|Johnny Depp gets moved along by his security on the Red carpet at TIFF for the movie West of Memphis at the Ryerson Theatre, Saturday September 8, 2012. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - When a friendly Toronto International Film Festival worker walked among the throng of people gathering outside the Ryerson Theatre and kindly asked them not to rush into the street when Johnny Depp arrived, they smiled and agreed.
Then Johnny Depp arrived. And the screaming tsunami of humanity that surged into the road and swirled around the black SUV pulling up to the red carpet was like that giant whirlpool sucking up the Black Pearl in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
That's the curious thing about Depp: Out of the vast constellation of A-list stars at TIFF, Depp has seemed to provoke the most passionate response, with hundreds of fans spending hours in the rain Saturday just to catch a glimpse of him. For a movie that he's not even in.
Indeed, some of the fans amassed around the theatre on the downtown Ryerson University campus weren't there to see the Canadian premiere of West of Memphis, a documentary about the West Memphis Three produced by Lord of the Rings' Peter Jackson.
They were there strictly for Depp, a vocal supporter of the three men who spent nearly 20 years in jail for the murder of three young boys, despite the lack of physical evidence linking them to the crime.
University students Nicole Thier and Sharon Sefidrouh spent five hours waiting outside the theatre, most of it in the rain, to get a prime spot near the red carpet to see Depp. And that doesn't include the two hours Thier spent online securing tickets to the movie itself.
But the wait was worth it, they said. "He's just different from anyone else, he's been an inspiration to me my whole life. He just inspired me to be different," said Thier, whose handbag and necklace were both emblazoned with pictures of Depp.
"I have all his movies, all his books, soundtracks to everything," she said. "I'm a hardcore fan."
While the crowd skewed towards young and female, all ages and genders were present to catch a glimpse of the 49-year-old star of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Alice in Wonderland and 21 Jump Street, a TV show that aired before some of his fans were born.
"Johnny Depp is my idol," said 14-year-old Eric Hanson, who stood for about two hours at a spot near the red carpet while his family held his place in the lineup that snaked around the block. "So just to see him in person is going to blow my mind."
Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines, who is also lending her support to the film and the push to fully exonerate the West Memphis Three, arrived ahead of Depp but walked the red carpet virtually unnoticed, save for a few shouts of, "Natalie! Natalie." Her short, dark 'do might have been to blame.
That, or the fact the vast majority of the crowd was really just there for Depp, whose entrance set off a frenzy of screams and camera flashes.
"I don't even know what movie is playing," laughed barista Meredith Adams, 26, who was part of a secondary crowd of curious people gathering across the street from the theatre.
"I just heard Johnny Depp is coming, so I want to get a picture of him. And I want to have his babies."