Johnny Depp makes transformations for a living—he’s played a poet, pirate, cop, crook, lizard, killer, candymaker, astronaut and even (shudder) an accountant—but, surprisingly, he had never portrayed a vampire until Dark Shadows, opening May 11, in which he stars as the aristocratic Barnabas Collins. The movie actually adds a second unprecedented role to Depp’s career list: Now he can say he’s been the producer of a Tim Burton film.
Depp had produced just two previous films, Hugo and The Rum Diary, both released last year, but expect to see more; in 2010 his production company, Infinitum Nihil, solidified and extended its existing deal with Oscar-winning producer Graham King (The Departed, The Aviator) and an adaptation of Image Comics’ The Vault is among the projects in the pipeline. Years ago, Depp snapped up the rights to the old television show Dark Shadows and that led to Depp and King both taking on the producer role for the Warner Bros. release of the supernatural comedy-romance.
King is known as a gambling soul in Hollywood and, after recent setbacks, he could use a hit with Dark Shadows. We caught up with him to talk about Depp’s passion for the project.
The Dark Shadows name has a lot of history—ABC aired more than 1,200 episodes of the gothic soap opera – but it’s a blank spot for most moviegoers now. That may not matter at all, though, because in tone, plot and approach, this film is more about Tim Burton than the old series . . .
Graham King: No question, no question. When Johnny first talked to me about Dark Shadows, I have to admit, I had no idea what it was. It didn’t play overseas—it didn’t play in the U.K., that’s for sure, when I was growing up. Then obviously I did a lot of homework and looked into it and you know what, people say this is a remake of the old TV series but it’s really not. I feel it’s a very commercial, accessible film for people to go to and have a really fun time. Tim and Johnny put their stamp on it and when that happens it’s special and, for me, to be involved in that—and in a movie that is pure entertainment—is really nice.
This is the eighth Burton-Depp collaboration and both of them are acutely aware of the dangers of repeating themselves. That’s probably a healthy anxiety at this point . . .
Oh absolutely. I think whenever you see a director and actor working closely together on so many projects that [anxiety] happens quite a lot in our business. I know a couple of directors who like to work with the same actors and the reason is they have a certain chemistry; and you can certainly tell on set with Johnny and Tim that each of them kind of knows what the other is thinking. They’ve gotten to know each other so well over the years that it’s really great to see the two of them gel together and find new stories to tell and ways to challenge themselves.
More than any other movie star of his stature, Depp finds roles where he can submerge himself in makeup and costume. You’ve been working with him for the better part of a decade now; do you wish you could see more of him in his movies, so to speak?
[Laughs] Well I’ve been lucky enough to work with Johnny a few times when he’s not in all the makeup—Rum Diary and The Tourist—and he’s so versatile that he can play any role. What I love about Dark Shadows is his dry sense of humor. And, as you know, Johnny carries that with him 24/7. There are moments in the movie where his response to things—just the look on his face—are hilarious. I’ve seen it over and over again and I laugh every time . . . . Johnny can deliver lines just without saying anything.
I remember Rob Marshall saying Depp reminds him of Valentino when it comes to his “command of expression without words.” I thought that was a very insightful observation.
I think, Valentino, that’s a really good analogy but to me he’s Peter Sellers as well. He has that kind of humor about him, where he can do anything in a way that makes people laugh.
Depp grew up loving Dark Shadows—was that apparent in that first conversation you had with him about this project?
Absolutely, yes, absolutely. He started telling me all of this, with a lot of excitement. I was thinking, “What is he talking about?” He was absolutely a man on a mission to play this role. He loved it when he was a kid and obviously it shows in the film. Johnny loved every minute of being Barnabas.