Johnny Depp was fascinated by the idea of Transcendence. As can be seen in the Transcendence trailer, it takes the idea of artificial intelligence in computers and pumps it up a few notches. See, Depp portrays a scientist pushing the edge of computer-human applications and when faced with his own death, decides to upload his consciousness into the computer and see what happens.
We caught up with Depp to talk about the sci-fi thriller and when asked about whether he was fascinated with A.I., he was surprisingly comic. “Having no intelligence, I’m looking forward to gaining something, whether artificial, superficial or super duper, as in the names of some of the Chinese TV shows that you see, like Super Happy Funship Rocket Hour Cowboy Time,” Depp said and laughed.
Then, like the film itself -- he gets serious. “Actually, I thought there was something very beautiful to (the) idea -- the disintegration of the character and to really watch him slowly kind of go out.”
Depp’s character is on the cutting edge of melding humans and computers and it seemed only logical that he sacrifice himself for what he hoped was the greater good. But, as you see in this Transcendence clip, intentions didn’t always meet the Depp character’s reality.
“It was pretty much the progression -- to be uploaded and finally brought to this. Essentially, I suppose once he’s inside PINN (the A.I. machine), he could become anything,” Depp said. “One of the things, hopefully, that came across is he became the version of Will that Evelyn (Rebecca Hall, who plays his wife) wants to see as opposed to the Will who can’t button his shirt correctly, and all that.”
Depp spends much of the film “inside” a computer and it’s clearly him, but a computerized version of him. “I did feel a little bit like Max Headroom. I guess the worst part is I liked it. I liked being in my little dark room,” Depp said and laughed.
Then, Depp put on his stand-up comedy hat again! “I think this film is essentially about a man chosen by God to grow a long beard, grab a few insects, a couple of animals and know the rest of the world will be slaughtered, but the animals will come to him and follow through. That’s Noah? Oh, Noah! Sorry, I was in that one as well. I played Russell Crowe. That beard was a bitch too, seriously.”
The actor has a long tradition of losing himself in his roles, and Transcendence is no different -- although, instead of a physical transformation through movement and costume, this is more cerebral.
“It’s always more difficult and slightly exposing to play something that’s close to the surface, something that’s close to yourself. I always try to hide because I can’t stand the way I look,” he said, to which millions of women would disagree!
“I think it’s important to change every time, and come up with something that’s as interesting as you can for your characters. [Also,] you have the author’s intent to deal with and the filmmaker’s vision and then you have your own wants, needs and desires for the character. It’s collaborative, but I knew right off the bat there was no need to go into pink-haired, clown nose, Ronald McDonald shoes at the same time.”
Depp’s Transcendence character actually brings the world to the brink of utter destruction. But, when asked if he thought he was a villain, he admitted that it is not so black and white.
“For Will, in terms of that map, it should be a little vague. Is he losing it? Is it like any of us? I mean, you could make an analogy to a security guard guy who three weeks prior to, he was mowing lawns for a living. The second he puts on a uniform and a badge, boing, he’s, like, a man. I’d imagine the majority of us all have felt the wrath of the overzealous security guard guy. Is there something lying dormant in the man that’s waiting to be pumped up with that kind of power? Don’t know. Does it reveal him? Don’t know. Does it change him? Don’t know,” Depp said.
“When Will is in the computer and growing in the computer with this rapid pace, growing through PINN, does any bad person think they’re doing bad things? Historically, they all thought they had a pretty decent cause. A few were off by quite a lot [laughs], and they were dumb.”
In the end, Depp believes Will is a scientist who will do anything he thinks will further discovery. “I think Will is dedicated to the cause and maybe the power. When you realize you’re essentially God, there ain't nothing on earth more powerful than you, you can do anything you want. You can transfer every cent from the Bank of England into an account in Syria. You can do anything you want,” Depp said. “Will was just so focused on the cause. It’s sort of like Che Guevara. You get into it, too far into it, maybe.”
Whether Depp would upload himself into a computer at some point, he believes he would not. If for no other reason than he would be afraid of joining technology’s long list of outdated items! “Technology is moving and reshaping itself every day radically. Things become obsolete very quickly,” Depp said. “So let’s say, Will in 15 years time, is going to be in some weird room in Vegas, and people are plugging quarters into him. It’s over!”