Johnny Depp is undeniably one of the best actors of this generation and makes the transformation of the unique characters he portrays effortlessly, which is yet the case once again with his latest film, Alice in Wonderland. Depp plays the Mad Hatter in the Tim Burton-directed fantasy-adventure and ComingSoon.net talked to the star at the press conference for the movie about the character and the status of his upcoming projects:
Q: Johnny, you and Tim Burton have worked together quite a bit. Is this the seventh film you two have done together?
Johnny Depp: I think so. Somewhere around there.
Q: When he came to you and said the Mad Hatter what was your reaction to that?
Depp: Well, I mean to be honest he could’ve said Alice and I would’ve said [yes]. I would’ve done whatever character Tim wanted, but yeah, certainly the fact that it was the Mad Hatter was a bonus. It was because of the great challenge to try and find this guy and not to just sort of be rubber ball heaved into an empty room and watch it bounce all over the place. So to find that part of that character but also a little more history or gravity to the guy.
Q: There’s kind of a tragic nature to the Mad Hatter’s background in this, too, that I’ve never seen before in an “Alice in Wonderland.” Can you talk about that?
Depp: Well, I think that part of it, there’s the whole Hatter’s dilemma really, which is where the term ‘mad as a hatter’ came from; the amount of mercury that they used in the glue to make the hats and everything was damaging. So in terms of The Hatter, looking at him from that perspective, it’s this guy who’s, yeah, literally damaged goods. He’s physically damaged. He’s emotionally a little obtuse. It was kind of taking that and deciding that he should be as opposed to just this hyper and nutty guy, he should explore all sides of the personality at an extreme level. So he could go from one second being very highfalutin and with a lot of levity and then straight into some kind of dangerous potential rage and then tragedy. So, yeah, it was interesting. Trying to map it out was really interesting.
Q: Did you think you would have such a successful career when you started?
Depp: No, not at all. I had no idea where anything was going but you can’t. It’s almost impossible to predict anything like that. I had no idea. I had hoped. I mean, truly, after having, or I felt like after I’d done “Cry-Baby” with John Waters and “Edward Scissorhands” with Tim that they were going to cut me off right then. I felt at that point that I was on solid ground and I knew where I was going or where I wanted to go and I was sure that they would nix me out of the gate. But I’m luckily still here.
Q: You and Tim have collaborated on so many projects. How did you see your relationship, both personal and professional, grow on this film? Tim said that each time he works with you that you surprise him. Do you feel the same way?
Depp: Yeah, each time out of the gate with Tim the initial thing for me is to obviously come up with a character but then you start thinking that there’s a certain amount of pressure where you go, “Jesus, will this be the one where I disappoint him?” I try to really hard, especially early on to just come up with something that’s very different that he hasn’t experienced before, that we haven’t experienced together before and that I think will stimulate him and inspire him to make choices based on that character. So I basically try not to embarrass him.
Q: You’ve created so many wonderful characters that we all remember. When you start something new like the Mad Hatter do you have to look back at your own work and go, “Well, this might be too much Edward Scissorhands and this might be too much Captain Jack”? Do you have to look back at your own work and make sure that you don’t repeat anything?
Depp: Well, you definitely at a certain point, and especially because I’ve played English a number of times, have used an English accent a number of times and so it becomes a little bit of an obstacle course to go, “Oh, that’s teetering into Captain Jackville,” or “This one is kind of teetering over into ‘Chocolate’ or ‘Wonka.’” So you’ve got to really pay attention to the places that you’ve been. But that’s also part of it. That’s the great challenge, that you might 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.
Q: If the next project was motion capture for you, would you don a suit like they did in “Avatar”?
Depp: I don’t know. What color is the suit?
Depp: Black? It matches my eyes. I suppose. Look, I’ll put anything on. It doesn’t matter to me, obviously. Look at me. Yeah, no. I don’t mind.
Q: Of all the characters and all the movies that you’ve worked on with Tim, which one of them has been your children’s favorite?
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 it’s “Edward Scissorhands.” That’s by far my kid’s favorite.
Q: Why is that?
Depp: They just connect with the character and also they see something, their dad feeling that isolation, feeling that loneliness. He’s a tragic character and so I think it’s hard for them. They bawl when they see that movie.
Q: You sort of seem a fan of and have been working your way through 19th Century fantasy literature. “Sleepy Hollow,” the J.M. Barrie movie and through to “Alice in Wonderland.”
Depp: I’m hoping to do “The Hashish Eater” next. [laughs]
Q: But what’s your affection to that era of literature?
Depp: I mean, I just go from certainly J.M. Barrie and that wonderful character, the characters he created, Lewis Carroll but even French literature with [Charles] Baudelaire or over in the states with [Edgar Allan] Poe; like Tim has said about Lewis Carroll, you open those books, you open “The Flowers of Evil” and you begin to read, if it was written today you would be absolutely stupefied by the work. It was this incredible period where the work is timeless, ageless. So, yeah, I just love all those guys. It’s my deep passion, those great 19th Century writers.
Q: When did the original book enter your life the first time and how did the story influence you? Danny Elfman mentioned he remembers Alice’s neck being distended on the cover of the book he grew up with and that it scared him.
Depp: I had a thing about long necks, too. Maybe that’s from “Alice.” No. It’s funny, what Richard [Zanuck] said, that even though you can’t quite place when the book or the story came into your life, I do remember vaguely that I was maybe roughly five years old and reading versions of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, but the thing is the characters. You always know the characters. Everyone always knows the characters and they’re very well defined characters which I thought was fascinating. Lets say that even most people who haven’t read the book, they definitely know the characters and can reference them. For me, I went back, and ironically this was maybe only a year prior to Tim calling me, and I had reread “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.” What I took away from it was all these very strange little cryptic nuggets that he had thrown in there. I was really intrigued by them and became fascinated with them because they were asking questions that couldn’t be answered almost or made statements that he 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 finally doing a little research finding that the M is mercury. Then why is a raven like a writing desk. Those things just became so, so important to the character and you realize that the more you read it, I mean if I read the book again today I’d find a hundred things that I missed last time. It’s constantly changing, the book.
Q: Can you talk a little about what you’re doing on “The Tourist” and how you’re enjoying working with Angelina Jolie?
Depp: Well, I haven’t done anything yet.
Q: When do you start shooting?
Depp: I think Tuesday.
Q: What was it about the project that made you want to sign on?
Depp: I liked the French version, the French film. I liked it a lot. My friend played the part in that and I liked it and I thought, yeah, it might be interesting to explore this kind of character. But I mean you never know what’s going to happen. I suspect there might be a few paparazzi in Venice.
Q: Johnny, we heard that there’s not going to be any Keira Knightley or Orlando Bloom in the next “Pirates.” Is it going to be more Jack Sparrow front and center?
Depp: Yeah, there’s no Keira or Orlando in there. I don’t know. I don’t think we’d ever throw too much Jack Sparrow in there. It’ll be everybody.
Q: You were sort of wavering a little after Dick Cook left. Have you regained your confidence about it or what reassured you?
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. [Director] Rob Marshall and a totally new take and a new story.
Q: What did Dick Cook say after he left?
Depp: Oh, I mean he was just a perfect gentleman about the entire thing.
Q: Do you see “Dark Shadows” going this year or is it still on the fence?
Depp: Oh, no. I see “Dark Shadows” going this year. I hope it does. I do, yeah.
Disney’s Alice in Wonderland opens 3D theaters and IMAX 3D on March 5th.