A/V Room









Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Johnny Depp interview

Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. For the actors, having real sets must make a huge difference, I would have thought?
Oh yeah. I mean to have all that stuff around you to react to and especially for the kids I imagine, you know?

Q. You always seem to play eccentric characters in film like Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and now Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. How much of you is there in these films?
We’ve got lots of problems. (Laughter). So we like to work them out in films.
Depp: It is kind of therapeutic to go in and make an ass of yourself and be paid for it. There’s something to be said for that. As an actor, with any character you play, you have to bring as much of your own truth to the character as possible and then you make an ass of yourself.

Q: How do you go about finding the character of Willy Wonka? Obviously, you don’t want to go down the route that was done in the 1971 film, so where do you get the character from?
We’re all very lucky to have the book. That source material is an amazing help in building the character of Wonka, using Roald Dahl’s work. In early conversations with Tim we talked about various things, like memories when we were growing up of children’s show hosts and that kind of strange cadence with which they spoke to children.
You know that kind of [puts on voice] 'Hello kiddies. Today...' So we talked about that kind of thing. And like game show hosts, the mask that they put on, the sort of perpetual grimace, that kind of thing. And then we just went from there.

Q: I’ve heard that you don’t like taking your characters home with you but weren’t you just a little tempted to take some of that jive talk home with you and if you did, what did you say?
I am a big fan of jive talk. No, I think with all the characters, it might be a good thing, it might be a bad thing, you know they’re still in there. All these guys are still not too far from the surface.
It’s just like opening and closing a drawer. Wonka was a fun one to play ‘cos once I found him, I kind of never knew what he was gonna say, stuff would just kind of happen and the jive talk somehow seemed very fitting.

Q: What does your daughter think about your work? Do you show some of your movies to your daughter?
Some of them, yeah, some of them. (Laughter). Others I’m not sure my kids are ready for it, and not sure I’m ready for it either.
They saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which made me real nervous. I was really scared that they were gonna come home and just go, 'Nah, Dad, better luck next time'. But they came home quoting it, which was real fun.

Q: I wonder if you could characterise what it is about Freddie Highmore that makes him such a fine young actor and was there anything that he did perhaps on this film that even surprised you?
For me, having had the luxury of working with him before on Finding Neverland, I would characterise Freddie as completely pure and honest and just the sweetest most normal guy in the world.
Really, really wise beyond his years. Working with Freddie I think all of us noticed he ups the stakes because when he gets in there he delivers 100%.
Burton: And he hasn’t done any jail time yet! [Laughter] For a child actor, he’s doing very well so far.

Q: In the movie, the dream of the children all around the world was to win a golden ticket to visit the factory. Do you think children in the world share a common dream nowadays? What was your dream when you were a child and lastly what do you dream for your son and for your daughter?
As any parent, my wish for my kids is a perfect life, perfect happiness, perfect health, perfect everything. That’s kind of a given. Kids around the world… boy, I don’t know what they dream of.
In this day in age they’re probably dreaming of peace and some kind of clarity and rationale.
When I was a little kid I wanted to be everything from Evil Knievel to the first white Harlem Globetrotter. And I’m still trying. Then I wanted to play guitar and now I’m here. (Laughter)

Q: Are fans in the street in France more reserved about approaching you than say fans in America?
I fnd people pretty much everywhere just very, for the most part, respectful and just kind of curious. Maybe they’ve seen you in a couple of things and they generally just want to say ‘Hi’. For the most part, people are very, very nice everywhere. It’s just a different language.

Q: I read somewhere that when you were a kid you changed homes about 20 times before you were 15. This movie is very much about instability and some rejection. How much did this inform your performance? Secondly, how much did it, back then, inform your choice of going into the business?
Because we led such a nomadic existence when I was a kid, by the time I was 15, 16, 17, we lived in probably 30, 35 houses. I mean crazy, you know?
So that has had a great effect on who I am today. Me and my kids and my girl, we don’t stay in one place too long, gotta keep on sort of moving. I didn’t really think about it so much for this film, for the character of Wonka.

Q: What do you think of press reports that you affect a Michael Jackson-like character for Willy Wonka and do you think in light of the Jackson trial that this could actually hurt the film?
I’ve finally made it [laughter]. Honestly, when we were doing the film it never dawned on me that there would be any kind of comparison, it never entered my mind.
Burton [looking amazed]: Didn’t you enjoy his Sky trial recreations?! I thought he did an excellent job! [Laughter]
Depp: I don’t really know what to say any more about Michael Jackson other than he’s really a fine dancer.
Burton: It’s false as we based it on Latoya! [Laughter]

Q: There are lots of sweets in this film. Do you eat sweets and what are your favourites? Do you limit the amount of sweets that your kids can have? Are you strict like Willy Wonka’s father?
My God, nobody could be as strict as Christopher Lee. You have to police the intake of sweets with kiddies otherwise they’ll be doing wind sprints at 3am. I myself have never been a big sweets fan. Tim?
Burton: No. They asked you, not me!
Depp: I just wanted to check.
Burton: I like hot dogs.
Depp: I like devilled eggs.

