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June 2005
Charlie & the Chocolate Factory: An Interview with Johnny Depp

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory: An Interview with Johnny Depp

By Wilson Morales

After "Finding Neverland" brought him an Academy nomination, Johnny Depp continues to his quest to play another zany and mysterious character. His next film, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, has him playing Willy Wonka. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Depp goes his character and what attracted him to the role.

Did you enjoy playing a character with no social skills?

Johnny Depp: Yes, I did enjoy playing someone with slightly twisted social skills. It's a bit fun playing characters, that for whatever reasons, these characters (Wonka, Captain Jack), characters that can do things that I would never dream of doing or speak to people in a way I couldn't bring myself ever to do, so there's great fun in that; great safety in playing those parts. Once you have learned to talk like them or be them I guess, there's great safety in it.

What was the appeal of playing Willy Wonka? Were you a Gene Wilder fan?

JD: Well, I was definitely a Gene Wilder fan but that's not what drove me to this. Initially, the material, even though I love Raoul Dahl's works, was one of the seductive elements certainly, but more than anything it was the fact that was Tim (Burton) asking me to do it. As luck would have it, this material and that character was a great opportunity and I knew that as soon as he mentioned it and as soon as I said I'm in, I knew that there great risks involved. I could have very easily blown it. But again, it's exciting for an actor. It's a challenge.

What kind of risks are you talking about? Were you thinking about the fans of the book?

JD: The fans of the book, the fans of the 1971 film. It's a very well loved character, both fans of the book and Gene Wilder's brilliant performance in the film. I knew that I would have to take it somewhere, far away from Gene Wilder and the area that he had stomped and having that amazing material by Raoul Dahl and taking that and trying to interpret what he might have liked to seen in terms of cinema. What kind of character would he have liked? There's such dark and light in that story in such a subversive kind of undertone and a twisted perverted kind of side to the character that I ran into the direction that seemed right to me.

Speaking of perversion, did you think of Michael Jackson at any time you were shooting the film?

JD: It actually never crossed my mind, oddly enough. Michael Jackson was not an ingredient or inspiration for the part of the character at all. A few people have mentioned it and it kind of took me by surprised because I really didn't expect that. I guess on some level I can understand. There's a little bit of a look, but you can easily think of some other recluse like Howard Hughes as well; and also Raoul Dahl wrote this book and wrote this character and it was published in 1964. Michael Jackson was a wee lad then, so I don't he was inspired by him either.

Who was your inspiration for this character?

JD: When Tim and I talked about doing it, there was no script at all at the time. There was only the book, which in a lot of ways was a great gift because I was able to just use Raoul Dahl's work for my notes. What I started to see when I was thinking about it in my early research, I had these memories of children show's hosts like when I was a kid; when I was like 5 or 6 years old watching guys like Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and local guys like Uncle Al and Mr. Greenjees and I remembered thinking even then it's really how odd it was the way they spoke; that kind of bizarre musical rhythm cadence to their speech pattern and that "Good Morning children, and now today we're goingŠ" and I took that speech pattern and made that one of the main ingredients for Wonka and stretched it out a bit and was also thinking about game show hosts that I remembered on television growing up and that kind of perpetual sort of grimace on their face and I kept thinking that it's certainly not like that at home and I hope it's not. (Laughs) You feel like they go on stage and put a mask on and do their thing and take it off. It's almost like a clown or something. Those two things became the basis for this version of Wonka.

Can you talk about the Prince Valiant haircut?

JD: That is something that came to me early on when I was making little sketches; little drawings of what might be right for the character and that was it. I just did this strange, almost like a Brian Jones kind of bob and super short bangs cause I was thinking about the guy in terms of like, obviously he's lived in this self-induced isolation. He's removed himself from the modern world so therefore his line of reference would be very, very dated. He would be in the back somewhere so thought that maybe he had locked himself in a room with a stack of Herman' Herman records or something. And also that became part of his speech. His speech pattern would be very, very dated. He talks jive to one of the kids.

Do you think kids will find Wonka too dark?

JD: It's funny because on Wonka, I would never ever because when I'm by myself going through the script, I would mortified if I found myself reading and be the character. I could never forgive myself for that so what I did with Wonka I tested it on my daughter. I tested it on Lily Rose to see if I was going in the right direction.

Was it the costume you show her?

JD: No, just the sound of his voice cause a lot of times what happens is that you come up with these ideas and you never get to try them really until maybe a read-through of the thing, but even if you are not ready to expose the guy yet, like with the read-through for Wonda, I read like this; just like me. So you don't even know the guy until you have been the guy. So you don't know him until Tim says ŒAction". So what I did with Lily Rose, I just, I was talking to her one day, and many times we play Barbie and she says "Daddy, don't use that voice. Just talk regular." This one particular time, I started to do the Wonka voice and she kind of lit up a little bit and gave me this "Where's that coming from?" and I said that I think I'm on the right track.

Do you allow yourself to stay in character?

JD: No. I've never bought into that. What kills me is that the image sticks in my head is the idea of a guy who's playing Henry the VIII for example, walking over to the craft services table, the snack table, grabbing a hand full of Fritos instead of some big chicken leg. It's that kind of thing. I think that once you have got the character and once you have known the guy, at least for me, it's pretty simple to slide in and out.

