The film, ultimately, is a celebration of Hunter and his language and his discovery of his voice. It's before Hunter became Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. I think he'd be very proud. – Johnny Depp on The Rum Diary
This one's for Hunter.
The Rum Diary, which is based on Hunter S. Thompson's only novel, follows Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp), a young American journalist who is in San Juan, Puerto Rico, having accepted a position at the local newspaper, the San Juan Star, for which he is assigned to write the horoscopes and report on the bowling alley beat. New in town, and with lots of drinks and other questionable substances on the side, Paul observes the locals, from the privileged and untouchable, like expatriate Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), to the struggling anonymous and poverty-stricken. With the help of his newspaper comrades, Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), Paul uncovers the darker side of Sanderson's wealth and finds purpose and direction for his career. A project close to Johnny's heart, The Rum Diary pays tribute and fulfills a promise made to his friend, offering a rare glimpse into Hunter Thompson's world before he became the great doctor of Gonzo journalism.
It was the start of something good.
|With Hunter Thompson |
in the '90s
|With Bruce Robinson on The Rum Diary set|
|Hunter Thompson's big exit|
Hunter Thompson committed suicide in February 2005. Per his wishes, Johnny contracted the construction of a Gonzo monument (featuring the Gonzo double fist) to hold a cannon, from which the writer's ashes would blast out and over his farm. "All I'm doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true," Johnny says of the plans. "I want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out." The private ceremony was a moving, celebratory one attended by Hunter Thompson's close friends and family, with readings of his work, his favorite music playing, and plenty of fireworks. From a height of 153 feet, the cannon sent him off in Hunter style.
The show must go on.
"The idea of The Rum Diary as a film was something that was cooked up between Hunter and myself," Johnny says. "One of my last efforts to salute the man was to continue on in our venture and force him, even in death, to be a producer. We just wanted Hunter there, and he was there every day, every second, every moment." Johnny had a producer's chair made with Hunter Thompson's name on it, which was placed on set every day. The chair held a script cover and was paired with a glass of whiskey, which the cast ritualistically dipped their fingers into like holy water at the start of each day's work. "Everyone chose to do this movie because of Johnny, because of the material," Executive Producer Patrick McCormick says. "Of all the Hunter Thompson projects that he might consider, this would be the most critical one, and there was never a question that this movie was going to get made one way or another. It just allows you to keep pushing forward with great confidence, no matter what the obstacles are."
It only took nearly 15 years.
Before the movie came out, I read The Rum Diary and really liked the story. I was excited to see the movie but disappointed by the previews. I felt they were marketing it as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Part 2, which I hoped would not be the case.
I think The Rum Diary turned out just as Hunter Thompson would have wanted it. From the spontaneous idea between two friends in a basement to the polished finished product in theaters, he created an unforgettable experience for everyone involved. "This is really something that's come from the heart for everybody," Actor Giovanni Ribisi says. "It's really rare when something like this happens."
The Kitties advise not to do this at home.
Despite my aversion to excessive drug and alcohol use, I love those scenes in The Rum Diary. I credit the brilliance of the director and actors for putting me under the influence. One of my favorite scenes is after Paul (Gordon) and Sala (B.J.) acquire and use some potent eye drops from Moberg. They sit in their stuffy apartment, waiting for something to happen. When something does happen, it terrifies them both so much that they have to get out. They try to calm down during a nighttime walk with some rum in hand.
But the walk is not calming; it's frantic and without direction. As Sala walks straight on methodically, Paul appears behind him. Walking a faster pace, he crossing diagonally right to left and out of the shot. When Paul reappears by Sala's side, he snatches the rum bottle from Sala's hand and takes a swig without losing sight of whatever they're both seeing in the distance. The performances in this sequence are pretty priceless. Johnny's really good at playing a drugged up drunk guy.
I also love Puerto Rico's murky nighttime atmosphere in this scene: the solitude of the empty street and quiet sounds of the surrounding sea are completely different from the colorful vibrancy Puerto Rico emanates in daylight.
Johnny honors Hunter Thompson here too.
Aside from The Rum Diary and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Johnny's adoration of Hunter Thompson comes through in several other projects. Among them are:
- Breakfast with Hunter. Johnny shows up in Wayne Ewing's 2003 documentary about Hunter Thompson, which gives a glimpse of the every-day life of the man behind the larger-than-life persona.
- When I Die. Wayne Ewing's 2005 documentary shows how the Gonzo monument was constructed for Hunter Thompson's one-of-a-kind sendoff. While Johnny is mentioned a few times in this documentary because he's overseeing the task, he's not actually in it. But it's interesting to watch this massive 153-foot structure being built so meticulously.
- Rolling Stone. After Hunter Thompson's death, Rolling Stone ran a tribute issue (March 24, 2005), for which Johnny wrote a wonderful essay called "A Pair of Deviant Bookends." You can read it here.
- Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson. In 2006, Johnny penned another touching tribute, an introduction for this book by Jann Werner and Corey Seymour. You can read it here.
- Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson. Alex Gibney's 2008 documentary exposes Hunter Thompson in his element, mainly focusing on a 10-year period, 1965 to 1975. Johnny lends his voice here, reading passages from the writer's work.
- Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson–Music from the Film. This collection includes music and recordings of Johnny's readings from the documentary. Johnny also wrote the extensive liner notes for this CD with his friend, author Douglas Brinkley. They did such a good job that they were nominated for a Grammy! (Do you think Johnny was as excited about that as I was?)
Johnny rises from the dead and tries to adapt to living in the '70s with his dysfunctional descendants in Dark Shadows.
Copyright credits: All images from The Rum Diary © Film District and GK Films; Johnny Depp and Hunter Thompson candid © Kevin Mazur/Wire Images; Breakfast with Hunter DVD image © Wayne Ewing Films, Inc. and Gonzo International; Gonzo CD jacket image: Ralph Steadman; Johnny Kitties illustration: Melissa Connolly.