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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Tim Burton interview



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. I was lucky enough to visit Pinewood where there were some amazing sets, so I just wondered, for all four of you, what that meant having those real sets to work with as opposed to more CGI?
A.
Well, it’s like this. It’s really nice to have real fake grass! We were very lucky to be able to build sets. I mean that was one of the things that was important to me just because it’s a movie about texture, that’s what I remember from the original book - the feeling and the descriptions and the textures. So it was important for us to kind of have them be real and not be stuck in a blue room for six months so we could experience the sets and all of that.

Q. At what point did you decide to have just one person playing all the Oompa Loompas as that was a decision that was very noticeable in the film?
A:
Well it seemed like there were three ways to go with it. One was hire a cast of Oompa Loompas, or the more modern approach would be to do them all CG. But I just felt the human element was still important to it, you know? Deep (Deep Roy) looks like an Oompa Loompa to me. [Laughter].
It also just seemed to fit with the Roald Dahl kind of universe, there was something kind of weird about it that seemed appropriate to me.

Q. Do you and Johnny have the perfect working relationship?
A:
It’s not something we discuss over coffee, we don’t discuss our perfect working relationship [laughter]. We have a good time and try to take it seriously enough because we are spending other people’s money. It’s always a pleasure because he loves dressing up in funny clothing and costumes, it’s great.

Q: Did you think you had enough free rein even within the Hollywood constructs do to exactly what you wanted with this film or was there a darker place where you wanted to go?
A:
The studio was really good. Luckily we had the book, we never felt that we wanted to stray and make it darker than the book or lighter than the book. Our goal was to make it tonally as close to the book as we could. We had that source material and that was the common ground I think that made it.

Q: In your last few movies, I could not find that darkness that was present in your work before that. What has changed in your life?
A:
Watching the Tellytubbies and The Wiggles! [Laughter] I just have a much cheerier outlook on life. I’m just a happy person.

Q. I thought your re-imagining of the film was much closer in spirit to the book than the 1971 version. I thought the way the children were dispatched one by one was very satisfyingly done. What extra elements did you put into that?
A:
We tried to keep close to the book. The only thing we added that wasn’t in the book was the Wonka back story. But everything else was trying to be to the spirit of the book ‘cos the reason we all wanted to do the film was because of the book, rather than the other film. He was such an amazing writer, you know. We wanted to try to capture his humour and light and dark and emotion that he puts into one package, so we tried to go for the book.

Q: I like the humour of Mike Teavee possibly going into 2001: A Space Odyssey...
A:
We would have sent him there sooner if we could! No, they’re all really good kids.

Q: Did you use the old film as a reference point at all?
A
: No, no. I know for a lot of people it’s a classic film but it never had that impact on me. The writer said “Should I look at that?” and I said “No, just read the book”. So no, we didn’t.

Q: You shot as many scenes as possible on set but did the CGI animation make it possible that you really could really fulfil your vision?
A:
We tried to use it minimally. It was important to have sets that we built - the town, the factory, the rooms. Everything. Obviously, you use some CG. But the mandate was always to keep it as minimal as possible.

Q: Tim and Johnny, you both have small children. Do you let them play computers as much as they like? Freddie how were you raised? Is there anything your parents pointed out?
Burton:
Mine’s too young, he’s not quite there yet. I don’t know yet. I’m banning The Wiggles! [Laughter]
Depp: I’m disappointed that my kids are now growing out of The Teletubbies and The Wiggles and I want to continue watching them! [Laughter] So I just will.
Burton: I’ll send you all the copies.

Q: I know Tim and Johnny you’ve collaborated on five films together if you count Corpse Bride and Freddie and Johnny, you’ve worked together. What do you find are the advantages or disadvantages, if there are any, of working with the same people over and over?
Burton:
Well for me every time I’ve worked with Johnny it just gets better and better because you see him change and do different things. There’s something that when you work with the same people you get that feeling, and I love it because it’s like a weird family when you’re making a movie, so it’s nice to be around people you like.
Depp: There’s kind of a built in language from having had other experiences together before, having explored other stories and characters before. So, it’s great for me. Working with Tim is like arriving home. It’s a very comfortable place for me.

Q: Why did you choose to show more of a story, with the flashbacks, of Willy Wonka? Do you think it took more of the mystery away?
A:
Obviously, that’s not in the book, but we, or at least me, sort of thought that when you see an eccentric character if you don’t get a flavour of why he’s eccentric, then he’s just a weird guy.
We wanted to show a little bit of that to get a flavour of that without destroying the mystique of the character. The great thing about the Wonka character is that you’re never quite sure about him. That was an important quality to maintain. You get a little bit of the flavour of his background without destroying the, you know, ‘What’s up with this guy? Is he good? Is he bad?’ You know, the mystery of the character.

Q: If you had chosen to ignore the back story, do you thing you would have focused more on other characters, such as the children?
Burton:
No. The book doesn’t explain his eccentricity. I think that if you would’ve just let Johnny act that way without any explanation as to why the guy is so sort of cut off at a certain level, then you would never get that. So we tried to keep it in the spirit of Dahl’s work even though it wasn’t in the book.
Depp: As an actor, it’s the kind of thing that you try to put in your homework, you know, that kind of back story, even if it isn’t on the page or in the film. This was a sort of great luxury into the history, the back story of Wonka. It was really helpful, not just for me as the actor, but also for the audience. It was a really brave move.

Q: Do you have some kind of plan to adapt your Oyster Boy comics and bring it to the screen?
A:
Oh, it’s just crying out for the big screen. [Laughter] Big action movie… Oyster Boy. Yeah, what do you think? He’s a real pearl. No plans at the moment.

Q: How important was it that the Dahl family cooperated with the production? Widow (Felicity) Dahl was consulted all the way through wasn’t she?
A:
I was more nervous showing them the movie than the studio just because it’s their baby, so to speak. I was really nervous, but they were great all the way through. She’s really a great person.

Q: Tim did you train forty squirrels to crack the nuts and throw them down the chute?
A:
I did not personally train 40 squirrels, there is a guy in an asylum that we gotta go get out after he’s recovered. Do you remember the look on his face?
David Kelly: He’s in the Home for the Bewildered.
Burton: He’ll be let out of the hospital in about six months.

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