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Syracuse Journal-Democrat - Syracuse, NE
  • Johnny Depp, Tim Burton talk about the making of 'Dark Shadows'

  • If Johnny Depp and Tim Burton were sitting right next to each other, there would be absolutely no difficulty telling them apart.

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  • If Johnny Depp and Tim Burton were sitting right next to each other, there would be absolutely no difficulty telling them apart. Here’s proof: Earlier this week, Depp and his director of choice Burton were sitting right next to each other in a Los Angeles hotel room, ready to talk up their newest collaboration – this marks the eighth movie they’ve made together – “Dark Shadows.” The handsome (some would say beautiful) Depp had dark hair hanging over his well-tanned face and thick-framed glasses. He wore a couple of piercings on his left ear, one with a thin piece of sea shell, a multi-stranded bead and chain necklace, one ring on his left hand and four on his right, and a thin, fashionable scarf. Burton, a far less physically attractive man, had a mop of scraggly hair that has likely never met with a comb, and wore the blackest sunglasses on the West Coast.
    They may not look alike, but they are sure are on the same track when it comes to movies, and in this case about the new “Dark Shadows” and the old daytime soap opera on which it was based.
    “We talked about making this film for many years,” said Burton. “But I remember Johnny saying he wanted to play Barnabas Collins ever since he was a little boy.” Collins is the lead character in what was first a gloomy, serious, creepy, and maybe just a bit campy soap opera about a dysfunctional family that happened to be headed up by a vampire. It ran in an afternoon slot on ABC television from 1966 to 1971, eventually earning cult status. Burton and Depp were among its admirers when they were kids.
    “Our initial conversation about it was when we were making ‘Sweeney Todd,'” said Depp. “I think I just blurted out, in mid-conversation, ‘Maybe we should do a vampire movie together.’ ‘Dark Shadows’ was kind of looming on the periphery,” he added. “Then Tim and I started talking about it and then we got together and started figuring out how it should be shaped.” It didn’t hurt that Depp was also a longtime fan of horror in general.
    “As a child I certainly had a fascination with monsters and vampires, as did Tim,” said Depp. “There was this darkness and mystery and intrigue. Then as you get older, you sort of recognize the erotic nature of the vampire, and the idea of the undead.” In the film, Barnabas turns down the advances of a woman who turns out to be a witch. In retaliation she kills everyone he loves, and turns him into a vampire, before having him buried alive. He wakes up 200 years later to a new world.
    Page 2 of 2 - “What was most interesting to me about Barnabas was the combination of making that guy, who was clearly a vampire, fit back into this society and this dysfunctional family,” said Depp. “There was the idea of this very elegant, upper echelon, well-schooled gentleman, who’s cursed in the 18th century and is brought back to the 1970s, and how he’d react to how radically different things were.” Burton kept to the show’s gothic feel, but made sure audiences will know it takes place in 1972. A movie theater marquee advertises “Deliverance” at one point, and “Super Fly” at another. Look around the screen and you’ll see macramé doodads and troll dolls. And then there’s the soundtrack, with the mood set, as usual, by Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, but also filled with songs everyone was listening to back then, ranging from the Carpenters’ “Top of the World” to Alice Cooper’s “Ballad of Dwight Fry.”
    “We just went through all the music of that year,” said Burton. “Doing that research reminded me of listening to all that music on AM radio over and over again. The quality of the music felt strange at the time, and it still feels strange, going from kind of cheesy pop to really cool hardcore stuff. It was a weird year for music. We tried to pick music that fit the era and fit the score and the vibe of the story.”
    But despite the music and the mood and the terrific cast (Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley), it’s Depp upon whose shoulders the film rests. He gives a great deal of credit to the late Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas all those years on television.
    “It was apparent to both Tim and myself that in exploring the possibilities of the character, no matter where you went in your head, it had to be rooted in Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas. It just had to be, because it was so classic. When Jonathan was playing the part, there was a kind of rigidity to him, kind of that pole up the back, and an elegance that was always there. And I believed a vampire should look like a vampire. It was kind of a rebellion against vampires that look like underwear models.”
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