Johnny Depp plays The Mad Hatter in Walt Disney Studio’s new film Alice in Wonderland, which is directed by Tim Burton and features a star-studded cast. Depp’s Mad Hatter is sure to be another favorite for Depp fans and a wonderful introduction to Depp’s repertoire for a whole new generation. Johnny Depp sat down with Buzzine to talk about the film and his career, and to delve into his acting process.
René S. Garcia, Jr.: I think this is the seventh film you’ve done with Tim Burton. When he came to you and said “The Mad Hatter,” what was your reaction? Why did you want to play that character?
Johnny Depp: To be honest, he could have said “Alice” and I would have [taken the role]. I would have done whatever character Tim wanted, but certainly The Mad Hatter was a bonus because it was a great challenge to try to find that this guy and not just be a rubber ball in an empty room and watch it bounce all over the place, but just to find that part of the character and give it a little more history or gravity.
RG: There’s kind of a tragic nature to The Mad Hatter’s background you bring out that I’ve never seen before in Alice in Wonderland.
JD: There’s that whole hatter’s dilemma, which is where the phrase “mad as a hatter” came from. The amount of mercury they used in the glue to make the hats was damaging. So in terms of the Hatter, working from that perspective, this guy literally is damaged goods -- physically damaged, emotionally obtuse, kind of taking that – as opposed to this hyper, nutty guy – he should explore all sides of the personality at the extreme level. So he could go from one second being a lot of levity and straight into some kind of dangerous tantrum rage...and then tragedy. So it was interesting trying to map it out.
RG: Was there a time in your own career that you felt you were Johnny in Wonderland?
JD: The whole ride… My experience on the ride since day one has been pretty surreal, working in this business, and defies logic. I’m still completely shocked that I still get jobs and that I’m still around, but I guess, more than anything, this has been kind of Wonderland. I’ve been very lucky.
RG: Did you think it was going to be that way when you started? JD: No, not at all. I had no idea where any of this was going. It’s almost impossible to predict. I had no idea. I felt, after I had done Crybaby with John Waters and Edward Scissorhands with Tim, that they were going to cut me off right then, because at that point, I felt that I was on solid ground and I knew where I was going and where I wanted to go. I was sure they would nix me, but we’re still here.
RG: You’ve collaborated with Tim Burton before. How did you see your personal and professional relationship grow through Alice in Wonderland?
JD: The initial thing for me is to obviously come up with a character, but there’s a certain amount of pressure where you go, “Jesus, will this be the one where I disappoint him?” So I try really hard, especially early on, just to come up with something very different that he hasn’t experienced before, that we haven’t experienced together before, and that will stimulate him and inspire him to make choices based on my character.
RG: You’ve created so many wonderful characters that we all remember. When you start something new like The Mad Hatter, do you have to look back over your work and make sure you don’t repeat anything?
JD: Definitely. I’ve used an English accent a number of times, so it becomes a little bit of an obstacle course to sort of go, “Oh, that’s teetering into Captain Jack. Oh, this one’s kind of teetering a little over into Chocolat or Wonka.” So you’ve got to pay attention to the places you’ve been. That’s part of it. That’s the great challenge. You make it raw. There’s a very great possibility that you could fall flat on your face, but again I think that’s a healthy thing for an actor.
RG: Would you ever think about donning a suit like they did in Avatar?
JD: I don’t know. What color is the suit?
JD: Oh, it matches my eyes. I suppose. I mean, I don’t care. I’ll put anything on. I mean, obviously. Look at me.
RG: Of all the movies you’ve done, which one is your children’s favorite?
JD: It’s funny because they’ve seen it, but they have a difficult time watching it because it’s their dad. They make that connection. Edward Scissorhands is by far my kids’ favorite. They connect with the character, and also they see their dad feeling that isolation…loneliness. He’s a tragic character, so it’s hard for them. They bawl.
RG: When did Alice in Wonderland enter your life, and how did the book influence you? JD: Even though you can’t place when the book or the story came into your life… I do remember vaguely maybe roughly five years old, reading versions of Alice in Wonderland…but the thing is…the characters. You always know the characters. Everyone knows the characters, and they’re very well-defined characters. Most people, let’s say, haven’t read the book, but they definitely know the characters and reference them. For me, I went back, ironically, only a year prior to Tim calling me, and I had re-read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and what I took away were these very strange, cryptic nuggets that [Lewis Carroll had] thrown in there. I was really intrigued by them, became fascinated by them because they were asking questions that couldn’t be answered almost, or they made statements that you couldn’t quite understand, like, “I’m investigating things that begin with the letter M.” That took me through a whole stratosphere of possibilities. Finding – due to a little research – that the M is mercury. And then “why is a raven like a writing desk?” Those things just became so important to the character. If I read the book again today, I’d find a hundred other things that I missed last time.
Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland' is in theaters now.