Johnny Depp made a special appearance at Columbia University last night to promote his latest movie, The Rum Diary, an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's early novel about a young journalist ensnared in a web of capitalist exploitation in Puerto Rico in the 1950s. Depp, director Alex Gibney (who made a documentary about Thompson called Gonzo), and Rum Diary director Bruce Robinson participated in a panel discussion prior to a screening of the film (which opens Friday). Thompson’s childhood friend and former editor of Rolling Stone Porter Bibb was also on hand, and recalled that Thompson was so worried about the book being tampered with that he wrote "contaminated with semen” on each galley copy.

Depp said he first found the book hidden in Thompson’s home while researching for his role in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. "I went through his boxes of all the letters he received,” said Depp. “I boldly snatched another box, open it up and in there was The Rum Diary. After Thompson read the book again, Depp said the author told him, "Good God, we should put this in film."

"I read it twice,” said Robinson, who also wrote the screenplay. "Then I threw it away and wrote it as me. I was able to take the vernacular him and make it work." Robinson said the friendship between Thompson and Depp became a part of the creative process, and this bond proved handy for Depp's portrayal of reporter Paul Kemp. In Thompson, "there was rage. A great rage," said Depp. "But the rage didn’t exist because of hatred. It existed because he cared too much. He's not here today because his rage consumed him. That’s why we bonded so quickly. I too, have the rage."

While Thompson’s presence is sorely missed, Depp was not shocked at his suicide in 2005. "Devastated? Yes. Surprised? No. We always knew he’s the guy who dictated the way he lived and the way he goes out," said Depp. "He was not the kind of guy that was going to melt into a bowl of clam chowder." (As Thompson used to say to Depp whenever he felt tired of America, “Colonel, prepare my room. I’m coming over post-haste (to France).") Asked what he thought Thompson's response to the film would be, Depp declined to speculate, but mused, "I’d like to see him come out of fiery hell and spew his last words."