Tom Petty Is Mad as a Hatter in ‘Wide Open’ Video
Nothing feeds a performer’s already inflated ego more than his latest rock video. So it’s a testimony to how secure Tom Petty feels about his niche in pop stardom that of all the characters he plays in his new video, the one he seems to relish the most is . . . a lowly roadie.
Credit either Petty’s team-player instincts or his sly sense of humor, but the rock-hero role in Petty’s new clip, “Into the Great Wide Open,” is played by someone who actually began his career as a rock guitarist, but went on to win acclaim as a young actor . . . Johnny Depp.
In fact, Petty’s new clip, which premieres on MTV Thursday night, features a host of celebs, most notably Faye Dunaway, who plays Depp’s manager and fairy godmother, and Terence Trent D’Arby and Chynna Phillips, who have walk-ons as pop stars at a club opening. Directed by Julien Temple, the dazzling video is easily one of the year’s best, an artful--and wonderfully comic--meditation on the loopy excesses of rock stardom.
Outfitted as the Mad Hatter, Petty is the clip’s knowing narrator, chronicling the rise and fall of Eddie Rebel, played by Depp as a tattooed, Axl Rose-style hayseed who rockets to the top almost as fast as he plunges back to earth. There are plenty of moments when Depp’s Rebel character seems to walk a tightrope between parody and reality. One classic: Flush with cash, Rebel buys a new Harley at Harlewood, stopping only to use the cycle’s rear-view mirror to pop a pimple on his cheek.
“We just wanted to capture the song’s depiction of the perils of rock stardom,” explains Temple, who has directed five Petty clips and has long been one of pop’s most gifted video magicians. “There’s such a universal quality to it. Johnny Depp could be James Dean or Sid Vicious or Axl. In fact, Johnny’s a huge Sex Pistols fan--and I think you can see a lot of Sid in his performance. That bit with his pimple at Harlewood was all his idea.”
To emphasize the video’s Brothers Grimm storybook quality, Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers, appear performing on a surreal, over-size set that gives them the look of Tom Thumb-style elves. The band also pops up in cameos within the story line--Benmont Tench as an A&R; exec, Howie Epstein as a Harley salesman and Stan Lynch as a club doorman. Petty’s real-life manager, Tony Dimitriades, looks especially at home playing Rebel’s agent. (“He’s a natural,” says Temple. “I just gave him a phone and let him loose.”)
One of the clip’s most comical moments features the obligatory rock interview scene, with Rebel swigging Jack Daniel’s while a nerdy rock critic fumbles with his ailing tape recorder. (For a real surprise, watch the clip a few times till you figure out who plays the critic.)
Temple even pokes fun at his profession, staging a hilarious scene in which Rebel freaks out at a video shoot, attacking his director, who’s precariously perched on a huge crane. Who plays the director? “That’s me,” says Temple with a laugh. “And it’s no exaggeration. I’ve been up there when it happened!”