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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Tim Burton: Director

by Daniel Robert Epstein
July 2005

Cult director Tim Burton has always been able to take big-budget films like Batman Returns and Sleepy Hollow and turn them into very personal stories. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is his fourth collaboration with Johnny Depp and they have turned Roald Dahl’s book into a wildly original romp.

Johnny Depp is your go-to guy!

TIM BURTON: Yeah, even for the female roles, too. It doesn’t matter. Even if it’s an animal picture, I think of him. I think of him a lot because ever since Edward Scissorhands, he’s an actor that likes to change and become different characters. That’s what I love about him. He’s more like Lon Chaney than he is a leading man. He’s always willing to kind of transform himself into something. That’s why I like working with him.

Did you have to convince Warner Bros to hire Johnny?

No, this was the first time for me with Johnny that I didn’t have to bring his name up. It was the studio’s idea first.

What was your goal with this film?

We wanted to try to be a little bit true to the book. The only thing we really added was a bit of the Wonka backstory, which wasn’t in the original book. We wanted to be truer to the spirit of the book and have the nut room and the squirrels.

How was it directing squirrels?

Having nuts on the set helps. It was tough because I get freaked out by squirrels. Even if I see one in the park, I kind of jump. There’s something about them that I find sort of strangely terrifying. It was fun to kind of work with that because I always remember that sequence from the book. It was hard but fun.

How did you decide on the style of the film?

We had the book as the foundation. That’s what we always went back to. It was a lot of fun to experiment and we were able to build the sets, which was great, too. I think that especially working with kids and stuff, to actually let them be in the environment as opposed to being in a blue screen room with them for six months was very helpful.

Did you save the structures?

No, the chocolate river room after a couple of weeks started to smell so bad that I think it had to be demolished right away. We shot that at Pinewood on the James Bond soundstage and I think that visitors that went on it were like, “What kind of weird James Bond film is this going to be?’”

What did you use to make the chocolate river?

Our special FX guy spent months trying to find the right consistency. We built the waterfall. We built the river and it was important that it didn’t just look like brown water or a muddy river. So we worked quite a long time to find the right thickness and the right kind of agent so that it felt like melted chocolate. We spent a lot of time doing weird things like that.

Did people want to eat it?

You wouldn’t want to eat it. The thickening agent we used is the same stuff that they use in toothpaste and baked beans to keep it thick. It is edible, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

What was it like working with the Oompa Loompa man, Deep Roy?

There were some options, you hire a cast of Oompa-Loops, different people and the more modern approach would be just to do it all CG. But I thought that the human element was important and I wanted to have as many real things on the set as possible. I’ve worked with Deep Roy before and I find him to be a compelling person. It just felt right, weird and interesting to replicate him and have him play all the different Oompa-Loompas. He probably had the hardest job on the movie because he had to do all those things hundreds of times. But we were also able to do it economically. We were able to actually use him in shots and scenes and not have it be special FX so he could interact with Johnny or the kids without always having to be added in later.

How was it casting the kids?

Casting kids is more difficult than casting adults, and with Freddie [Highmore] I was very lucky. I hadn’t seen Finding Neverland, but when he came into the office I just knew he was Charlie immediately. With the other kids, it’s difficult because a couple of them hadn’t done movies at all. But I kind of knew when the right one walked in. Even though they were all good kids, I tried to find something in these kids that was actually like their characters. That was important to me. None of the kids were as rotten as they are in the film, but I had to find something in them that was like their characters.

Do you think Freddie will go on to become a big star?

He’s the most centered person, child or adult, I’ve ever known. He seems like he’s going to do just fine whatever he chooses to do, if it’s to stay with this or do something else. He’s got a really good spirit to him.

How is it working with Helena Bonham Carter?

She’s great. She’s a beautiful actress who’s willing to put in ugly teeth and wear bad clothes, which in the London newspapers, she’s known for every other week. They’re always commenting on her fashion sense. They probably think that she wears her own clothes in the movie. Like Johnny, she is willing to transform.

Do you feel Charlie might be too adult for some kids?

That’s what I felt was good about the book. Dahl was more like an adult writer for children who didn’t speak down to children. I felt like that’s what was good about his writing. He could kind of layer it and speak to any kind of age.

Will you be making family comedies after this?

No, it hasn’t changed my thinking at all. I don’t plan on making a Teletubbies movie or The Wiggles film.

Will you show your child this film?

I’d show him Sleepy Hollow. I don’t think that I’ve done a film where I wouldn’t show him just because kids are like adults. I can’t predict what he’ll be like. He may hate certain things that I loved. You don’t know what things are all about. It’s a whole new experience for me.

Why do you live in London?

Growing up in Burbank, I always felt like a foreigner in my own country. I actually feel like I’m like a professional foreigner. I feel more weirdly at home there. I felt that when I first did Batman back in the late ‘80s. When I first lived there I felt extremely comfortable. Then I did Sleepy Hollow there and that felt very comfortable. It agrees with me.

-- donated by Theresa