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The Continuing Adventures of Tim & Johnny

By Cal Fussman
Photographs by Marc Hom
Esquire Magazine
January 2008

Burton and Depp are known as two of the strangest, quietest geniuses ever to work in movies. Turns out they’re not that strange. Or quiet.

What I've Learned: Johnny Depp
Actor, 44, Los Angeles
Interviewed on October 25, 2007

One time a guy told me that he brought his wife to see Pirates of the Caribbean. She had lost her motor skills. I forget what you call it. It’s not autism. Jesus, they made a movie about it. You know, where you recede and your functions start to go. Anyway, they’re watching the film, and when Captain Jack Sparrow came on the screen, she started to laugh. This guy said he hadn’t heard that laugh in years. And so he took her back to see the film repeatedly. For some reason, Captain Jack made her laugh every time. That’s right up there.

My mother taught me a lot of things. The first thing that comes to mind is: Don’t take any shit off anyone, ever. When I was a little kid, we moved constantly. Bully picks on you in the new place? Don’t ever take any shit off anyone, ever. Eloquent and right.

My life is my life because of Tim. Definitely.

This is Tim Burton in a nutshell: We were doing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I was on the set. We were shooting, working, working, working. All great. Everything’s cool. One of my pals comes up and says, “Helena [Bonham Carter, Burton’s partner] just called. When you get a moment, she’d like you to give her a call back.” “Okay,” I say. “As soon as I’m done on set, I’ll go back to my trailer and give her a call.” So I go back to the trailer, call Helena, and say, “Hey, what’s going on?” I thought maybe Helena had a question about little boys because Billy was a little baby then and I’ve got two kids. So I say, “Is everything all right?” And she says, “Billy’s fine. Everything’s fine. But, well, you know how Tim is. He wants to know if you’d be . . . he’d like for you to be Billy’s godfather.” I say, “But I was just with Tim. I was with him three minutes ago. I had to leave him to walk back to the trailer to call you.” So she called me to ask because Tim just couldn’t. That was his way of asking. I went back to the set and said thank you, told him that I was honored. It doesn’t get heavier than saying I’d like you to be the godfather of my son. But he’s not ever going to put himself into a corny kind of situation with a pal. He’s like, “Good, yeah, yeah.” Boom. “Let’s get back into the work.”

Look, see this little carrot near the dip? Watch. I’ll put it in my mouth as if it were a cigarette holder. Now I’m Raoul Duke. I spent so much time with Hunter Thompson, it just became second nature. As soon as I put anything resembling a cigarette holder in my mouth, he starts to come out. It’s so natural and it’s so strange. It sounds kind of ridiculous to even say it.

The characters are always there and, depending on the situation, not far from the surface. So they show up every now and again. It can’t be good for you. It just can’t. Then again, who knows?

I don’t think anybody’s necessarily ready for death. You can only hope that when it approaches, you feel like you’ve said what you wanted to say. Nobody wants to go out in mid-sentence.

I’m in a very privileged position. And I’m certainly not going to bite the hand that feeds me. I like doing the work. But I’m not a great fan of all the stuff that goes along with it. I don’t want to be a product. Of course you want the movies to do well. But I don’t want to have to think about that stuff. I don’t want to know who’s hot now and who’s not and who’s making this much dough and who’s boffing this woman or that one. I want to remain ignorant of all this. I want to be totally outside and far away from all of it.

I remember one time I had done some television interview, and they asked about my family life and kids. I talked about how I’m a proud father and how much I love my kids and how they’re fun and what we do and how it’s great. I was thinking that if in twenty-five, thirty years my kids watch old footage, I’d be proud for them to see their dad saying how much he loves them. Well, the show aired, and I get a phone call. “What the fuck are you doing?” I said, “Marlon, what are you talking about?” He said, “That’s none of their business!” I tried to say, “Marlon, listen, man, I only wanted my kids to . . .” And it was like he gave me this sort of once-over. “You don’t do it, man. That’s your world and it’s nobody else’s business. It’s not anybody’s entertainment.” And he was right.

People are supernice in the street. If they want me to sign something, that’s great, I don’t mind that at all.

There’s no limit to the possibilities of what I could do to the paparazzi if I catch them photographing my children.

