] is a real issue that people are dealing with every day. People are dying left and right, and if they’re not dying, they’re extremely sick and digging themselves into a hole that’s so fucking hard to get out of.”
The discussion swings from her telling me she’s “never taken heroin in her life” to admitting that she researched her role as an opioid addict by watching episodes of the A&E reality show Intervention. It offers addicts with different vices – from taking pills to huffing computer air-duster – an ultimatum. Their family members, usually sat in a living room, surprise the addict with the Sophie’s choice of rehab or having contact cut off in front of an invasive camera crew.
It’s at the mention of the BoatGate photos that we reach a dead end. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says, laughing, when I enquire about Chalamet. The pair often visit Tompkins Square Bagels in the East Village and have been photographed holding hands in the rain after eating at the fast-food joint Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken, but back in September they were caught making out, mouths open like just-hatched chicks, aboard the yacht Valeria in Capri, Italy.
She has learned, or been taught, to keep quiet about intimate relationships. Fiercely shielded from the press when growing up, her parents are experts at what can happen when you reveal too much.
After the break-up of Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder in 1993, Depp admitted that strangers would ask him if he was still dating his Edward Scissorhands co-star while stood next to him at a urinal. By letting the public in, not to mention by getting a tattoo, “Winona Forever”, which he later amended to “Wino Forever”, he had to “partly blame myself for the situation, all these rumours. Let’s say that my mistake, from the beginning, was thinking I could do interviews, talk about it and be fairly open. But my doing that started a whole chain of events that were kind of disturbing. It somehow gave people in the street – total strangers – the key to open up my little treasure chest box. I know this sounds whiny, and I don’t mean it to, but it can be real unfair to the people involved.”
I read her this quote aloud to her. “I totally agree with what he said,” she offers matter-of-factly. “I grew up with a notion of privacy that was very particular, just because of the situation that I grew up in. But I’ve always been taught that privacy is something you should value and keep as much for yourself as possible. The more you talk about it, the more you invite people in. And so that’s why I don’t talk about anything, because nothing is anybody’s business. I don’t talk about my family, I don’t talk about my friends, I don’t talk about what nail polish I have on my toes…”
She is loath to juice the celebrity lemon. Revealing little to the public, is she worried at all of coming across as, God forbid, boring? “No, I don’t care, honestly,” she replies, unconcerned. “I would rather people think I’m boring than people know too much about my life. I’ll be boring any day.”
That’s the mystery of Lily-Rose Depp, the high school dropout turned bride of Chanel and incumbent queen of medieval cinema. Not boring, just private. She’s flawed but powerful, her eyes occasionally flashing with the mischievousness of a gangster’s moll. Maybe she’ll play one soon.
Her brown-green tea has sat cold for 20 minutes when she finally tells me she has to return home to hand out candy. As more rounds of trick-or-treaters bluster in to ransack the hostess’ depleting stash, their costumes deteriorating as the storm winds outside increase in intensity, she tosses her napkin on the table and gets up to leave.
Depp tells me to “keep hustling” and then disappears into the dim swirl of Greenwich Village’s curiously outfitted sidewalks.
Hair David Von Cannon, Make-up Sam Visser, Producer Rosanna Gouldman, Line producer Phoebe Chung, Production manager Katherine Bampton, Set coordinator Devon Davey, Photography assistance Duncan Mellor and Mari Kon, Stylist assistance Borys Korban and Mary Reinehr Gigler, Animal handler Cat Long, Retouching IMGN