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Johnny Depp Talks About ‘Alice in Wonderland’

Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter in 'Alice in Wonderland.'

Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter in ‘Alice in Wonderland.’

© Walt Disney Pictures

Alice in Wonderland marks the seventh film Johnny Depp has starred in for director Tim Burton. Depp and Burton share a similar vision, and as Depp said at the LA press day for the Walt Disney Pictures film, he would have played whoever Burton wanted him to in the fantasy adventure film.

“To be honest, he could have said he wanted me to play Alice and I would have,” revealed Depp. “I would done whatever character Tim wanted. But, certainly, the fact that it was the Mad Hatter was a bonus because of the great challenge to try to find this guy, and not just be a rubber ball you heave into an empty room and watch it bounce all over the place, but just to find that part of the character – but also a little bit more of history or gravity to the guy.”

Depp’s considered one of the best actors of his generation, totally disappearing into characters. And The Mad Hatter might just be the most bizarre of his career, which is saying a lot considering the weird assortment of characters on Depp’s resumé.

Alice in Wonderland Press Conference – Johnny Depp, ‘The Mad Hatter’

Do you think the Mad Hatter had a bit more of a tragic nature in this version?

Johnny Depp: “There’s the whole hatter’s dilemma, really, which was where the term, ‘Mad as a Hatter’ came from, was the amount of mercury that they used in the glue to make the hats. Everything was damaging. So, in terms of the Hatter, looking at it from that perspective of this guy who literally is damaged goods, physically damaged, emotionally a little obtuse, and taking that and deciding that he should be – as opposed to just this hyper, nutty guy – he should explore all sides of the personality at an extreme level. So he can go from one second being very highfalutin and a lot of levity, and then straight into some kind of dangerous potential rage, and then tragedy. It was interesting. Trying to map it out was really interesting.”

Was there a time in your career where you felt like you were in Wonderland?

Johnny Depp: “Yeah, the whole ride. My whole ride, the experience on the ride since day one has been pretty surreal in this business, and defies logic. I’m still completely shocked that I still get jobs and am still around. But, more than anything, it has been a kind of wonderland. I’ve been very lucky.”

Did you dream that it would be that way when you started out?

Johnny Depp: “No, not at all. I had no idea where anything was going. But, it’s almost impossible to predict anything like that. I had no idea. I had hoped. I felt like after I had done Cry-Baby with John Waters and Edward Scissorhands with Tim, that like they were going to cut me off right then. I felt, at that point, I was on solid ground and I knew where I was going, where I wanted to go, and I was sure that they would nix me out of the gig. But, luckily, I’m still here.”

How has your professional and personal relationship with Tim Burton grown?

Johnny Depp: “Each time out of the gate with Tim, the initial thing for me is to obviously come up with a character. But then, there’s a certain amount of pressure where I go, ‘Jesus, will this be the one where I disappoint him?’ So I try really hard, especially early on, to come up with something that’s very different, that he hasn’t experienced before – we haven’t experienced together before – and that would stimulate him and inspire him to make choices based on that character. I try not to embarrass him, basically.”

You’ve created so many wonderful, memorable characters. When you take on something like the Mad Hatter, do you have to look back at your own work to make sure that you don’t repeat anything or make it too similar?

Johnny Depp: “Especially if you’re dealing with, because I’ve played English a number of times, I’ve used an English accent a number of times, so it becomes a little bit of an obstacle course to go, ‘Oh, that’s teetering into Captain Jack-ville,’ or ‘This one is kind of teetering over into Chocolat or Wonka.’ You’ve got to really pay attention to the places you’ve been. Also, that’s part of it. That’s the great challenge. You may get it wrong. There’s a very good possibility that you can fall flat on your face. But, again, I think that’s a healthy thing for an actor.”

Would you put on a motion capture suit and perform that way, if it was what was required of you for a role?

Johnny Depp: “I don’t know. What color is the suit? It’s black? Oh, it matches my eyes. I suppose. I don’t care. I’ll put anything on. It doesn’t matter to me, obviously. Look at me. Yeah, I don’t mind.”