How did the kids in the film react to you?

JD: They were great. They were great about it. So for about the first ten days, you get these kinds of looks (demonstrating a facial expression) and they sort of check each other out. They weren't quite sure how to deal with it and but then they caught on and started to enjoy it. They were great. I remember one scene where I was speaking jive to little Jordan, who played Mike TV and I had this idea that you should speak jive so I came up with thing that "It's in the fridge Daddy-O" and we were doing a rehearsal and I walked up to him and put my hand on him and said "Slide me some skin Daddy-O" and he titled in a backwards angle looking at me saying ŒThat's not in the script." (Laughs) It killed me. I just burst with hysteric laughter

As an actor, do you appreciate the fact Tim Burton did not use so much CGI but a lot with the set?

JD: It makes all the difference in the world. The difference between standing in the room of blue screen; it makes all the difference in the world because everything was there. For me, it's amazing, it's a great gift. Especially for kids. A couple of them had never been on a movie set before; to have all stuff available to you; to see, to touch, in a case of the chocolate river, to actually smell. It smelled bad. After a couple of weeks, it really got funky. Ask Tim about it. He has a great analogy for the smell. I appreciate that old style. That's how movies were done a long time ago and that's how movies should still be done. I also appreciate the fact that there are time when you must use CGI and it works as an affected.

(Richard Zanuck walks in and shakes Johnny's hand and gives him a hug)

JD: The Legend, Richard Zanuck. Thank You Brother, see you in a bit. He's so cool. He wrote the book on this stuff

This was the first film from Plan B, the company that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston own. Did you interact with them at all making this movie?

JD: No. Oddly, I wasn't in particularilyŠ I knew that Brad Grey was involved ŠI'm so out of it. I don't know what's going on anywhere at anytime. It was a while before I found that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were part of Plan B. I didn't know; although I met them all individually and they are nice people. Brad, I've known for many years and Brad Grey is a terrific guy. Sharp cookie.

Will you be producing your own movies now?

JD: Well, there are a couple things... my sister and I have this little company and we've made some recent acquisitions that are pretty exciting.

Will you be starring and producing in them?

JD: Some of them to be in and some of them just to sort of see that they get made. Some pretty special stuff we are excited about like the latest Nick Hornby novel I think called "The Long Way Down". That's very exciting and a great book from an Australian writer named Gregory David Roberts called ŒShantaram", which is a beautiful book. There's a few of them.

Will you be in "Shantaram"?

JD: I think "Shantaram", yeah. I think I will. Feels like the right thing to do. Spent some time with Greg and I think it's the right thing to do. It's an area that I haven't really explored as an actor so I'd like to try it.

It's been a long time since you made a contemporary film.

JD: I don't know.

There was "Secret Window".

JD: Yes.

Can you talk about "Libertine"?

JD: Yes, Libertine. That's restoration. That's the time of old King Charles II, which I think is coming out sometime this year. It's coming in November or December or something like that.

Did you talk about the script with Tim and how'd he come up with stuff like that?

JD: Yeah, Tim is very good about stuff like that. Tim and John August, the screenwriter, were great about it as well. It's some kind of illness. I can't help myself. I need to do it; otherwise I'd feel like I'm held captive or something. There are times when you know that you are doing it too much and you can stop yourself, but there are times when I feel strongly about something and adding something, and the trick is that you can always try anything; do a take of anything and then go back to the page. Tim was great about it and always has been.

Do you have the same freedom as Captain Jack?

JD: Oh yeah, and those guys wouldŠ Ted and Terry, the guys wrote Pirates 1 were so gracious because there I was at that time, first read through, sitting down and going "I'd like this, this, this and I'd like to say this, this, this, and they were so sweet about it and now on Pirates 2 & 3, they have been incredible open to my suggestions and line changes and stuff. So yeah, it's been fun. It's been a great process.

How is it shooting two films at the same time?

JD: Well, it's a lengthy process. It's going to take us a while.

Over 9 months?

JD: Maybe more.

Are you shooting the films back to back?

JD: As much as we can, we are doing two, and every now and then, you may have to slot something in from "Pirates 3", but the majority of what we have done so far have been 2 and then we will start moving into 3 after the hiatus. It's been great fun so far

Why did you choose to revisit the role of Captain Jack?

JD: For me, there was only reason and one reason only, it was Captain Jack. It was selfishly to have the opportunity to play Captain Jack again. Some people can look at it and say, "Depp sold out." I don't believe that I have. It certainly wasn't my attention to sell out but I wanted to play again because I think he's so much fun to play and I think there is so much more to explore with that character that I would keep going. If they wanted me to do "Pirate 7", why not?

What will we see this time around?

JD: In "Pirates 2 & 3", you will get to see a couple of new layers to Captain Jack. You will get to see him in new situations; situations that he is unable to talk his way out of. There's a lot of fun stuff.

Will Keith Richards be in the film?

JD: It's looking very good. I've talk to Keith about it and he's been super sweet and keen to do it and it's looking very good. We are just hoping that we can work out the dates with the Stones tour and everything but if that happens, you talk about a dream come true. Get to be a pirate with Keith Richards? Does it get better than that?


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