Q: Could you elaborate a bit more how you prepared for this role, you’ve already mentioned the children’s TV host but what else did you specifically do to get in to your role?
When I’m reading a script I start getting images, or ideas start coming in to my head, so I write everything down.
Like the hair-do, somehow I saw that early on but it took a long time before I could see or hear Wonka. That’s pretty much it. You just build it layer upon layer and finding him. Even when we started shooting I think it took me probably about ten days to really feel like I clicked with the guy. The teeth, the teeth were big. That was very helpful.

Q: Do you think being a father yourself has helped you add texture or depth to this role as it’s a children’s story?
I think being a father helps to add depth and texture and all kinds of wonderful things. Early on, when I was working on Wonka, the character, trying to figure out what he was going to be, what he was going to look like, sound like and after having tons of conversations with Tim, I would test the voice out on my daughter, Lily-Rose.
It seemed to work on her so I kind of ran with it. They affect every aspect of your personal life, your working life, everything.

Q: Getting the Golden Ticket is every boy’s dream in this film. I wonder what event you would buy a thousand chocolate bars to get a dream ticket for?
To bear witness to Britney Spear’s child’s birth! [Laugher]

Q: You’ve told us before about your very interesting way of building your characters out of people you see or celebrities. Out of what did you build this character?
There wasn’t any specific person or inspiration, more the memories of those talk show hosts. In the States we had this guy called Captain Kangaroo. Even then it was strange, but if you go back now and watch it, it’s really out there.
He had his pal, Mr Green Jeans and Bunny Rabbit. It was memories of watching these guys as a child - game show hosts like Wink Martindale - those game show guys who were always smiling. No-one specific though.

Q: What are you currently working on and what’s planned for the future?
At the moment we’re on hiatus on shooting Pirates two and three. It’s going well so far, I haven’t been fired which is good. I did a film last year called The Libertine which is coming out December I think? That’s pretty much it at the moment.

Q: Isn’t it time to change roles? What about you as the director and Tim Burton as the actor?
Burton: You don’t want to see me act. Believe me.
Depp: That would be great.
Burton: That’s a scary thought.
Depp: You know. Thinking if the tables were turned and I could do some of the things that Tim has done to me over the years. [Laughter]
Burton: The revenge story.
Depp: Squirting blood all over my face off camera on Sleepy Hollow, giggling like an infant.
Burton: That was fun.
Depp: That was fun. [Laughter]. Sometimes we get together and do that on the weekends.
Burton: You also like being dragged by a horse.
Depp: Yeah, there were two horses and I was being dragged on this thing. [Motions with his hands]
Burton: They had really bad flatulence.
Depp: They’d had a curry for lunch. [Laughter] I was the recipient. I tried directing once. It was a big learning experience, but I definitely wouldn’t do it again if I had to be in it. I wouldn’t cast me.

Q: You choose to play a lot of characters who are the eternal child. Are you not afraid of getting stuck playing the same role? Do you not want to try to change or move on to different types of characters?
With each character, as an actor, I think you owe it more to the audience, not to yourself or the filmmaker, to try something different each time. I think it’s important to try to keep playing different types of guys and to keep exploring, because you are constantly learning. If you keep playing the same characters it’s like you know Thursday, Friday, Saturday, meatloaf. It’s the same old thing over again. So I just try to do different things each time. Frankly, it’s a miracle that I still get jobs.

Q: Can you see yourself playing the conventional romantic comedy lead because all of your characters seem to have something weird or surreal about them?
I thought Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was conventional. [Laughter]. I thought Ed Wood was a conventional romantic comedy. [Laughter] Tim and I came here to announce that we’re going to do Friends the movie.

Q: Suppose you were as poor as Charlie and his family, would you still be happy?
It could certainly happen again. When I was growing up we weren’t particularly overflowing with money – in my childhood and stuff. I never expected to last this long in this racket to be honest with you. I always expected to go back to playing guitar or pumping gas or whatever.
And it still could happen. As long as you have the ability to breathe, the gift of breath and life, your kids and your girl, sure, just keep moving forward.

Q. You played an Irish gipsy in Chocolat – was it difficult for you to get the accent? I read that you have Irish roots..
I did play an Irish guy in Chocolat. I do have a little bit of Irish blood in me, or so I’m told. Years ago Marlon Brando had asked me to come to Ireland with him to do this film that he was doing called Divine Rapture.
He told me I was going to be playing a journalist from New York so I said, 'Maybe I should read the script' and he said 'No, don’t worry about it. Just show up on this date'.
So I showed up on the Friday to shoot Monday morning and on the Saturday I met the director for the first time and he said: “How’s the accent coming?”
I said “What accent?” and he said “Well, your Dublin accent because you’re a journalist from Dublin.”
So I had little over twenty four hours to learn a Dublin accent. That was one of Marlon’s great practical jokes. He laughed for a long time on that. [Laughter]
Before I had done Chocolat I had learnt the accent for Divine Rapture and we shot for about two weeks and it evaporated.

Related stories: Charlie & The Chocolate Factory review

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory special feature

Tim Burton: Read the full interview

Freddie Highmore interview

David Kelly interview

Charlie savours sweet success at US box office


# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z