Last but not least in our series of Alice in Wonderland interviews is the Mad Hatter himself, Johnny Depp. Rumoured to be heading down to Cornwall for the Pirates of the Caribbean film, and actor of choice for the Dartmoor Zoo people for Cameron Crowe’s film adaptation of We Bought a Zoo, Johnny is also thought to have a home hereabouts. And that’s on top of the Alice in Wonderland Torpoint connection.
Why in the playing of the Mad Hatter did you opt for a Scottish accent at times? And how was wearing a kilt for the big battle scene?
JOHNNY DEPP: Well, the Scottish accent is something that I did mess around with on Finding Neverland. That was a bit more sort of Aberdeen. With this one… Tim and I early on were talking about how this guy was actually made up of different people and he would be the extreme sides of these people. So, I wanted to go extremely dark and dangerous with the Scottish accent. I hope I arrived at it. I like wearing skirts too [laughs]!
How did you arrive at the look of the character and internally prepare for the role of The Mad Hatter?
JOHNNY DEPP: Well, they’re both kind of related in a way. In terms of the look of the character, some of the early stuff that Tim and I spoke about actually came right out of the book. There were these weird little cryptic bits that Lewis Carroll dropped in there. Things like I’m investigating things that begin with the letter ‘M’. That, on its own, was intriguing. You go through Alice and you go through The Looking Glass and there’s never an answer for it.
So, what I did was to start doing research on hatters. I found this thing called The Hatter’s Disease, basically… because they use this very toxic substance to glue the hats together, which involved a lot of mercury and ended up poisoning them heavily. The poison would manifest itself in different ways. Some would develop Tourettes style syndrome, some would develop a personality disorder… some would get darker. So, I just thought ‘yeah’. There was also an orange tint to the actual stuff, which is where all the orange bits come from. And then in terms of my approach to the character was just trying to find those places inside… to go from extreme sides of personality. So, one minute you’re at full capacity rage, the next minute you’ve dropped to some kind of horrific tailspin of fear, and then you go to some great height of levity. So, that was what I tried to do within the scenes and whenever I could find the right moments for it.
How did you feel when you first read Lewis Carroll’s Alice books as a kid?
JOHNNY DEPP: I can remember reading the books when I was a kid but it was a super condensed version. Then, obviously, the Disney animated version took over. But because the stories are so episodic, abstract and all over the place, what I remember more than anything is just the characters and how those characters stick with you for some reason. Even people who haven’t read the book know all the characters.
How do you think your children will react to the film, because it’s slightly darker than the books?
JOHNNY DEPP: My kids have actually seen the film… I haven’t, so I just kind of send them out there on the frontlines. 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.
What is your recipe for success?
JOHNNY DEPP: Just luck really… I’ve just been very lucky over the years. You know, it’s a miracle that people still hire me after some of the stuff I’ve gotten away with! So, I lay it all down to luck. There was no way to predict… prior to Pirates of the Caribbean I was labeled… they literally used to call me box office poison, which I was kind of OK with. It didn’t bother me at all. But then Pirates happened and then suddenly Tim [Burton] didn’t have to fight with studios to get me the gig anymore. He had to prior to Pirates Of The Caribbean.
You’ve worked with Tim Burton seven times. In what way has your relationship evolved?
JOHNNY DEPP: Well, we met 20 years ago or something for Edward Scissorhands and, again, the fact that Tim cast me was a miracle… total luck that he decided to cast me in that film. One thing I would say that has evolved is that once you know 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 we did Edward Scissorhands. There was always a kind of a shorthand that was there, there was always… Tim would turn his head a certain way or squint his eye and I’d kind of go: “Yeah, yeah I get it. I know what you want.” One thing that has evolved is that there’s no way to avoid… when grown men start changing nappies and stuff [laughs], you discuss it. Having kids… that kind of thing. 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 in amongst all of the characters you’ve played?
JOHNNY DEPP: I felt very strongly about how he should look, and what his behavior was like. He shouldn’t be very simply throwing a rubber ball into a room and letting it go nuts, just for laughs and stuff. I felt there should be some other side of him… some kind of damage, some trauma. 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, you feel like you’ve sort of infiltrated the enemy camp on some level and you made it through unscathed.
Who is your favorite mad person in the world, and why?
JOHNNY DEPP: 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 artistes… a real auteur. They’re non-existent at this point. So, Tim is my favorite mad person.
How difficult was this character of the Mad Hatter to leave behind?
JOHNNY DEPP: You always miss them once you’ve walked away. But part of them always stays with you too.
How were your own dreams when filming this? Did you have nightmares?
JOHNNY DEPP: Oh, I had hideous dreams. But I have a tendency to have somewhat dark dreams. I can’t remember any of them specifically that affected me during the filming. But I don’t think it had to do with the filming at all. I think it just came all by its ownsies. But I did have a dream once that Alan Hale, the skipper of Gilligan’s Island, chased me through the streets of Hollywood! I really did…
The Alice in Wonderland DVD is released on June 4, or download it from iTunes
(image: Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland © Disney enterprises)