The cult classic television series Dark Shadows is hitting the big screen in the bizarrely twisted and humorous way that only the partnership between director Tim Burton and actor/producer Johnny Depp delivers. In the year 1770, the rich and powerful playboy Barnabas Collins (Depp) has the world at his feet, until he falls in love with the beautiful Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote) and angers Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), a witch who turns him into a vampire and then buries him alive. After being inadvertently freed, two centuries later, Barnabas emerges into the very different world of 1972 and vows to restore his family name to its former glory. The film also stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz, Gully McGrath and Jackie Earle Haley.
At the film’s press day, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton talked about being fans of the quirky TV show, the elements that they wanted to carry over to the film, portraying a vampire that looks like a vampire, finding the physicality for Barnabas Collins, what the fangs and nails were like to wear, how it was to have the original cast on the set, the deleted scenes that could end up on the DVD, and that there was no conscious decision made to leave the ending open for a possible sequel. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
TIM BURTON: We’ve talked about it for many years, but this was the first project that I ever remember Johnny saying that he’d wanted to play this ever since he was a little boy.
JOHNNY DEPP: Just a wee tike.
BURTON: He knew Barnabas Collins before he knew his own father.
DEPP: Pretty much.
BURTON: It was one of those things where the show had a lot of impact for some of us. Johnny, Michelle [Pfeiffer] and I were there at the time it came out, and we just recall it being a very strong, interesting property. This was something that Johnny had had for a long time.
Johnny, as a producer, what did you want to make sure you got across with this film?
DEPP: It’s impossible to consider myself a producer. I can barely produce an English muffin, in the morning. That’s the producer [in me]. But, just as a fan of the show, our initial conversation about the thing was during Sweeney Todd, where I just blurted out, in mid-conversation, “God, we should do a vampire movie together, where you have a vampire that looks like a vampire.” Dark Shadows was looming on the periphery, and then Tim and I started talking about it. When we got together, Tim and I started figuring out how it should be shaped. And then, (screenwriter) Seth [Grahame-Smith] came on board and the three of us just riffed. One thing led to another, and it basically dictated to us what it wanted to be, in a sense, certainly with Tim at the forefront, leading the troops.
What were the key elements from the original series that you wanted to carry over to this film?
BURTON: It’s a tricky tone and we all recognize that. When we talked about Dark Shadows, part of its appeal was the weird nature of all the elements that went into it. It was very serious, but it was on in the afternoon, on a daily basis. There were certain reasons why we loved the show, but you couldn’t necessarily adopt to a film. It was the weirdest challenge to get the acting tone and the soap opera nature of the tone. That’s a weird thing to go for in a Hollywood movie. It’s not like you can go to a studio and go, “We want to do weird soap opera acting.” They go, “Oh, great! Whatever that means.” That’s why I was so grateful to all of the cast. Even the ones that didn’t know the show, got into the spirit of it. What made it Dark Shadows was trying to capture the spirit of what the show was.
DEPP: There is some kind of thread throughout all these characters. The idea of this very elegant, upper-echelon, well-schooled gentleman, who was cursed in the 18th Century and is brought back to the most surreal era of our time – the 1970s, with 1972 – and how he would react to things and how radically different things were, not just with regard to technology and automobiles, but actual items of enjoyment for people, like pet rocks, fake flowers, plastic fruit, troll dolls, lava lamps and macrame owls. Those were my favorite.
What do you think people find so tempting about vampires?
DEPP: It’s a strange thing because, as a child, I certainly had a fascination with monsters and vampires, as did Tim. There’s this darkness, this mystery, this intrigue. And then, as you get older, you recognize the erotic nature of the vampire and the idea of the undead. What was most interesting, in terms of Barnabas, was the combination. It was a real challenge, probably more for Tim than me, to make that vampire, who is clearly a vampire, fit back into this odd society and this dysfunctional family, and I think he did it rather seamlessly.
BURTON: It was weird because it reminded me how much I loved working with Michelle. It was a long time ago, but it just flooded back. I never really watch the movies again, but how impressed I remember being with Michelle just flooded back. She learned how to use a whip and jump around on roofs in high-heeled shoes, let live birds fly out of her mouth, and let cats eat her. It was very impressive stuff. So, it was a real joy to get a call from Michelle [before there was even a script] and find out that she was a closet Dark Shadows fan. I knew she was weird, but that confirmed the whole situation. It was great. Michelle and Johnny and I, we were the only ones of the cast that new Dark Shadows. You can’t really show Dark Shadows to anybody else that doesn’t know it ‘cause they’d probably run screaming out of the room. It was nice that Michelle, playing the head of the family, was a fan. It just made me realize how much I enjoyed working with her. But, she did have trouble walking down the stairs in this movie. Some people’s powers diminish, at some point.
