February 6, 2008
Bryan Burrough: Me and Johnny Depp—oh, and Christian Bale
There are two kinds of writers at Vanity Fair, those like Dominick and Amy and Maureen who live on the Upper East Side and lunch with moguls and fashionistas at the Four Seasons, and those like me who live in the suburbs and eat lunch in their kitchens or, on a big day, Taco Bell. I know. Not the glamorous life one might expect. Suddenly, though, I’ve found myself immersed in a project with the likes of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, and while I’m trying to stay cool about the whole thing, there are moments I feel like a fifth-grade girl at a Hannah Montana concert.
Long story short, Hollywood is about to begin filming a movie based on a book I wrote a while back, Public Enemies, which told the story of the FBI’s birth chasing Depression-era outlaws such as John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie & Clyde. Depp is to play Dillinger. Bale is his nemesis, FBI agent Melvin Purvis. Marie Cotillard, currently nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, has signed to play Dillinger’s girl, Billie Frechette. The director is Michael Mann, whose movies include the DeNiro-Pacino Heat; Ali, with Will Smith; and Last of the Mohicans.
No, no, I didnt write the script, which will focus mostly on Dillinger and Nelson. Mann and others did. (And it’s terrific.) No, no, I’m not some big-ticket consultant. In fact, my sole ongoing involvement is my humiliating devolution into a kind of Super Fan Boy. At least three times a day, I swear, I log onto IMDb, the movie site, to see what people are saying on the new Public Enemies bulletin board. Beginning in early March, the movie is to be shot during a 90-day period in Wisconsin and Chicago, and most of the posters are Wisconsinites who want to be extras, or at least want to see the filming. Everyone else seems to spend their time arguing over which actor ought to play whom. (Philip Seymour Hoffman: Apparently you rock.) No news yet on who will play Baby Face Nelson and J. Edgar Hoover. (Val Kilmer as Hoover? More Kilmer fans out there than one might expect.)
Exciting, yes. But in a strangely indirect way. How low have I fallen? Well, at least once a day I Google “Public Enemies” and “Michael Mann” and “Wisconsin.” Because the best tidbits I get are from the Wisconsin newspapers. I’m telling you, this is big, big news in Cheese Head country. Every town in the state, it appears, from Oshkosh to Baraboo, has been visited by a location scout, and every visit seems to generate an article or two. I can tell you with authority that the big news in Madison last weekend was the arrival of a “car wrangler” who put out radio advertisements asking for anyone with a 1930s-era car, truck, or bus to bring them to a library parking lot for inspection. Those who pass muster presumably get into the movie.
If I’m lucky, I may get to visit the set at some point. In my dreams I might even get a cameo. The last time I took my 13-year-old to Taco Bell, he told me he had the perfect role for me. He wants me to play a corpse.