Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland 3D is released this week, and has enjoyed a not inconsiderable amount of buzz.
Maybe it’s the twinning of the oddball-mainstream director with a suitably oddball-mainstream property, maybe it’s the stellar cast, featuring Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter appearing alongside talent such as Mia Wasikowska, Crispin Glover, Anne Hathaway, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman.
Hours before the international Royal Premiere for the film, held last week in a rainy London, representatives from the cast and crew were bombarded by inane questions by not only the British regulars, but by a transglobal selection of keen journalists. Sort of like a United Nations Tribunal For Asking The Same Bloody Questions In Different Accents.
In attendance were Depp, Burton, Bonham Carter, Wasikowska, Glover, Hathaway, composer Danny Elfman, and producers Joe Roth and Richard D. Zanuck (but a good half, and I’m sure you can guess which, needn’t have bothered turning up).
Below is a trimmed transcript, in which Depp talks about his unique approach to the Mad Hatter, Burton talks about the project and his long-standing collaborations with his favourite actors, and the group discuss whether the film’s darkness makes it unsuitable for children.
Mr. Depp, congratulations on many things about your role, but mostly on being that rare American actor who can actually do a Scottish accent. I wondered if you could tell us the thinking behind making the Hatter a glorious Scot, how he got the accent, and about the kilt and the sporran in the Braveheart sequence at the end…
JD: [Laughs] I’d like to think every movie deserves a Braveheart sequence, don’t you? The Scottish accent is something that I did mess around with on Finding Neverland… In this one I wanted the Hatter to – something Tim and I early on were talking about – that this guy were actually made up of different people, so I wanted to go extremely dark and dangerous with the Scottish accent, so I hope I arrived there. I like wearing skirts, too.Can you tell us about your portrayal of the Mad Hatter in this film, the look of the character and your input in the character’s creation?
JD: They’re all kind of related in a weird way. In terms of the look of the character, some of the early stuff that I was thinking about, and Tim and I were talking about, actually came out of the book. But there were these weird little cryptic kind of bits that Lewis Carroll dropped in there. Things like ‘I’m investigating things that begin with the letter M’, that I found so intriguing while reading the book, because you go through Alice, you go through Looking Glass and there’s never, ever, an answer for it.
So what I did, I started doing a little research on hatters, and this thing called the hatters’ disease, basically, because they used this very toxic substance to glue the hats together, which involved a lot of mercury, they ended up poisoned heavily. And this poison would manifest in different ways, some with a tourettes-like syndrome, some were personality disorders, some were even darker and weird. I think there was an orange tint to the actual stuff, so that’s where all the orange bits come from. And my approach to the character, it was just the idea of trying to find those places inside… to go from extreme sides of the personality.
TB: I think it was the mercury poisoning… No, it’s a Disney movie, so we didn’t really focus on that as much. But I think what really intrigued me was the opportunity to do 3D in Alice in Wonderland, because it seemed like a proper mix of the medium and the material. A few years ago, I don’t know if I would have been as intrigued about it. It just seemed like the trippiness of that world, and the tool of 3D, seemed like a good mix.
Going back, and seeing there’s like 20-something versions, and I never really connected with any of them. But the characters and images… are just so strong. So I felt there was an interesting, great challenge.For those of you on the panel that have children, what do you think they would think of the film, seeing as it is a slightly darker take?
JD: My kids actually saw the film, ’cause I haven’t… I send them out there, on the front lines. They saw it and loved it, absolutely adored it and went crazy. Weren’t freaked out by it whatsoever.
HBC: We have two children. We have a two-year-old, and she’s up for anything. And today she was watching her daddy do breakfast television, and she wasn’t that interested in seeing daddy, she just wanted to see the monsters again. Billy is going to see it tonight. It could be a disaster! He’s 6, and it could be, because he’s sensitive. To be honest, he saw it being made, so he knows it’s pretend.
Danny Elfman: My five year old happened to walk in once on the scoring session when we were doing the music just to see the Jabberwocky’s head being chopped off. I was a little concerned for a moment, because that was the only thing that he saw, and he became so obsessed that he came back for the next several days, and when he wasn’t seeing that, he insisted that he see that scene again. And now he’s collecting dragons that he calls his Wockies.
Do you think that all films will have to be made in 3D in the future?
Joe Roth: I think the new version of it is a great addition. And I don’t think that all movies in 3D are going to be successful, and I don’t think all movies have to be 3D. I think if Spielberg was starting again, he would make Indiana Jones and Jaws in 3D, and not Schindler’s List or Munich.Johnny, what is your recipe for success?
JD: Chance, basically. Luck, you know. It’s a miracle that people still hire me after some of the stuff I’ve gotten away with. Honestly! There was no way to predict… prior to Pirates Of The Caribbean, they literally used to call me box office poison, which I was kind of okay with, it didn’t bother me at all. Suddenly Pirates happened, and then Tim doesn’t have to fight with studios to get me the gig any more, which he had to for many years.
How has your collaboration with Tim Burton evolved over the years?
JD: We met 20 years ago or something, for Edward Scissorhands. Again, the fact that Tim cast me was a miracle, total luck that he decided to cast me. And one thing I would say, it has evolved, because once you’ve known someone for that length of time, you get close. But in terms of the process, in terms of the work, it really hasn’t changed for one second since Edward Scissorhands. There was always a short hand that was there. One thing that has evolved – when grown men start changing nappies and stuff, you discuss it.
TB: …a couple of times, maybe.
JD: Yeah, I did it a lot. Having kids, you know. One of the things that I’m proudest to say, is that I was the first person to give Tim the full DVD set of The Wiggles.
TB: I still haven’t forgiven you for that…
TB: Don’t try to make something more out of this. Please!
You must have some quarrels sometimes…
TB: We’re Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling…
But you must! Do you ever have any artistic disagreements?
JD: We only quarrelled when Helena came into his life…
HBC: It became crowded.
JD: I lost my room!
Alice Is Wonderland is released this Friday, March 5th. Read our review here.