Johnny Depp stars in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland as the disturbed Mad Hatter, who helps Alice on her new quest through the world down the rabbit hole. Depp, along with Burton and stars Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter, was recently in London to talk about the film. Here’s what he had to say about wearing skirts, poisoned hatters and why Tim Burton is his favourite madman in the world.
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 you got the accent, and about the kilt and the sporran in your Braveheart sequence at the end...
Johnny Depp (JD):
[Laughs] Well, I 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 - if this guy were actually made up of different people, it would be the extreme sides of these 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?
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 just started doing a little research on hatters, and found 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 weirder. And 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 personality where one minute you're at full capacity rage and then the next minute you've dropped into some kind of horrific tailspin of fear and then you go to some great height of levity. And that was what I tried to do in the scenes, as much as I could find the right moments for them.
How do you think your children will react to the film, because it's slightly darker than the books?
My kids have actually seen the film. Because I haven't, so I just kind of sent them out there on the front lines. But they saw it and loved it... they absolutely adored it, went crazy and quoted things back from it. They thought it was amazing and loved every character. They weren't freaked out by it whatsoever.
What is your recipe for success?
Chance, basically. Just 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, that didn't bother me at all. Suddenly Pirates happened, and then Tim doesn't have to fight with studios to get me the gig anymore, which he had to for many years.
How has your collaboration with Tim Burton evolved over the years?
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 in that film. And the one thing I would say, it has evolved, because once you've known someone for that length of time, you do 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 kind of a shorthand that was there. Tim would kind of turn his head a certain way or squint his eye and I'd go 'Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what he wants. I get it.' One thing that has evolved for the both of us, there's no way to avoid it - when grown men start changing nappies and stuff, you discuss it. 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.
Where does the Mad Hatter fit into your CV of roles?
How does he fit into all the different characters [I've played]? I felt very strongly about how he should look, and what his behaviour was like. He shouldn't be very simply throwing a rubber ball into a room and letting him go nuts, just for laughs and stuff. I felt there should be some other side of him... some degree of damage, some trauma in there. He's a bit damaged. More than anything, not to use the word luck again, but I feel so lucky to get away with it because each time out of the gate there's always somebody that comes around and says, "Oh Jesus, what is he doing now?" In a weird way and I don't mean this in a negative way, you feel like you've sort of infiltrated the enemy camp on some level and you made it through unscathed.
Who is your favourite mad person in the world, and why?
My favourite mad person in the world? Tim... because he gives me a job sometimes [laughs]. No, truly he is a mad person in some ways but it's a madness that works for him, obviously. At the risk of embarrassing him, I've always admired Tim for his commitment to his vision and the impossibility of compromise and for doing exactly what he wanted, the way he wanted in his own very unique way. As far as I'm concerned he's one of the only true artists working in cinema. I mean real artists, a real auteur. They're non-existent at this point. So, yeah, Tim is my favourite mad person.
How difficult was this character to leave behind?
You always miss them once you've walked away, but part of them always stays with you too.
What kind of dreams did you have while you were filming?
Oh, hideous. I can’t remember exact ones that plagued me during the filming… but I did have a dream once that Alan Hale, the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island, chased me through the streets of Hollywood. I did.