He's become an international star entertaining audiences with classic, one-of-a-kind characters, and his talent isn't the only thing making headlines. He was also recently voted the Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine. Tackling his seventh collaboration with director Tim Burton, Johnny Depp is now the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland.
In this interview, the actor chats about living in a Wonderland, creating the Mad Hatter, his relationship with Tim Burton and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Q: You've collaborated with Tim on seven films now. How did he convince you to play the Mad Hatter?
Johnny Depp: To be honest, he could have said he wanted me to play Alice and I would have. I would have 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. I wanted to find that part of the character, but also a little bit more of the history and gravity to that.
Q: Tim said you always surprise him. Do you secretly feel the pressure to come up with brilliant ideas for your characters?
Depp: Each time out of the gate with Tim, the initial thing for me is to come up with a character. And 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 and that we haven't experienced together before, and that will stimulate him and inspire him to make choices based on that character. I try not to embarrass him, basically.
Q: When you take on a challenge like the Mad Hatter, do you find yourself looking back at your past characters to make sure you're not creating or revisiting old traits?
Depp: I've played English a number of times, and 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," or "This is teetering into Wonka." You've got to really pay attention to the places you've been. But, 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 that's a healthy thing for an actor.
Q: There's a scene where you fully engage in a "happy dance" aka futter-wack. Were those your dance moves?
Depp: No. The happy dance was something that Tim had a very curious vision for. But, I can futter-wack with the best of them. We had to treat that like a stunt.
Q: The Mad Hatter seems to be a bit tragic in this version.
Depp: There's the whole Hatter's dilemma, really. The term "Mad as a Hatter" came from the amount of mercury that they used in the glue to make the hats. It was damaging. So, in terms of looking at Hatter from that perspective and seeing him as this guy who literally is damaged goods, physically and emotionally, I took that and decided that, as opposed to just this hyper, nutty guy, he should explore all sides of the personality at an extreme level. He can go, from one second, being very highfalutin with a lot of levity, and then straight into some kind of dangerous potential rage, and then tragedy. Trying to map it out was really interesting.
Q: Alice in Wonderland has an array of classic characters that many remember from their childhood. How did Alice in Wonderland enter your life?
Depp: Even though you can't quite place when the book or the story came into your life, and I do vaguely remember reading versions of Alice in Wonderland when I was maybe 5 years old, but you always knew 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 gone back and re-read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and what I took away from it was these very strange, little cryptic nuggets that he'd thrown in there, and I was really intrigued by them and became fascinated by them because they were asking questions that couldn't be answered, 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 I did a little research and discovered that the M is mercury. And then there was, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" Those things just became so important to the character. If I read the book again today, I'd find 100 other things that I missed last time. It's a constantly changing book.
Q: Let's talk Pirates of the Caribbean. Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom won't be returning in Pirates, so does that mean more Jack Sparrow?
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.
Q: It was said that you weren't sure about returning to Pirates after Walt Disney Co.'s studio chief Dick Cook left. He was the reason why you started working with Disney to begin with.
Depp: One thing that I found very reassuring was a very good conversation with Dick Cook, who is someone I admire greatly. He was a perfect gentleman about the entire thing. 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.
Q: Was there a time in your own career where you felt like you were in Wonderland?
Depp: Yeah, the whole ride. My whole 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 kind of a wonderland. I've been very lucky.
Q: Is this what you envisioned as a young actor?
Depp: No, not at all. I had no idea where anything was going. But it's almost impossible to predict anything like that. After I had done Cry Baby
with John Waters and Edward Scissorhands
with Tim, I felt 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 wanted to go, and I was sure that they would nix me out of the gig. But, luckily, I'm still here.
Q: Of all the films you've done, which of your films is your children's favorite?
Depp: Edward Scissorhands is, by far, my kids' favorite. 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. They connect with the character, and they see their dad feeling that isolation and loneliness. He's a tragic character, so it's hard for them. They bawl when they see that.
Q: Can you talk about The Tourist and what you enjoy about working with Angelina Jolie?
Depp: I haven't done anything yet.
Q: When does that start shooting?
Depp: I think Tuesday.
Q: How do you think it's going to go?
Depp: I think it will be swell.
Q: What attracted you to the project?
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.
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