We Have Nicolas Cage to Thank for Johnny Depp’s Acting Career

Allegations of spousal abuse and a string of box office flops have dimmed the once-bright star of actor Johnny Depp. Now that a British court has ruled that referring to the Pirates of the Caribbean performer as a “wife-beater” doesn’t constitute libel, there are questions about whether his career will ever recover.  

Things are not looking great for Depp right now, but not so long ago, he was one of the most successful — and highest-paid — actors in the world. Yet if it wasn’t for a game of Monopoly with Nicolas Cage, Depp’s acting career may never have gotten off the ground. 

Johnny Depp wanted to be a rock star, not an actor 

Johnny Depp with a guitar
Johnny Depp in 1987 | Deborah Feingold/Getty Images

Three-time Oscar nominee Depp didn’t have a career in film in mind when he moved from Florida to Los Angeles in the early 1980s. His original goal was to be a musician, his first wife Lori Anne Allison told the New York Post. After arriving in California with Depp’s band The Kids, both took various jobs to make ends meet while dreaming of stardom. She found work as a makeup artist, while he was a telemarketer for a pen company. 

Depp’s life changed when Allison introduced him to one of her new friends, a young actor named Nicolas Cage. 

Nicolas Cage convinced Johnny Depp to audition for ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ 

Nicolas Cage and Johnny Depp in the late 1980s
Nicolas Cage and Johnny Depp | Barry King/WireImage

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Cage and Depp became friends, eventually living in the same LA apartment building. The future Alice In Wonderland star was still hoping to make it as a musician, but Cage had another suggestion: acting. The idea came to him after the two played a board game together. 

“He was at the point in his career where he was selling pens or something to get by,” the Valley Girl star recalled to the New York Times Magazine in 2019. He would take my money and buy cocktails but wouldn’t tell me about it. He admitted it later. But anyway, we were good friends, and we would play Monopoly, and he was winning a game, and I was watching him and I said, ‘Why don’t you just try acting?’”

Depp was initially resistant to the idea, telling Cage he didn’t think he could act. 

“I said, ‘I think you can act.’ So I sent him to meet with my agent,” Cage said. “She sent him out on his first audition, which was A Nightmare on Elm Street. He got the part that day. Overnight sensations don’t happen. But it happened with him.”

Depp has confirmed the story. “Nic Cage said, ‘You should try being an actor. Maybe you are one and don’t know it,’” he once told Playboy (via The Post). 

Depp’s career took off 

Johnny Depp greets fans in costume as Jack Sparrow
Johnny Depp in costume as Captain Jack Sparrow | Peter Wallis/Newspix/Getty Images

Taking his friend’s suggestion to try acting paid off in a big way for Depp. After A Nightmare on Elm Street, he landed a role in Oliver Stone’s Platoon. Then came the hit Fox drama 21 Jump Street, with Depp as Tom Hanson, a police officer who goes undercover to investigate crimes at high schools and colleges. By the 1990s, he was a leading man in movies such as Edward Scissorhands, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Donnie Brasco, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He also began a long partnership with director Tim Burton, eventually appearing in eight of his films. 

While Depp’s career soared, his first marriage didn’t last. He and Allison divorced in 1985. He went on to have high-profile romances with Winona Ryder and Kate Moss. Later, he had a 14-year relationship with Vanessa Paradis; the couple had two children before separating in 2012. He married Amber Heard in 2015. Heard filed for divorce in 2016, saying Depp had been physically abusive.