Following up yesterday’s post on how so many great actors, at least among those I saw interviewed on Inside the Actors Studio, faced so many challenges before their careers took off (and many after, as well, given the challenges of celebrity), I looked up one in more detail. I also covered how acting and leadership both require self-awareness, emotional-intelligence, and ability to manage your and others’ emotions. I think the field of training leaders can learn from the more mature field of training actors.
People who have attended my leadership seminar know I use Johnny Depp as an example there, but I could have picked any number of other great living actors. As one measure of his success, movies with him in them have grossed $7.6 billion and the Guinness Book of World Records lists him as the highest paid actor at $75 million (I guess per movie).
Yesterday I wrote about the trends I noticed in great actors interviewed on Inside the Actors Studio. Depp’s life included most of them, including poverty, a broken family, letting go of any safety net, and poor academics. In his case you can throw in alcohol and drugs before he was an adult, an early marriage, and a few other problems too.
I write about his case not because it is unusual but because it is typical. I write about it not for you to feel sorry for him but for you to realize what obstacles people are capable of overcoming, yourself included.
If you aren’t at your potential and have excuses for what’s holding you back, when you read the following descriptions, ask yourself if your problems are bigger or his.
According to biography.com,
Actor, director, musician. Born John Christopher Depp, Jr. in Owensboro, Kentucky, on June 9, 1963, to parents John and Betty Sue Depp. Johnny’s father worked as a civil engineer, and his mother came from full-blooded Cherokee stock, and worked as a waitress and homemaker. The youngest of four children, Depp was withdrawn and a self-admitted oddball. “I made odd noises as a child,” he later revealed in an interview. “Just did weird things, like turn off light switches twice. I think my parents thought I had Tourette’s syndrome.”
Johnny and his family moved frequently to accommodate his father’s job, finally landing in Miramar, Florida, when Johnny was seven years old. The family lived in a motel for nearly a year, until his father found a job. Depp hated his new home and, by the age of 12 began smoking, experimenting with drugs, and engaging in self-harm due to the stress of family problems. “Puberty was very vague,” he has said. “I literally locked myself in a room and played guitar.”
In 1978, when Depp was 15, Johnny’s parents divorced. As the youngest of four, it became Johnny’s job to go to his father’s office and pick up the weekly child-support money. The split caused a rift between Johnny and his father.
At 16, Depp dropped out of high school and joined the garage band, The Kids. The group became successful enough to open for the Talking Heads and the B-52s, but they barely made ends meet. Depp lived for months in a friend’s ’67 Chevy Impala.
In 1983, at the age of 20, Johnny met and married 25-year-old makeup artist Lori Allison. That same year, the couple moved to L.A. with Depp’s band in the hopes of striking it big. Still living on a shoestring budget, Depp and his band mates supported themselves by selling pens for a telemarketing firm.
A year later, Depp fell into acting when his wife introduced him to her ex-boyfriend, actor Nicolas Cage. Cage saw potential in Depp, and introduced the hopeful musician to a Hollywood agent. After several small roles as a film extra, Depp landed his first legitimate movie role in the horror film Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). By 1985, the Kids had broken upâ€”and so had Depp’s marriage. After his split with Allison, Depp met actress Sherilyn Fenn, whom he met on the set of the short film, Dummies (1985). The couple dated, and were briefly engaged, but split shortly after. After their break-up, Depp then met and proposed to actress Jennifer Grey; their romance was also short-lived.
Depp started to study acting in earnest, first in classes at the Loft Studio in Los Angeles and then with a private coach. The lessons paid off in 1987, when he replaced actor Jeff Yagher in the role of undercover cop Tommy Hanson in the popular Canadian-filmed TV series 21 Jump Street. The role thrust Depp into almost immediate stardom. Johnny Depp became a teen idol overnight; a title that he greatly resented. When his contract on Jump Street expired in 1989, he leapt at the opportunity to pursue weightier roles.
From People Magazine,
Depp’s family settles in Miramar, Fla., when Depp is 7, living in a hotel until his father finds work. Prone to self-inflicted knife wounds â€“ his arms still bear the visible scars â€“ Depp starts smoking at 12, loses his virginity at 13, starts doing drugs at 14 and eventually drops out of high school at 16 to join the garage band, The Kids.
With the successful premiere of high school cop drama 21 Jump Street, one of the first shows on the new FOX network, Depp becomes a teen heartthrob, receiving 10,000 fan letters a month. Although he signed a six-year contract with the show, not believing it would last a season, Depp begins to rebel against his heartthrob status and by 1990 negotiates his way out in order to pursue movie work. “He didn’t make any secret of the fact that he didn’t particularly care about being on that show,” recalls castmate Holly Robinson to People.
Similar stories apply to plenty of other actors.
Successful people become successful by overcoming challenges and using what they learned, not from using challenges to excuse not succeeding.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees