INT: Tim Burton
For as dark and brooding as some of his films might be, you might get the impression that Tim Burton is, well, a dark and brooding guy. Besides the dark part - even in the Bahamas he was decked out in all black - he's actually quite the opposite. He's a talkative guy who takes to calling people by name and sticking around afterwards to meet people and sign interviews at the Atlantis resort. Here's what he had to say about CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, fans who have warmed his heart and why you're likely to see a Tim Burton porno now than ever before. Seriously.
Yeah, I've got some problems. You might've seen me enough to realize that by now though.
Was it true they had locked you up in your room? Why would they do that?
My parents are dead, so the answers about that will remain unanswered. I guess they didn't want me to escape. With these kinds of things in your life you try and work out your issues in the movie movies, but then you realize that those kinds of traumatic issues just stay with you forever. So they somehow keep reoccurring. No matter how hard I try to get them out of my head they sort of stay there.
Would you have been as attracted to the film if it didn’t’ have some of those themes?
It's fine in the book but we just felt that if you have an eccentric character you kind of want to get a flavor of why he is the way he is. Otherwise he's just a weirdo. If your father was a dentist and Christopher Lee you can see where that might cause you some traumatic experiences in your life.
Is Willy Wonka just nuts?
No, I think that he comes across as emotionally repressed and stunted. When people get traumatized they just sort of shut down. I've met people who are kind of geniuses in one area but are completely deficient in all other areas of their life. So it's sort of the mixture of those things.
Was there ever any question in your mind that Johnny Depp was going to play Wonka?
No, but it was the first time that I didn't have to talk anyone into it. Before I could even open my mouth the studio goes, “What about Johnny Depp?” I said, “Well, okay. If you're going to force him on me.”
What makes Johnny Depp the ideal actor for your films?
He's a character actor in a leading man's body. He's ready to do anything. He's probably more like Lon Chaney than he is a leading man. He wants to transform and be different characters. He's an actor that you think about perhaps even for female roles. He can do it all.
How did you and Johnny collaborate to come up with this version of Wonka?
Johnny and I have this process where we speak in the abstract to each other and yet we can still somehow understand one another. But we never used one reference. I do remember that we had conversations and one of the things that we did talk about is that in our childhood, in every city child there is some weird children's show host that has a weird name. Usually they have a kind of funny haircut and then as you got older and thought back on them you go, “That guy was fucking weird, man. What was that guy all about?” Like Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Greenjean. So we were kind of using that kind of reference point. I think that the great thing about [Roald] Dahl's writing is that he left that character kind of ambiguous. We did give him a little bit of backstory that's not in the book, but that weird, kind of mysterious nature of the character still felt important.
Even though it’s a children’s book and movie, it still has a very “adult” feel.
That's what I like about the book and Dahl's writing and why I wanted to do it. He was like an adult writer for children. He didn't speak down to them and it's kind of a book that you could read at any age and get something out of. He was very clever about being specific and subversive and off kilter and kind of leaving you guessing a little bit. We did try and keep that feeling in.
Were you concerned that some parts of the film, particularly with Veruca and the squirrels, might be too much for kids?
No. That's the thing, I go back and look at the book and I look at the original movie and we're probably even lighter in a certain way. When you read the book it almost seems more traumatic and horrible and yet this is a children's classic. I think that adults forget sometimes what it's like to be a kid. Dahl explored those kind of edgier aspects of childhood.
Did you enjoy Gene Wilder’s portrayal of Wonka in the original film?
I think he was great. None of us on this production were ever trying to top that. Our goal was to try and be a bit more true to the spirit of the book. Instead of having a golden goose and an egg we have the squirrels and the nut room.
How did you decide on using Deep Roy to portray all the Oompa-Loompas?
To me there were three options. You either hire a cast of Oompa-Loompas or the more modern approach would be to make them all CG. But I've worked with Deep Roy before and to me he's just an Oompa-Loompa. There was no question in my mind and to have it all not be CG was important. In a technical manner it was more cost effective than doing all special FX shots because we could actually use him in certain shots with certain lenses and camera angles so that he could interact with Johnny and the kids on occasion so that he didn’t always have to be added in later.
How did you go about casting the kids for the movie?
Casting kids is harder than casting adults. I hadn't seen FINDING NEVERLAND, but when Freddie Highmore walked into the room I just knew that he was right. It was like that with all of the kids. These kids all had what I'd call a cinematic quality. Even though they're all good kids, there had to be a seed of what they are. I tried to find the seed of what they were especially the ones that hadn't acted before. It was important that they had something of their character in them as people.
How did you come up with the look for the sets inside the factory?
It's all organic. The blueprint of the book was there, but the great thing about Dahl’s writing is that he leaves a lot open for interpretation. We had sort of complete freedom to devise what each of the rooms and the Bucket house looked like. It didn't feel like we were constrained by anything. It had quite an experimental feel as we were making it and that was fun. I enjoyed finding the right consistency for the chocolate so that it didn't look like brown water. But if you'd been in the chocolate room like in the last week we were shooting in there it started to smell so bad. Literally you’d open up the stage doors and people were complaining.
Can you talk a little bit about CORPSE BRIDE?
We're still finishing that. It was good because we could only work with the kids on CHARLIE so much during the day so sometimes we'd work a day and then we'd go over to the sound booth and do some voice work on CORPSE BRIDE. It was kind of a chaotic situation but I'm excited about that one.
Can you explain the difference between your work on CORPSE, which seems more detailed, with your work on THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS?
This is hard to explain but I'll try. With NIGHTMARE it was so completely my developed thing so I felt so comfortable about what it was and it was so clearly delineated in my mind that I just felt comfortable and I knew Henry [Selick] could pull it off. With CORPSE BRIDE there was a seed of an idea and so it took more development therefore I had to be involved at a slightly different level so to speak. That's why I got a little more in depth into this one.
Now being a father yourself, do you have more interest in doing films for kids?
No, I don't think that it has anything to do with that. It's not like all of a sudden I'm going to be making the “Teletubbies” movie or “The Wiggles” feature film any time soon. I don't think it has altered my thinking. In fact I'm more inclined to think about making porno movies or something than I am children's films.
Are you interested in seeing BATMAN BEGINS?
I have interest but literally on my way to the Bahamas I was in the screening room finishing up this one. So after you spend 15 hours a day working on your film you're not going, “Okay, lets go see a movie!” (laughs).
Do you encounter a lot of your fans?
I live up in North London near Camden and it's like we're back in the late 70's and it's beautiful. I was out in the English countryside a few weeks ago and I just ran into a girl with a NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS purse and it was just so beautiful and touching. That's the amazing thing. I encounter people every now and then that make me realize who I make movies for.
Did you save any of the props from this film?
I don't try and save too much. I did keep the Oompa-Loompa psychiatrist chair, which is very appropriate (laughs). And very comfortable actually.
Dahl wrote a sequel called “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.” Would you be interested in adapting that to film?
No and you can count on it.
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