Of all the films you’ve done, which of your films is your children’s favorite?

Johnny Depp: “My children’s favorite, and it’s funny because they’ve seen it but they have a difficult time watching it because it’s their dad and they make that connection, but Edward Scissorhands is, by far my kids’ favorite. They just connect with the character, and they see their dad feeling that isolation, that loneliness. He’s a tragic character, so I think it’s hard for them. They bawl when they see that.”

The Mad Hatter has a great happy dance in the film, and one of the earmarks of a really great happy dance is that it’s completely unique to the person. Is this part of your own personal repertoire?

Johnny Depp: “No. The happy dance was something that Tim had a very curious vision for.”

[Tim Burton: “It has to be the right circumstance, the right music and everything else.”]

Johnny Depp: “Then I can Futterwack with the best of them. We had to treat that like a stunt.”

[Tim Burton: “He likes to keep his Futterwacking private, like we all do.”]

Alice in Wonderland Press Conference – Johnny Depp, ‘The Mad Hatter’

You seem to be going through the entire canon of 19th century fantasy literature, with films like Sleepy Hollow,Finding Neverland and now Alice in Wonderland. What is the attraction to that era’s literature for you, as an artist and as an actor?

Johnny Depp: “I’m hoping to do The Hashish-Eater next. I just adore it. From certainly J.M. Barrie and the wonderful characters he created, Lewis Carroll, even French literature, like Baudelaire or over in the States, Poe, you open those books, you open The Flowers of Evil and begin to read… If it were written today, you’d be absolutely stupefied by the work. It’s this incredible period where the work is timeless, ageless. So yeah, I just love all those guys. It’s my deep passion in those great 19th century writers.”

When did Alice in Wonderland first enter your life and how did it influence you?

Johnny Depp: “[…]It’s funny what [producer Richard Zanuck said about even though you can’t quite place when the book or the story came into your life, and I do vaguely remember roughly five years old reading versions of Alice in Wonderland, but the thing is the characters. You always know the characters. Everyone knows the characters and they’re very well-defined characters, which I always thought was fascinating. Most people who haven’t read the book definitely know the characters and reference them.”

“Ironically, it was only maybe a year prior to Tim calling I had re-read Alice in Wonderlandand Through the Looking Glass, and what I took away from it was these very strange, little cryptic nuggets that he’d thrown in there. I was really intrigued by them, became fascinated by them because they were asking questions that couldn’t be answered almost, or were making statements that you couldn’t quite understand. Like, ‘I’m investigating things that begin with the letter M.’ That took me through a whole stratosphere of possibilities, and doing a little research and discovered that the M is mercury. And then, ‘Why is a raven like a writing desk?’ Those things just became so important to the character. You realize that the more you read it, if I read the book again today, I’d find 100 other things that I missed last time. It’s a constantly changing book.”

What was it that you liked about The Tourist with Angelina Jolie that made you want to sign on?

Johnny Depp: “I liked the French film a lot. My friend played the part in that and I liked it and thought it might be interesting to explore this character. You never know what’s going to happen. I suspect there may be a few paparazzis in Venice.”

With no more Keira Knightley or Orlando Bloom in Pirates #4, will there be more Jack Sparrow?

Johnny Depp: “Yeah, there is no Keira or Orlando in there. I don’t know. I don’t think we’d ever throw too much Jack Sparrow in there. There will be just a little bit of everybody.”

You were wavering on doing another Pirates film after Dick Cook left. Have you regained your confidence? What reassured you?

Johnny Depp: “One thing that I found very reassuring was a very good conversation with Dick Cook, who is someone I admire greatly. That helped a lot. Also, knowing that we’re coming at it from a different angle, at this point. Rob Marshall has a totally new take. It’s a new story.”

What did Dick Cook say after he left?

Johnny Depp: “He was a perfect gentleman about the entire thing.”

How is Dark Shadows coming along?

Johnny Depp: “It’s coming along. It’s going well.”

Do you definitely see Dark Shadows going this year, or is it still on the fence?

Johnny Depp: “I see it going this year. I hope it does. I do, yeah.”

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March 5, 2010 - Posted by | 1

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