Johnny Depp slips in — and out — of Royal Roads for film shoot

Hollywood superstar Johnny Depp hasn’t been hiding in Greater Victoria — he’s been working.

Depp slipped into the capital region for two days this week to shoot movie scenes at Hatley Castle in Colwood, on the campus of Royal Roads University. It’s standing in as a college in the eastern U.S. for the movie Richard Says Goodbye.

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Depp returned to Vancouver late Wednesday.

The actor, of Pirates of the Caribbean franchise fame, plays a caustic, binge-drinking college professor who decides to live the rest of his life recklessly after being diagnosed with a terminal illness.

On Wednesday morning, background performers cast as college students hadn’t yet had a glimpse of Depp, who has his own security team, around the Royal Roads campus.

“He’s nowhere to be found,” Jenny Tu said. “He’s good at hiding, being secretive about where he is.”

Added Kaillee Fawcett, a University of Victoria fine arts student: “I saw his chair, though!”

Katharine Harrold, Royal Roads’ vice-president communications and advancement, said that while the campus community was curious about Depp’s unexpected presence, people have been respectful.

“It’s been wonderful having Johnny Depp here,” Harrold said. “We’d like to thank him. He has been agreeable and kind enough to make himself available to a few fans here and there.”

Depp was joined by co-stars Rosemarie DeWitt (La La Land, Rachel Gets Married), Ron Livingston (Office Space), Danny Huston (Birth) and Zoey Deutch (Before I Fall).

Executive producer Warren Carr, who also worked in the region for The Glitter Dome (1984) and Little Women (1994), said the shoot aroused fond memories.

“Victoria is a very film-friendly place to come and shoot,” said Carr, who hired as many local crew as possible. “What it needs to develop further is a larger crew base, with people who live and work here.”

He praised Royal Roads for accommodating production during a tight window, and said crews were impressed by how respectful the community has been.

“It’s been very calm. Nobody has really asserted themselves,” Carr said between takes of one of biggest scenes filmed here. “We haven’t had autograph-hungry people lurking in the bushes. It’s been a nice, polite experience.”

While Depp has been elusive, he has agreed to pose for photographs since shooting began last month in Vancouver, where it wraps this weekend, Carr said. “He acknowledges his fans. There’s no question about that.”

The scene, shot in the Italian Garden, featured DeWitt and Livingston, who are married in real life.

“Because of its architecture, Royal Roads is a major creative centrepiece in the film,” Carr said.

Wayne Roberts, the film’s writer-director, scouted Hatley Castle himself and pushed for the film’s mostly Vancouver-based crews to come here, he said.

“This is all about tying him [Depp] to the location, to being at the college, coming outdoors, going indoors,” Carr said. “This is the root of it all. His scenes are all little bits and pieces, connectivity to interiors shot in Vancouver.”

Scenes shot at Royal Roads also feature the Neptune Stairs, croquet lawn, terrace and a hallway.

The filmmakers were so smitten with one of the Royal Roads peacocks — the bird “who likes peanuts, apparently” — that it was cast as a background performer.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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