NASSAU, BAHAMAS—It’s pushing 100 tropical degrees outside, and the tourists packing the lobby of the aggressively nautical Atlantis Resort are sweating through their flowered clothing. In a windowless ballroom downstairs, director Tim Burton, cinema’s reigning prince of darkness, looks like he’d be more comfortable buried alive.
His untamable black hair forming a corona around his puffy, pasty face, Burton wears his usual black shirt and black pants, eyes obscured behind thick black-rimmed glasses as he talks about corpses, brides and his favorite actor, Johnny Depp.
He stands in sharp contrast to the pink fruit-flavored tackiness all around, and it seems all too fitting that Burton shares with Depp a healthy sense of the absurd in this completely outlandish setting. Star and director are meeting with the press to talk about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and their upcoming fifth collaboration, the stop-motion-animated Corpse Bride film. (Why the Bahamas? Because Depp is shooting the two sequels for his Pirates of the Caribbean movie there as well.)
“Johnny and I have this sort of process where we sort of speak in the abstract to each other, and yet can still understand each other,” Burton says. He adds: “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 a leading man. He wants to transform. He likes to be different characters in different movies, so you know, he’s an actor that you would think about . . . perhaps even for female roles . . . He could do it all. He’s very versatile that way.”
In contrast to his director, Depp appears completely relaxed, with a deep tan, white linen shirt and Captain Jack Sparrow gold teeth and tattoos. But he mirrors Burton’s deep affection.
“I know that I respect him so much and love him so much as a filmmaker,” Depp says. “I would do anything he wanted . . . The thing I most enjoy about our relationship, aside from our friendship, is the amount of trust, you know? And the amount of trust that goes into . . . that collaborative process. Because one minute were talking very, very deeply about Captain Kangaroo, and the next minute we’re doing impersonations of, you know, Sammy Davis Jr. and Charles Nelson Reilly . . . It can go anywhere.”
Depp adds: “One of the things I think Tim and I share is a kind of fascination with people, with human beings . . . the human animal. And I think we share also the idea . . . that most people in life . . . especially the ones that are considered . . . super normal—if you really take a step back and observe them, watch them a bit, you’ll realize that they’re actually completely out of their minds . . . Most people are really nuts. And that’s fascinating to watch, you know? And I think Tim feels the same way. [chuckles]
Depp and Burton previously worked together on Edward Scissorhands (Depp’s breakout role), Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood and this year’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, each characterized by its own brand of weirdness. The same will undoubtedly be said about Corpse Bride, which is noteworthy for a couple of other reasons: It’s Burton and Depp’s first stop-motion-animated film together, and they both shuttled back and forth between Charlie, which was shooting in London last winter, and Corpse Bride, which was shooting nearby at the same time.
Based on a Ukrainian folk tale, Corpse Bride centers on Depp’s Victor Van Dort, who is about to be married. While traveling through the woods to meet his fiancée, Victor puts the engagement ring on a stick in the ground and says his wedding vows as a joke. But to his horror, the stick turns out to be the bony finger of the Corpse Bride, who rises from the dead and tells Victor that they are now husband and wife. The film may recall Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas in its sensibility, but it has its own fantastical look and storyline, about the colorful Land of the Dead and its revivifying effect on the drab Land of the Living.
“Oh, Victor, yeah,” Depp says. “He’s a lot of fun. He’s a very sensitive young man, Victor. Very sensitive. And a little bit clumsy.”
“In some ways it’s maybe a strange kind of almost romantic comedy in a certain way,” Burton says. “It’s a triangle between a groom and two brides and the complications that arise from that—especially since one of them is dead and one is alive.”
Burton, who got his start as an animator for Disney, says he had been developing Corpse Bride for most of the last 10 years and was happy to return to stop-motion animation. “You know as well as I do that [computer animation] has taken over, which has it’s place,” he says. “But there are those of us that love the stop-motion medium . . . It’s not about, necessarily, the medium, but with stop-motion there is that sort of handmade [feel]. There’s just something subconscious and visceral about people moving in inanimate objects. It’s like bringing life to an inanimate object. There’s something really special about that.”
So accomplished are the film’s artisans that they received the ultimate accolade: a nod of approval from Ray Harryhausen, the pioneering innovator of stop-motion animation, who paid a visit to the production. “It was like getting a visit from God,” producer Allison Abbate says.