You don’t go through the front door of hotels anymore, you go through the garage. Or you go through the kitchen of a restaurant. Some people want to think that’s cool, that’s exciting. But it’ll definitely make you a little weird if you’re constantly being stared at. Part of the process that I’ve always enjoyed is being the observer. You know, just watching people and learning. At a certain point, the reversal took place. I was no longer the observer—I was being observed. That’s obviously very dangerous because part of an actor’s job is to observe.

My definition of freedom is simplicity, really. Anonymity. I’m sure it will be a possibility someday again. Maybe when I get old. They get tired of you.

“Didn’t you use to be Johnny Depp?” That will be the clincher.

What I’ve Learned: Johnny Depp & Tim Burton
Interviewed on October 25, 2007

TIM BURTON: There are partnerships where one person is good at one thing and the other is good at another. That’s true in our case. But we’re very connected in terms of taste.

JOHNNY DEPP: Even when we first met, we connected on all these superabsurd levels.

BURTON: A fascination for weird seventies objets d’art.

DEPP: I remember, growing up, we had this concrete cobra spray-painted gold.

BURTON: We’re from different parts of the country. But there is a kind of suburban white-trashy connective strand there. Isn’t there?

DEPP: Yep.

BURTON: The stories that scared us as children.

DEPP: Mr. Green Jeans.

BURTON: Seeing Humphrey Bogart playing a monster. He only did one horror movie and—

DEPP: We both knew it.

BURTON: The Return of Dr. X. When something like that comes up, you realize, Yeah, perfect. Things that don’t normally come up in most people’s conversations are things that come up a lot in ours.

DEPP: We speak in a sort of shorthand.

BURTON: It’s not literal. We’ll cross-reference things that wouldn’t really make sense to the normal person.

DEPP: One time, Tim and I were talking before we were getting ready to shoot. Afterward, one of the grips comes over to me with this really perplexed look on his face. He says, “I was just watching you and Tim talk about the scene for the last fifteen minutes.” “Yeah?” And he says, “I didn’t understand a fucking word either one of you said.”

BURTON: That about sums it up.

DEPP: I don’t think we’ve ever had an argument.

BURTON: I don’t think so. There have been differences of opinion and a different take on certain things.

DEPP: But even in that kind of situation, Tim just says, “Okay, do it like you want and then do it the other way.”

BURTON: Usually, we agree. Early on Sweeney Todd, Johnny said, “There is one thing I cannot do. I can’t take Anthony to the hotel.”

DEPP: I had written a big question mark on that page of the script.

BURTON: When I opened my script to the same page, I saw that I’d already crossed it out.

DEPP: Tim’s had to fight to get me in his movies so many times.

BURTON: We always have to fight. We have to fight to get them done, we have to fight—weirdly, Sweeney Todd wasn’t so hard, which it should’ve been. They should have run screaming for the hills with this one. An R-rated bloody musical starring someone they don’t even know if he can sing. I mean, Jesus. There’s a certain amount of trust that goes into backing that. It’s exciting when people do that, you know? Just trusting you with something. I find that to be quite energizing and confidence building. Makes you feel good.

DEPP: Makes you want to do a good job for them, too.

BURTON: Absolutely. I’ve always used a sporting analogy to describe the flip side of that. You’re a runner and you’re just about to run the big race, and they come in and beat the fucking shit out of you and then say, “Okay, go win the race.” You get the shit beat out of you right before you’re supposed to go perform your best. And it happens most of the time. We have our bets on you, never mind we just broke your fucking legs. But it wouldn’t be making a movie if it were easy. It should be a struggle. Otherwise, you’re coasting.

DEPP: There’s always that moment on every movie where you just go, “Okay, this is that moment. I’m about to potentially fall flat on my face, and I might as well just dive in and see what happens.” That’s how it was when I started singing the songs for the first time. I just felt like an idiot. It was one of the most exposing, bizarre things I’ve ever done. I mean, at forty-three years old, it’s the first time I’d sung a song all the way through.

BURTON: I did some auditioning with other people, and afterward I was completely devastated and exhausted. I felt like I was casting a porno movie. I mean, having people come in to audition and sing was like having them come in and take their clothes off. It felt that exposing. It shocked me.

DEPP: It’s true. I’ve married Tim’s woman twice now. In Corpse Bride, Helena was the corpse. And then in Sweeney Todd.

BURTON: What are you, some kind of, what do they call it? Do you live in Utah? Are you one of those guys?

DEPP: My real last name is Osmond.

-- donated by Theresa