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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Johnny Depp is coming off an acclaimed role in "Public Enemies" and stars in one of the most anticipated movies of this weekend's Comic-Con, "Alice in Wonderland."
But the Mad Hatter is facing an unusual situation: Like the character he plays in "Alice," he soon could be killing time.
Depp is attached to a number of high-profile development properties but is facing a landscape devoid of "go" pictures -- those ready for production. Instead, there are a dizzying number of possibilities and schedule permutations, none of which seems likely to result in a produced movie for him anytime soon.
Producers have been interested in Depp for the title role in Warner Bros.' "The Incredible Mr. Limpet." Kevin Lima's remake of the 1964 fantasy comedy that would continue a whimsical, if slightly less drama-intensive, streak for the actor. He has not signed on, however, and in any event the pic would not go into production until next year.
Meanwhile, the fourth installment of "Pirates of the Caribbean" remains a priority for Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. At an earlier point, it was going to be the next picture for Depp, who toplines as Jack Sparrow. But with Gore Verbinski no longer directing the franchise, the ship has slowed.
Disney is seeking a new director, a process that could take time. Although the studio is believed to want an established helmer of franchise and action fare, it has put the word out to agents that it would be open to younger directors and new ideas, potentially prolonging the process. That could mean as much as a four- or five-year hiatus since the 2007 release of the previous picture, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."
(Disney also would like to scale back the size and budget of the next movie compared with previous installments; for that reason, it likely won't bring back relatively pricey Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.)
Because of the "Pirates" lag, a Depp project that was supposed to go into production after the Sparrow-fest, "The Lone Ranger," could end up getting pushed back further, though there's also a possibility it could shoot ahead of the nautical tale.
For the moment, though, "Ranger" also remains locked in the stable. "Pirates" writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio have written a script for the Disney/Bruckheimer update, but the studio could wind up commissioning a polish or another draft. There's also no director, and Depp is attached to play Tonto, with the title role still to be cast.
Finally, Warners' feature update of the ghoulish TV series "Dark Shadows" -- a Depp/Tim Burton collaboration that might have shot later this year or early next year -- also might be back-burnered. Burton still has work to do on "Alice," which opens in March, and tends to spend a lot of time on prep work.
What the possibilities boil down to, besides head spinning, is that there are projects with momentum that Depp has not signed for, and projects he has signed for that don't have a lot of momentum.
In other words, it's a very 2009 phenomenon brought on by a star's choosiness on the one hand and studios' increasing caution on the other. (In what might be an emerging mini-trend, Will Smith and Leonardo DiCaprio happen to find themselves in similar situations.)
The result is that Depp could face a year or longer without appearing on the big screen.
That might not sound like a major departure, but for moviegoers, it will seem like a shift. Depp has been in one of the most fertile periods of his career: The actor also stars in the Hunter S. Thompson adaptation "The Rum Diary" and had a supporting role in Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," which hasn't yet been released in the U.S. In the past nine years, Depp has not had more than two movies come out in any 18-month period; if "Imaginarium" gets a release by the end of 2010, he'll have had four.
Then again, the absence of a new role might mean a respite from his breakneck schedule. Even a pirate needs some time off.
Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters