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Johnny Depp, Tim Burton resurrect vampire Barnabas Collins in 'Dark Shadows'

Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp
Warner Bros. Pictures

The movie “Dark Shadows” (directed by Tim Burton) is based on the 1970s TV series of the same title. The movie’s story begins in the year 1760, Joshua and Naomi Collins, with young son Barnabas, set sail from Liverpool, England to start a new life in America. But even an ocean was not enough to escape the mysterious curse that has plagued their family. Two decades pass and Barnabas (played by Johnny Depp) has the world at his feet — or at least the town of Collinsport, Maine. The master of Collinwood Manor, Barnabas is rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy ... until he makes the grave mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (played by Eva Green). A witch, in every sense of the word, Angelique dooms him to a fate worse than death: turning him into a vampire, and then burying him alive.

Jackie Earle Haley, Bella Heathcote, Chloë Grace Moretz, Tim Burton, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp
Getty Images

Two centuries later, Barnabas is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin. The dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared little better, each harboring their own dark secrets. Matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) has called upon live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (played by Helena Bonham Carter), to help with her family troubles.

Also residing in the manor is Elizabeth's ne'er-do-well brother, Roger Collins, (played by Jonny Lee Miller); her rebellious teenage daughter Carolyn Stoddard (played by Chloe Moretz); and Roger's precocious 10-year-old son, David Collins (played by Gulliver McGrath). The mystery extends beyond the family, to caretaker Willie Loomis, played by Jackie Earle Haley, and David's new nanny, Victoria Winters, played by Bella Heathcote. Depp, Burton, Pfeiffer, Green, Miller, Moretz, Heathcote, Haley, screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith and producers Richard D. Zanuck and Graham King gathered for a “Dark Shadows” press conference in Los Angeles.

Tim, conventional wisdom would indicate that you would have been the originator of this project as a feature film, but I understand that it was Johnny, your longtime collaborator, who brought it to your attention.

Burton: Yes. We talked about it for many years, but I think this is the first project that I ever remember for Johnny where he said that … I think you said you wanted to play this ever since you were a little boy.

Depp: Just a wee tyke.

Burton: That’s true, right?

Depp: Yeah, yeah. It is true.

Burton: You knew Barnabas Collins before you knew your own father, didn’t you?

Depp: Pretty much.

Burton: It’s one of those kind of things where the show had a lot of impact for some of us. Johnny, Michelle and I were there at the time when it came out so we just recall it being a very strong, interesting property. I think it’s something with Johnny that he’s had for a long time.

Johnny, as producer, what was it that you wanted to constantly get across throughout the filming of “Dark Shadows”?

Depp: It’s almost impossible to consider myself a producer. I can barely produce an English muffin in the morning. Just as a fan of the show, as Tim said, 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 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 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."
Johnny, how does Barnabas fit in your gallery of very weird, offbeat characters that you’ve played and what did you find is the key to playing him? And finally, you were just directed by Paul McCartney in a music video. How was that?

Depp: What I wanted to come across and what I wanted Barnabas to come across as, you know, again there is some kind of thread throughout all these characters. 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.

Burton: The important things in life.

Depp: Yeah.

Burton: And the macramé was a big thing.

Depp: Oh yeah, the macramé owls. My favorite.

Burton: Michelle’s been selling them in the gift shop.

Depp: 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.

Eva, how much fun did you have playing Angelique Bouchard in “Dark Shadows”? What approach did you take to make her such a vibrant villainess?

Green: What was great was that Tim gave me a lot of freedom and ideas. I got really inspired by his book that he gave me with all his drawings, the exhibition that was in New York and now is in Paris.

So I got inspired by those crazy characters, broken dolls, music, Janis Joplin. She’s quite raw and animal. And the American accent! That was the big challenge. I didn’t get fired. Good.

Johnny, what do you think people find so tempting about vampires? If you had the option of staying as one of your characters for the rest of your life, who would that be?

Depp: Wow. Probably the Earl of Rochester. 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.

Tim, how was it to re-team with Michelle Pfeiffer 20 years after you worked together in “Batman Returns”?

Burton: It was weird because it reminded me of how much I love working with Michelle. It was a long time ago, but then, it just flooded back because I didn’t really watch the movie again but it just flooded back how impressed I remember being with Michelle. She learned how to use a whip and jump around on roofs in high-heeled shoes, let birds fly out of her mouth, the cats eat her, I mean, very impressive stuff.

It was a real joy to get a call from Michelle and find out she was a closet “Dark Shadows” fan. I knew that she was weird but now that’s a whole new situation, which was great, because between Michelle and Johnny, we were the only ones I think of the cast that knew “Dark Shadows.”

I don’t know if I showed it to anybody else, because you can’t really show “Dark Shadows” to anybody else who doesn’t know it because they’d probably run screaming out of the room. So it was nice that Michelle played the head of the family and it just made me realize how much I enjoyed working with her. Although she did have trouble walking down the stairs.

Pfeiffer: I did. My first day of shooting he had me in eight inch platform shoes walking down that treacherous staircase. I wasn't allowed to look down. And I couldn't...

Burton: They didn't look down in “Dynasty” or “Dallas.”

Pfeiffer: Great laughs at my expense from Mr. Burton. What was the question again?

Burton: There was no question.

Did you pursue the part?

Pfeiffer: I did. Yeah. I shamelessly called him.

Burton: She didn't even call to ever say hello.

Pfeiffer: I was working with a mutual [friend]. Did you know this? I was working with a mutual friend of ours: Carol, the fabulous Carol

Burton: Yeah.

Pfeiffer: She knew how much I wanted to be in this movie and she kept egging me on to call him, because I don’t think I would have had the courage to do it. And at that point there was, I mean, I don't even know if there was a script, really, at that point.

Depp: Yeah, it was beforehand. Yeah.

Pfeiffer: Yeah. So I didn't even know if there was a part for me. And it had been so long since I had seen the series. I didn't even remember there was even ...you know, I just said, “If there's anything, I want to throw my hat in the ring.” And then I hung up and I thought, “I'll never hear from him again.” And I did.

Johnny, can you talk about where you were in 1972?

Depp: ’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.

What was your first bite like as a vampire and what was the make-up process?

Burton: How was your bite on that big construction worker? Did you enjoy that?

Depp: Yeah. We’ll go back to the erotic bullsh*t about vampires. I felt as though I was biting one of the Village People.

Burton: Yeah. Then he went onto the biker …

Depp: Sweaty stuntmen.

Burton: Then he moved on to the cowboy, and he keeps moving onto …

Depp: The cop.

Burton: Yeah. You got ‘em all.

Depp: 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 [in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”], which by the way neither of us want to do again, especially Alan.

Chloë, have your gone through your “parents just don’t understand” phase like your Carolyn Stoddard character in “Dark Shadows”? Did that help you relate to her?

Moretz: Is my mom in the room? Yeah, I guess Carolyn was pretty easy to get into because she was a lot like me in a lot of ways but very different from me in a lot of ways. But yeah, I guess I perfected the eye roll a little bit, which my mom wasn’t too happy with, because whenever we’d get into any sort of fight, she’d say, “Stop bringing your characters home with you!” [She laughs.] I’m like, “Sorry.”

How did you choose the music for “Dark Shadows”? And can you talk about why you cast Alice Cooper in cameo in the movie?

Burton: Well, I mean setting it in 1972 was important and we just went through all the music of that year. Just doing that research it reminded me of being … I must have been quite ill that year because I just remember that music on the AM radio, being sick and having a fever and hearing all that kind of music on AM radio over and over again. That’s why it was so strange. It was strange. It felt strange at the time and it still feels strange. That’s the weird thing about that.

The quality of music, going from everything from really kind of cheesy pop to cool, hardcore stuff, it was a weird year for music. I remember Alice Cooper being quite a strong influence to me at that time and he looks exactly the same now, which is really scary. I mean, Arizona must do wonders. I don’t know. But it was important to use. There was a lot of interesting music in 1972. We tried to treat it like score. We didn’t try to treat it like, “Oh, let’s just throw in pop songs.”

For more info: "Dark Shadows" website

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