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THE RUM DIARY

The Characters and the Crew
It goes without saying that Depp was the perfect fit for the part of Paul Kemp. "There's no actor who was closer to Hunter Thompson than Johnny Depp,” Graham King says. But although Paul Kemp is loosely based on Hunter S. Thompson as a young man, Bruce Robinson wanted for the character to come out of Depp's interpretation of Thompson, not an imitation of the writer in later years. "I wanted Paul Kemp to be Johnny Depp playing Hunter, but not with the shorts and the bald head,” says Robinson. "The film is set in the late fifties and very early sixties, so, in a sense, this is a very straight romantic lead. For all the comedic exuberance of Fear and Loathing, this is a straight drama. Hunter was very handsome when he was young, and Johnny is an incredibly handsome leading man.”

"Johnny transformed himself into Kemp very easily,” adds King. "He adds layers and layers to a character. He makes a raised eyebrow hysterical. He's very subtle at what he does. Bruce had the easiest job directing Johnny, because you don't really need to tell him as an actor what to do. You don't really need to tell him how to deliver a line, especially a comedic line.”

Depp, like Robinson, wanted to tap into the idea of Thompson as a young, unformed artist. "The way I approached it was that the character of Paul Kemp is Raoul Duke as he was learning to speak. It was like playing the same character, only 15 years before. This guy's got something; there's an energy burning underneath it, it's just ready to pop up, shoot out.”

When Kemp begins working at the San Juan Star, he immediately strikes up a friendship with Sala, the news photographer who works there. Robinson was looking for a very particular quality when he was casting this role. "I wanted someone relatively unknown, but who was a really great actor. Michael Rispoli fit the bill,” says Robinson. "Sala is somebody who came to San Juan ten years earlier. He was a photographer, probably not without talent. He became absorbed into the place, elevated by it, and then almost destroyed by it. One of the reasons I cast Michael was that I was looking for that sense of inability to escape. I wanted an actor who the audience would look at and think: ‘He's not getting out of here, he can't leave.' A lot of the people who read for the part were superb actors, but when Kemp leaves at the end of the story, they were going with him.” "Bruce called me and said, ‘I've found him!' Depp says. "As soon as I saw the tape, it was instant—that's the guy. He looked, sounded and felt exactly like the part of this expatriate American down in Puerto Rico, lost and trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.”

Robinson had no doubt about whom he wanted to play Sanderson. "Aaron Eckhart was my first and only choice,” he says. "He is a very good actor, and he has a kind of cruel beauty about him. He is also a complete contrast to Johnny Depp. He is handsome in an Aryan way. Johnny is Latin handsome. Sanderson is a property developer who has attachments to the newspaper, both financially and editorially. He is utterly charming and utterly ruthless.” Depp was impressed by Eckhart's intense commitment to the role. "He absolutely just scrubbed us all. He took the role by the throat and went with it.”

"When I set to cast the role of Chenault, I was looking for someone with a lascivious edge,” says Robinson. "In the book Chenault is Yeamon's girlfriend, but as I said, the Yeamon character is gone. I made her Sanderson's girlfriend to heighten the dramatic tension. You immediately get some heat and drama out of the fact that the girl is utterly unobtainable. The whole book is about the American dream, and Hunter's obsession with lifting the lid on the dream. Chenault is attached to the man who is exploiting the dream. Kemp is crazy in love with her because she is as unobtainable as the dream.” That unobtainable quality is what attracted Depp to Heard. "She was like this incredible 1950s movie star, but with a deep rooted poetry to her. There was a mystery there; you couldn't quite understand what had gone on in her life, but it made you want to ask questions that you wouldn't normally ask.”

"There is quite a sexy love scene, but in the middle of it, Kemp is interrupted,” says Robinson. "He has to choose between saving the newspaper, and in turn his writing, or this incredibly beautiful girl, whom he's about to have sex with. He chooses the words, which I think is very Hunter-esque.”

The character of Moberg was interesting to cast. "In the book, he is described as being Swedish, but I decided to make him an American,” says Robinson. "Giovanni Ribisi is such a fine actor. On the set he looked like a derelict,” he laughs. "I think Giovanni brings comic relief to the driving force of the movie.”

Depp was adamant about Ribisi's involvement from the outset. "We worked together on Public Enemies and I just thoroughly fell in love with him. I knew then that I wanted this guy on The Rum Diary somewhere. ‘I don't care what he does, I just want him there. I want to work with him again.' What a pleasure, what a gift. I salute the guy endlessly; he's just wonderful.” "As an actor, I really appreciated the details that Giovanni added to his character,” says Robinson admiringly. "He came up with something, which was a complete invention. It was absolutely ridiculous, but beautiful. He picked up an ashtray and emptied the entire thing into the shopping bag, which he always carries. It was just in case there are a few butts in there that may come in handy. It was a piece of pure on-the-spot comic invention.”

"Moberg is the crime and religious correspondent at the newspaper,” Ribisi says of his character. "I think he was really angry with capitalism in America,what they were doing. He started seeing the results of that on the Puerto Rican culture. Although he despises Lotterman [San Juan Star's editor], he feels that being with the newspaper does give him a chance to have a voice as a journalist.” "I think when Moberg first meets Kemp,” says Ribisi, "he thinks Kemp is someone he can possibly take advantage of. There is some degree of skepticism that Kemp is just another guy coming in. However, when he begins to talk about revolting and putting out the newspaper themselves, it electrifies Moberg. He starts to wake up, and become really passionate about it. That was my own little arc that I was trying to add in.”

Moberg is responsible for encouraging the alcohol and drug abuse in his amigos, Kemp and Sala. "There was this new concept of altering your mind with certain substances. I think Moberg had been doing that for a long time,” says Ribisi. "He also scavenges filters from the rum distillery and produces the moonshine that they drink, which is about four hundred and seventy proof, if that's possible!” he laughs.

In order to find the character, Ribisi looked to the screenplay. "There are so many ways to approach or build a character, because you have so many different genres. For this character, it was the idea of getting seated in his outward physical appearance. The way he sounded, the way he walked.” Graham King especially loved Ribisi's voice. "I told him on set that the voice he puts on reminded me of Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy!”

For the role of San Juan Star editor Lotterman, Robinson chose character actor Richard Jenkins. "He played the role brilliantly,” says Robinson. "Lotterman is a hysterical old-style journo, who was probably a sub at The Baltimore Sun for 40 years. Now he is a seething nervous wreck, trying to run his own newspaper, and trying to hold it all together. There's a scene at the beg

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