Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Alice In Wonderland week: Johnny Depp Q&A

Some people tend to think of Alice In Wonderland as quaint and cutesy because of the 1951 Disney cartoon, yet Lewis Carroll’s book is dark, surreal and disturbing. Perfect material, in fact, for Tim Burton
There’s an absurdist, circus kind of atmosphere. There’s a profound kind of darkness and element of danger. There’s hilarity and it’s incredibly poetic. All those things, I think, are the main ingredients that make Tim Burton Tim Burton. Dark, edgy, unique, funny. Those words can describe not only this book and this movie, but Tim.
Were you a fan of the book already?
Who isn’t? Alice In Wonderland is one of the top 25 books of all time. I always loved the book and I always loved the various characters, the psychedelic nature of it and kind-of odd allegorical stories inside stories. I always thought it was beautiful.
How did you approach the role?
I had re-read the book not all that long before and there were lines that I was pretty fascinated by, that I thought were clues to the character, little morsels. The Mad Hatter makes a statement: “I am investigating things that begin with the letter M,” and it’s never dealt with for the rest of the book. It’s because of the mercury. He couldn’t quite remember. He remembered the M. That’s as far as he got [laughs]. And, of course, you think Hatter, “mad as a hatter”, that whole thing comes from mercury poisoning, because they used mercury in the hatting process back then, and guys would start going weird.

He’s a much more tragic and complex character than in the book.

I always saw the Hatter as kind of tragic, in the sense he’s a victim in a lot of ways, the mercury has certainly taken its toll but there’s also a tragic element to the Hatter’s past in this particular version that weighs pretty heavy on the character, that whole sequence in the village where he’s basically lost his tribe, his people. So that’s another little layer to the guy.

You’ve said the idea for the Hatter’s appearance arrived very quickly.

It was almost in an instant. I mean, I had a pretty strong idea of what he should look like and, of course, spoke to Tim about it and wanted to make sure he was okay. When Tim and I got together, I pulled out my little watercolours and Tim pulled out his drawings and they weren’t all that dissimilar. Tim said, “I like the orange hair.” He liked the multicoloured, watercoloury face – like a weird clown, I suppose.
Do your characters always come together so fast?

There have been a couple that have arrived pretty quick; then others you find. That’s really a weird one, when they arrive a few weeks after you’ve already been playing them and you go, “Shit! Can I go back and reshoot stuff?” And I have gone back and reshot stuff. But the Hatter came very quick. As did Captain Jack.
I read an interview with your partner Vanessa Paradis in which she claimed you stole the idea for the gap in the Hatter’s teeth from her!
[Laughs] Well, maybe on some level… The French call the teeth with the gap in the middle “les dents de bonheur” – “the teeth of happiness”. They’re like good-luck teeth, you know? You know what I had in my head initially? I’m so used to her teeth – I think they’re so sweet and everything – but I was actually thinking of Terry-Thomas. I had that kind of Terry-Thomas thing in my head.

Did you find it difficult shooting in the completely green environment?

The green was extra weird because not only was it green everywhere and people dressed in green, weird little green jump suits which is already surreal enough, but I had these green lenses on that cover the entire eye, so my vision was impaired pretty radically. So the green becomes like this sort of haze. And being in that environment for too long a period would definitely start to affect your brain [laughs], it would start to affect the way you made choices during scenes, and so you’d just kind of run with it, so the weirdness of it helped. 


Karen at Johnny Depp Reads said...

Mark, you got a fabulous interview from Depp, it's not the same old questions. Your gap teeth question was brilliant! I'm a gap toothed person also and it's just a part of who I am. My dentist is just too darn anxious to "fix" it. ;)

Thanks again!

Mark Salisbury said...

Glad you're enjoying the interviews so much Karen. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,
I'm fairly new to your blog and really enjoying it, Burton on Burton is one of my favourite books of all time! I was just wondering if you knew when your Alice Visual Companion was going to be available? I can't seem to find any date online anymore and I'm really looking forward to it.
Thanks very much,

Mark Salisbury said...

Hi Tim

Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words.

The Alice book was delayed slightly — it should have been out by now — but I have been told by the publishers that the official on sale date in the US, and presumably in the UK too, is March 30.

Anonymous said...

Great, thanks for letting me know Mark, seeing the film in Imax 3D this weekend, very excited!

Theresa said...

Mark, this is a great interview! I'm new to this blog, and I have to say that I love it! Tim Burton is my favorite filmmaker & Johnny Depp is my favorite actor! I love the collaborations between them! I have several of your books about Tim & his films & I just love them!

I saw AIW this morning & I absolutely love it! I am currently studying film, concentrating on production design, so I really appreciated the look of this movie; fantastic!

Mark Salisbury said...

Hi Theresa

Welcome. So pleased you like the blog and the books. Hopefully you'll like the Alice one too.

Glad you liked AIW. THat's one in the plus column!

Jules said...

Hi Mark!
This is my first time on your blog and I really like it. I am such a huge admirer of Johnny Depp and I like to learn about his inspiration for his roles. He is such an amazing actor. I love the questions you asked because, as stated before, they're not the same questions that many people have been asking. Thanks for a great interview!

Mark Salisbury said...

Hi Jules

Delighted you stopped by and thanks for the compliments. Hope to see you here again.

Anonymous said...

I really liked reading this interview. I love how honest Johnny is and how passionate he is about what he does. I really look up to him for being who he is and not caring about what people think. I'm physically handicapped and I admire him for not trying to be like everyone else. He helped me fit into my skin a little better. I'm also a fan of Vanessa and I thought the question about the gap was cute:)