Bruce Robinson jokes that on the set of The Rum Diary starring Johnny Depp, he is the ‘comeback kid’ - directing his first film since 1992’s Jennifer 8. ‘Now I’m working with the world’s most famous movie star all of a sudden,’ Robinson says. ‘It’s kind of a shock to the central nervous system.’
It is a shock he is enjoying so far. ‘I’m driven to make this great film to live up to the material and to Johnny,’ he says. ‘It’s not a solo effort.’
He points to below-the-line experts such as Dariusz Wolksi, the DoP for the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, and Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood. Producers are Depp and his Infinitum Nihil president Christi Dembrowski with Graham King of GK Films.
Indeed Depp was the one who recruited Robinson for the project; the pair had met in Los Angeles years ago and Depp professed to be a huge fan of Robinson’s cult hit debut film, 1987’s Withnail & I. Then about four years ago, Depp sent him The Rum Diary, an early novel by Hunter S Thompson.
‘It’s really about Hunter S Thompson before he became Hunter S Thompson - he’s looking for that voice.’ Robinson says of the book, set in the late 1950s. ‘I knew I could handle this obsession of Hunter’s about debunking the American dream.’
Depp plays Kemp, a failed writer who starts working for a rundown newspaper in Puerto Rico, where he falls in love with the wrong woman and uncovers a crooked land development scheme.
Robinson sees similarities between The Rum Diary and the lauded Withnail. ‘The Rum Diary is a much more sophisticated film, and it’s got boats and car chases, but I’m going to try to keep it simple and in that way it’s like Withnail & I,’ Robinson says.
The humour in The Rum Diary also draws comparisons. ‘It’s surreal humour but in some ways it’s like Withnail - that was totally straight comedy coming from the situation,’ says Robinson, also well known as the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of 1984’s The Killing Fields.
The Rum Diary started 10 weeks of principal photography in Puerto Rico on March 25; completion is expected in autumn 2009 after post-production in Los Angeles. GK Films’ Lisa Wilson is handling international distribution rights.
‘It’s a frightening, thrilling ride but I’m so delighted to have such a great team,’ Robinson says. The cast also features ‘the absolutely gorgeous’ young actress Amber Heard with Richard Jenkins and Aaron Eckhart.
After he wraps The Rum Diary, Robinson plans to finish a non-fiction book about Jack the Ripper and complete a screenplay adaptation of his novel The Peculiar Memories Of Thomas Penman. He will consider directing that as a smaller project if The Rum Diary goes well. But he is not planning on becoming a director-for-hire anytime soon. He says with a laugh: ‘I’m not considering (The Rum Diary) to be a stepping stone to directing Batman 7.’