Burton and Depp went back and forth between Charlie, Burton’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s classic, and Corpse Bride while both were shooting in London earlier this year. “We were just about to start [Charlie], and Tim came to me and said, ‘You know, I’ve got this other thing that I’m thinking about doing,’” Depp recalls. “This stop-motion thing. And, you know, I’d like to give you the script, and take a look and tell me what you think. [I said,] ‘Sure.’ So I read the script [and] felt, ‘God, it was amazing. It’s amazing. It’s brilliant.’ But I had no idea he was going to be doing them simultaneously. I mean, he was literally leaving the set of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and going into the Corpse Bride recordings and animation [sessions] . . . It was an incredible energy he has.
“For me, it was like, you know, going from [assumes Willy Wonka Voice] playing Willy Wonka, and then, suddenly, [taking on Victor’s wispy English accent] you know, going in and deciding to be Victor. It was a really strange thing,” Depp adds. “Because I would literally leave the stage playing Wonka and then . . . have to find this other character on the walk to the studio.”
The two films also shared cast: Besides Depp, both Helena Bonham Carter and Lord of the Rings star Christopher Lee have roles in the two movies. (Similarly, Danny Elfman, Burton’s longtime music collaborator and former Oingo Boingo frontman, wrote original songs for both films and voices the villainous singing skeleton, Bone-jangles, in Corpse Bride.) But that wasn’t a problem either, Burton says.
“Films . . . do take on a life of their own,” Burton says. “If I had my way I wouldn’t have them so close. It happened similarly on Nightmare. I was working on that and at the same time doing Ed Wood, although I didn’t quite use the same actors on those films. But on Charlie . . . because you can only work with kids a certain amount of the day, I would just go over with Johnny or Helena or Christopher, whomever, and do a little session [for Corpse Bride]. I think it is a little risky to do something so close with the same group, especially if for some reason or another people end up hating the first one. I’m a little nervous about that.”
Corpse Bride hits theaters in North America on Sept. 23. “It was kind of a chaotic situation, but I’m excited about [it],” Burton says.
Johnny Depp, who reprises the character of Captain Jack Sparrow in the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, told SCI FI Wire that he and director Gore Verbinski are still trying to schedule Keith Richards, who will play Sparrow’s father, but that it looks promising. “It looks like it’s going to happen,” Depp told reporters at the news conference in Nassau, Bahamas, where the films were shooting. “But I don’t know when. It’s going to depend on where we are and where he is, because he’s got a little thing called the Rolling Stones tour to do.”
Depp also confirmed that the first sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest took an early hiatus because a key cast member fell ill.
“We’ve been shooting Pirates 2 for, well, it’s been a few months . . . now,” Depp said on June 26. “And we had a hiatus that was planned; actually, probably it was supposed to start . . . tomorrow or the next day. And we went into the hiatus a bit early, because there were bits that we were going to shoot up in Grand Bahama [for which] sets and stuff weren’t ready. But more than that, one of . . . our actors, one of our main guys, Kevin McNally, who plays Gibbs, ended up with a really nasty ear infection in both ears, and he was in England and . . . was unable to get on a plane. So they just weighed out all the options and said, ‘We’ll just break now. Go on hiatus. And when we start up again, we’ll finish up the bit from 2.’”
Verbinski will shoot the first and second sequels back to back.
Dead Man’s Chest reunites the cast from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, including Depp, Orlando Bloom (Will Turner) and Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann), and adds Billy Nighy as the ghostly Davy Jones.
Depp met with reporters to promote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it was clear he had transitioned into full pirate mode:
He sported a scraggly beard, gold-capped teeth and a tattoo with the name “Jack” and the image of a sparrow against a sunrise on his right forearm. But Depp said it was a pleasure returning to the franchise.
“It’s weird,” he said. “We didn’t quite know what to expect before we went back into . . . Pirates 2. A lot of things happened . . . Orlando’s, you know, [in] these big movies. And Keira, you know, all this stuff. And everybody’s all over the map. And so we didn’t quite know what to expect. And Gore, obviously, Gore’s been working like a demon. But honestly, we stepped on the set the first day, and it was like, for me, jumping back into the skin of Captain Jack . . . It felt like we’d had a week off, you know, from the first one. And it’s been a really great time, you know? Everybody’s been super good and fun, and I think it’s going to be good. I hope. I’ll knock on wood again.”
In other Pirates of the Caribbean news, Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have enlisted Chow Yun-Fat for Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Variety reported. Chow will play Capt. Sao Feng, a notorious pirate who plays a major role in the second sequel to 2003’s Disney blockbuster. It is the Hong Kong native’s first English-language role since 2003’s Bulletproof Monk.