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Press Conference: Johnny Depp on Dark Shadows and Long Vampire Nails

by Fred Topel
May 7, 2012

The biggest star in the world on the gothic TV show adaptation, biting The Village People and being Satan himself.

Us lifelong Johnny Depp fans were happy when the rest of the world finally caught on to how brilliant an actor he is. However now that he’s a mega star, the only way we get to talk to him is in a press conference. We got to sit in on the press conference to Dark Shadows, the movie in which Depp plays the vampire Barnabas Collins from the ‘70s soap opera. Here is some of the peculiar wisdom of Johnny Depp, and some fun he had with the press.

This remake was Johnny Depp’s idea.

Just as a fan of the show, our initial conversation about the thing—I think it was during Sweeney Todd—where I think I just blurted out in mid-conversation, “God, maybe we should do a vampire movie together where you actually have a vampire that looks like a vampire.” Dark Shadows was kind of looming on the periphery, and then Tim [Burton] and I started talking about it, and then when Tim and I got together and started figuring out how it should be shaped, and then [screenwriter] Seth [Grahame-Smith] came on board and the three of us just riffed really. One thing led to another and it basically dictated to us what it wanted to be in a sense, certainly with Tim at the forefront of leading the troops.

The first bite as Barnabas Collins.

I felt as though I was biting one of the Village People. When you had the fangs in, you wanted to be a little bit careful that you didn’t actually pierce the jugular, kind of like my experience shaving Alan Rickman, which by the way neither of us want to do again, especially Alan.

A question about the costume gets oddly specific about the sleeves.

You do a movie, depending on the character, there’s some degree of makeup involved, especially when you’re playing a vampire and you’re all white and kind of dead. Sleeves, regarding costumes there are generally sleeves, which I appreciate. I think we all do. I’m wearing sleeves today. Colleen Atwood and her amazing eye and her incredible taste, she has a real magic whereas as soon as you don that kind of armor that Colleen has created, the character starts to come alive so it’s almost like working from the outside in in a sense. You’ve put on this suit or whatever that makes you stand or walk a certain way. The cane was one of the leftover things from the series. Then there’s the sleeves, we can keep talking about that. How many with sleeves today? Anybody? See, we’re doing all right.

Follow up about Barnabas Collins’ cane.

It’s pretty much the same design, slightly altered but pretty much the same design. It’s not a silver tipped cane because my hand would’ve burst into flames, which would have lit my sleeves on fire. So we couldn’t go there.

A polite journalist calls Johnny “Mr. Depp.”

Mr. Depp is my father.

A reporter says she interviewed Fright Night’s Chris Sarandon, who expressed sympathy for Depp wearing long vampire nails because it makes it hard to go to the bathroom.

Someone felt sorry for me with the nails. There are many more reasons to feel sorry for me. We can go through them now, or we can just cuddle after. Big group cuddle. Just all get greasy and weird. In every film that I’ve been lucky enough to do with Tim, there’s always some form of torture, and the nails were Tim’s idea. They were the length of the fingers and stuff, but it was okay because I had a troop of people who would help me go to the bathroom. They had to have treatment afterwards but they’re okay now. That is true.

Another journalist offers to take Depp up on his group cuddle offer.

Excellent. I have a little turtle pool.

Johnny Depp responds to cynics who’d suggest nobody wants another TV show remake.

I think Warner Brothers went into it hoping that it was unwanted. I mean, I think everybody should probably approach a film like it’s another unwanted thing. That’s going to be seared onto my brain for the rest of my life. Thank you for that.

A journalist asks if Depp made a real deal with the devil to remain looking so young.

You’re missing the point. I am the devil. I am Satan. And I’ve been sleeping under your couch for months.

The truth about Johnny Depp’s producer credit.

It’s almost impossible to consider myself a producer. I can barely produce an English muffin in the morning. [Pointing to Richard Zanuck] That’s the producer.

Johnny Depp in the ‘70s.

What I wanted to come across and what I wanted Barnabas to come across as, the idea of this very elegant, upper echelon, well-schooled gentleman who’s cursed in the 18th century and is brought back to probably the most surreal era of our time, the 1970s, 1972. How he’d react to things, how radically different things were, not just through the technology and automobiles and such, but actual items of enjoyment for people like pet rocks and fake flowers and plastic fruit and troll dolls and lava lamps. Oh yeah, the macramé owls. My favorite.

Johnny Depp in the ‘70s.

’72, the memory is lime green leisure suits and macramé owls, earth shoes, just weird things that didn’t make sense then and still don’t.

Johnny Depp on the allure of vampires.

It’s a strange thing, because as a child, you have this fascination. I certainly had this fascination with monsters and vampires as did Tim and whatever this darkness, this mystery, this intrigue. And then, as you get older, you recognize the erotic nature of the vampire and the idea of the undead. What was most interesting in terms of Barnabas was the idea of the combination. It was a real challenge, probably more for Tim than me is to make that guy, that vampire clearly a vampire fit back into this odd society and this dysfunctional family. I think he did it rather seamlessly.

The one character Johnny Depp would choose to be if he could live as one of his characters.

Wow. Probably the Earl of Rochester.

Jonathan Frid, Nosferatu and other vampire influences.

Approaching Barnabas, even in the early days of trying to explore the possibilities of the character, no matter where you went in your head, if you tried to veer away from the original Jonathan Frid character, it was apparent to both Tim and myself that it had to be rooted in Jonathan Frid’s character of Barnabas. It just had to be. It was so classic and this sort of classic monster, like Fangoria Magazine or that kind of thing. So, in terms of that, Jonathan did have, when he was playing Barnabas, there was a kind of rigidity to him, that pole up the back, this elegance that was always there. And yeah, I did believe, Tim and I talked early on, a vampire should look like a vampire and it was a kind of rebellion against vampires that look like underwear models. There was a bit of Nosferatu in there.

The day the original Dark Shadows cast came to set.

It was great and I thought great of Tim to bring them into the fold. Our way of saluting them and Jonathan was terrific. He had already written me a letter a couple years before and signed a photograph to me sort of passing the baton to Barnabas which I thought was very sweet. He had his cane with him, his original Barnabas cane and I wasn’t sure when he actually saw me if he was going to attack me with it, but he didn’t do so.

Johnny Depp on The Night Stalker.

The Night Stalker was another one that from Dark Shadows came sort of the Night Stalker period and it was a show that I really loved. It was again this weird tone to it, this reporter becomes a kind of detective in these really odd situations. So yeah, I think [television writer/producer] Dan Curtis was a great, great influence.

Johnny Depp on starring in Paul McCartney’s “My Valentine” music video

The McCartney thing, I’ve known him on and off over the years and ran into him and then he gave me a call and asked if I would be interested in being in his video. “Certainly.” “Well let’s do it.” It was a gas. I had to learn sign language. I think sign language is apparently very interpretive. It’s not rote and it’s all kind of different, and apparently instead of “love,” I think I might have said “murder.” But I was only copying what the guy showed me, so track him down.

--donated by Pixie

-- photos added by Zone editors