DARK SHADOWS directed by Tim Burton, screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith from a story by John August and Grahame-Smith, based on the television series created by Dan Curtis, with Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloë Grace Moretz and Helena Bonham Carter. A Warner Bros. release. 113 minutes. Opens Friday (May 11). For venues and times, see Movies.
Los Angeles - "A vampire should look like a vampire," Johnny Depp is explaining to reporters. Specifically, he's talking about his vampire, Barnabas Collins, the role he plays in Tim Burton's big-screen upgrade of Dark Shadows.
In his quieter moments, Depp's Barnabas - an 18th-century aristocrat cursed with un-death and buried underground for 196 years - is grey-skinned and rigid, with spidery fingers. In fully vamped form he has fangs and pointy ears that make him look like Bat Boy, the Weekly World News mascot. Twilight's well-coiffed Cullens would flee in disgust.
"It was our rebellion against vampires that look like underwear models," Depp says. "There's a bit of Nosferatu in him."
Depp genuinely enjoys saying the word "vampire." He adds a little Eastern European spin on the first half, then punches the second half home: vaam-PYRE. And he's throwing the V-word around a lot today.
"As a child, I certainly had a strange fascination with monsters and vampires," he says, "as did Tim. There's this darkness, this mystery, this intrigue. And as you get older, you recognize the erotic nature of the vampire and the idea of the undead. It was a real challenge, probably more for Tim than me, to make that guy - that vampire - fit back into this odd society and this dysfunctional family."
Dark Shadows is a Tim Burton project through and through - the best jokes are in the production design and the wardrobe - but unlike most of their collaborations, this one originated with Depp, a long-time fan of the series. The actor has a producer's credit on the film, which he almost immediately tries to shrug off: "It's almost impossible to consider myself a producer," he says. "I can barely produce an English muffin in the morning."
Setting the movie in the same period as the original TV series was important, too.
"Our memory is, like, lime-green leisure suits and macramé owls, you know?" Depp says. "Earth shoes. Weird things that didn't make sense then, and still don't."
That sense of a character trying to understand a strange new world is something Depp and Burton have explored before, particularly in Edward Scissorhands - and the layer of quizzical bemusement Depp brings to Barnabas feels like a direct reference to that character. But Depp also insisted on respecting the source material - because he didn't have a choice.
"Even in the early days of trying to explore the possibilities of the character," he says, "it was apparent to both Tim and me that it had to be rooted in Jonathan Frid's [conception] of Barnabas, this classic monster. There was a kind of rigidity to him, that pole-up-the-back sort of elegance that was always there."
The role presented a few practical concerns, particularly in scenes where Barnabas is feeding on panicked human victims.
"You wanted to be a little bit careful that you didn't actually pierce the jugular," Depp says, "kind of like my experience shaving Alan Rickman [in Sweeney Todd]. Which, by the way, neither of us wants to do again. Especially him."