Johnny, what was it like, the first time you had to bite someone in the film?
DEPP: Well, going back to the erotic nature of vampires, I felt as though I was biting one of the Village People.
BURTON: And then, he went on to the biker and the cowboy.
DEPP: And the cop. No. When I had the fangs in, I wanted to be a little bit careful that I didn’t actually pierce the jugular. It was kind of like my experience shaving Alan Rickman (in Sweeney Todd), which, by the way, neither of us want to do again, especially Alan.
Johnny, actor Chris Sarandon said that he felt sorry for you for having to wear the vampire nails because he had such a hard time with it when he did Fright Night. How was it for you to have to wear them?
DEPP: There are many more reasons to feel sorry for me. We can go through them now, or we can just cuddle after. We can have a big group cuddle, and all get greasy and weird. In every film that I’ve been lucky enough to do with Tim, there’s always some form of torture. The nails were Tim’s idea. They were the length of the fingers. But, it was okay because I had a troupe of people who would help me go to the bathroom. They had to have treatment afterwards, but they’re okay now. That is true.
DEPP: Approaching Barnabas, even in the early days of trying to explore the possibilities of the character, no matter where you went in your head, if you tried to veer away from the original Jonathan Frid character, it was apparent to both Tim and myself that it had to be rooted in Jonathan Frid’s character of Barnabas. It just had to be. It was so classic, in the classic monster, Fangoria magazine way. In terms of that, when Jonathan was playing Barnabas, there was a rigidity to him, like he had a pole of the back and this elegance that was always there. Tim and I talked early on that a vampire should look like a vampire. It was a rebellion against vampires that look like underwear models. There was a bit of Nosferatu in there, too.
What was it like to use a cane for this character?
How was it to have the original cast on the set?
DEPP: Well, it was great! It was great of Tim to bring them into the fold. It was our way of saluting them, and Jonathan was terrific. He had written me a letter, a couple of years before, and signed a photograph to me, passing the baton to Barnabas, which I thought was very sweet. He had his original Barnabas cane with him and I wasn’t sure, when he actually saw me, if he was going to attack me with it, but he didn’t.
BURTON: It’s like having the Pope come visit. For us, part of the reason we were there was because those people inspired us, so it was nice to see them back in their early ‘70s clothing.
Tim, with such a big cast, what deleted scenes might be on the DVD?
BURTON: There’s stuff that we cut out. Each actor will have all of their best scenes that I’ve cut out of the film in there. No. I think there will be some stuff on it because, with the nature of it being a soap opera, we cut out stuff, but all the actors were great, so I think I’m going to look at having scenes that aren’t in the film. Because the actors did such a great job and because of the soap opera nature of it, we’ll probably have some stuff on there.
Johnny, after working on Dark Shadows, was the influence of Dan Curtis what led you to want to do The Night Stalker?
DEPP: From Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker appeared, and it was a show that I really loved. Again, there’s this weird tone to it. This reporter becomes a detective in these really odd situations. Yeah, Dan Curtis was a great, great influence.
Since this is not material that current movie audiences are familiar with, did you worry about whether the interest would be there?
BURTON: Going into this movie, you don’t go into it going, “Oh, Dark Shadows, what an easy peasy idea.” It’s not like you go into it thinking that. It’s actually a much more strange challenge.
BURTON: There are Dark Shadows fans, and then there’s everybody else. You can’t really make it with projecting what you think it’s going to be. First of all, we made a movie that we wanted to see, and then you just hope for the best.
The ending of this lends itself to a possible sequel. Did you always think that this could be a possible start to a franchise?
BURTON: No. Because of the nature of it being like a soap opera, that was the structure. It wasn’t a conscious decision. First of all, it’s a bit presumptuous to think that. If something works out, that’s one thing, but you can’t ever predict that. That had more to do with the soap opera structure of it.
Johnny, people have said that you’re in this Marlon Brando phase of your career, making these very eccentric characters come to life. Having directed and worked with Marlon Brando, do you see that as a valid comparison?
DEPP: I couldn’t imagine my name and Marlon’s in the same sentence, in terms of the work. He was a great friend of mine, and certainly a great inspiration and a great mentor. I don’t know.
If you had to stay one of your characters for the rest of your life, who would it be?
DEPP: Probably the Earl of Rochester (from The Libertine).
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