05/14/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT
Onetime teen idol Johnny Depp
has gone out of his way to lose the dreamboat label. He keeps his hair long and lank, wears ratty clothes and has made his body what he calls a "journal of skin" by acquiring multiple tattoos—including one that says "Wino Forever," amended after his 1993 breakup with fiancée Winona Ryder. "I jot down life experiences that mean something to me—jot them down permanently," Depp, 37, told The New York Times
last month. The tattoos "just add to his whole gypsy mystique," says Ted Demme, director of Depp's latest film, Blow. "He looks like he's on the outside, like he's doing what he wants."
Demme's right on both counts. The Kentucky-born actor has been snubbing Hollywood since his 1998 move to France, where he shares a Paris apartment and a farmhouse near Saint-Tropez with actress-singer Vanessa Paradis, 28, and their daughter Lily-Rose, who turns 2 this month. Depp doesn't work the red carpet on award nights, nor does he routinely hype his films on the talk show circuit. Yet the parts—and the plaudits—keep coming.
In the past year Depp has played two bohemian roles, in the historical drama The Man Who Cried
and in the Oscar-nominated fable Chocolat. That film's director, Lasse Hall-ström, says the part of Roux, the Irish wanderer who woos Juliette Binoche's Vianne, was "a perfect fit" for Depp and, at long last, his first all-out romantic lead. "I think in the past he's been hiding a bit behind eccentric characters." They've included a Kabuki-faced oddball with blades for fingers (1990's Edward Scissorhands
), a misfit who models himself after silent movie comic Buster Keaton (1993's Benny & Joon
) and a Cuban drag queen (in last year's Before Night Falls
). "He doesn't want to rely on his looks, and he doesn't need to," says Hallström.
But, try as he might, the 5'11" actor can't disguise his assets. "He is so damn good-looking," says director Demme. "Johnny's cheekbones are insane!" Actress Leslie Caron, who worked with Depp on Chocolat
, adds, "He's almost pretty, like a girl." On the set of Blow
, female crew members gathered around the monitors for his close-up shots. "When I called 'Cut,' I would hear this collective sigh going on behind my back," says Demme.
They were just looking, of course; Depp has become a family man. Last May he took time off from the Chocolat
set to fly home for his daughter's first birthday. He loathes being apart from Lily-Rose and Paradis. "The most we've ever gone is 17 days," he recently said, "and by then I was chewing my hand off." That's quite a turnaround from a man who, after becoming the breakout star of the TV series 21 Jump Street
in the late '80s, gained a reputation for club-hopping and brawling. "I heard he was a hell-raiser, but I saw none of that," says Caron. "He just charms you immediately."