Multi-character acting "chameleon" Johnny Depp plays an animated chameleon in Rango, along with co-stars Isla Fisher and Abigail Breslin. Johnny talks about his kids; Abigail talks about holding a gun and wearing a black wig while recording the voiceover for this role; and Isla talks about scrapping her Australian accent for every role she gets. Then Justin Bieber drops in to surprise Johnny...
Izumi Hasegawa: I've heard, in previous reports, that director Gore Verbinski fought tooth-and-nail in order to make sure that Rango isn't going to be in 3D. Are you for or against 3D in general? And how do you all feel about 3D being the big trend in general?
Johnny Depp: I'm waiting for 5D. That's what I want.
Isla Fisher: I think the glasses are really uncomfortable. [Laughs]
Abigail Breslin: It actually looks so like lifelike anyway, I think it looks like 3D; it looked like the animals were there, anyway. It looked really cool, I thought. And 3D makes me dizzy.
IH: Johnny, I wanted to ask you a little bit about getting into your character, because if you listen very carefully, you can hear Johnny Depp. But I thought you kind of picked a character for this, because the voice is a little different than your regular speaking voice. So can you talk about finding your Rango?
JD: Sure. Early on, some of the talks that Gore and I had about the character...talk about two grown, middle-aged men discussing the possibility of one of them being a lizard. [Laughs] So it starts off on a surreal note anyway. But finding the voice or finding the character, we talked about people in life, when they have a tendency to exaggerate or lie or whatever, you always notice that their voice goes up quite high. It goes to a completely different register. Whereas, if I'm talking to you and speaking and babbling non-stop, and then suddenly I'm really nervous about telling you the truth, but I'm lying...that's where it came from. You imagine the character to be incredibly...just really like a nervous wreck.
IH: Johnny, you and Gore have obviously worked together a few times now, and I was just wondering if you could each comment on what you like so much about working with the other...
JD: I've been told I smell good. I mean, I don't look like I smell good. [Laughs] No, working with Gore in three Pirates films and Rango, certainly there are no limits to the possibilities. He allows you to try all kinds of things that sometimes fail miserably. And other times goes into this weird...you've just arrived at someplace that you know no one's ever been to before. And he welcomes it, and he creates an atmosphere that allows you to just essentially go ape. And it's a blast. That's really a fun part of the process.
IH: And the character's for kids...
JD: I think kids, in general as an audience, are the way forward because they're not sullied by intellectual expectation or this or that. It's a very pure response to the work. And the great luck that I had, for example, before Pirates 1, I had a daughter. And for about four years, all I watched was cartoons--just cartoons. And I realized, at that point, that the parameters were far away from what we do in normal, everyday movies, and that you can get away with a lot more. Kids accept a lot more, and they buy it because they're free. So for me, that was everything, in terms of coming up with what Captain Jack would be. So I trust kids far more than I do adults. Kids give you the honest opinion. They tell the truth.
IH: Johnny, there's obviously the call back to Raoul Duke in the film--a character you played before. But part of your character reminded me a lot of William Blake in Dead Man, and I wondered if that was conscious at all...
JD: No, it wasn't conscious, but I can see what you're saying. This journey, this sojourn, this spiritual quest that William Blake was on, I can definitely see that. But no, I didn't consciously connect the two, not really.
IH: Johnny, you're a very physical actor, and I just wondered, with this process--which it's different than the other animated films you've done where you were in a booth--you actually acted this out. Did that helped you. And maybe the actresses, as well, could talk a little about doing that. It's different than most animated pictures...
JD: Ultimately, it was everything, though there were times when you didn't feel that, when you were doing it--you'd rather have been because, well, we're lazy. [Laughs] At least I am, and I'd rather just sit in front of a microphone and do the thing. However, the process that we did, Gore created this atmosphere that was truly ludicrous; I mean, just ridiculous. It was like regional theater at its worst. [Laughs] And somehow, because of--not the idea of motion capture, but emotion capture: certain gestures, body language, movement, something you might have done with your eyes--all these animators took it and put it in there. So it was very strange. For Harry Dean Stanton to walk up to me one afternoon--because I've known him for a million years--and he walks up to me and says, "This is a weird gig, man." [Laughs] And I went, "Oh, yeah. You've just started. You just wait." But ultimately, it was the right thing to do. And that was his vision, and we saw it through.
IF: I think the characters had humanity because we were interacting with each other, and more chemistry, so it felt more organic and real.
AB: When you're in just like a booth by yourself, it's very isolating and you don't really have anything to play off of except one take of one line, and then a beep...so I think that it was...well, for me, at least, a lot more fun. Although I did wear a black wig and I got a really bad rash on my neck from it, and so that was a little unfortunate...
IF: And you were carrying a gun, which was weird, to see Abigail with a massive gun.
AB: It was so bizarre because there were actual guns going, and you don't think that there are firearms in an animated movie, and it's live. That's all I thought about it.
JD: Gore always travels with guns.
IH: There are a lot of references, obviously, to Westerns. What is everybody's best Western that you've seen?
JD: Oh boy.
AB: I've never seen a Western besides this one. That's really bad. But this is the only one I've ever seen. But my dad loves them, and he told me that, to be a smart person, I have to watch them. [Laughs]
JD: Certainly I was always a fan, as Gore, I know, was of the great old spaghetti Westerns, the Sergio Leone films. But the one that always sticks with me, that I just thought was brilliant and perfect, is Cat Ballou. Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou--he reinvented some form of acting there.
IH: This question is for everybody. What projects do you have in the pipelines? But I'm particularly curious if Isla or Abigail has any desire to do animated projects in the future again...
IF: I'm actually doing an animated movie now, The Rise of the Guardians, and I'm playing Tinkerbelle, which is a really different voice from Bean's. And I'm really enjoying that. But I'm in an isolated booth.
AB: I love animated movies, so yeah, I'd love to do one for sure again. But I liked doing it like this, and I don't think they do many animated movies like that. But I suppose I'd be in an isolated booth too, if it was a cool movie.
JD: But you'd still wear the wig and the gun and stuff.
AB: I'd still come completely full out in the character's costume.
IH: Johnny, you said the only real critics that you pay attention to are your kids. How do they feel about their dad playing a lizard? Were they down with it? Did it work for them?
JD: They actually call me the Lizard King. [Laughs] I've forced them to address me like that since they were tykes. [Laughs] No, it was an odd thing. "Where you going, Daddy?" "Ah, I gotta go to work." "What are you doing?" "Well, I'm playing a lizard."[Laughs] "Okay." It'd literally be that kind of thing--you drop your kids off at school, give them a kiss, and it was, "Oh yeah, now I'm gonna go be a lizard." Or the things that I've done that my kids have been privy to, Willy Wonka and all, it doesn't register. They're far more interested in Family Guy or Justin Bieber... [Laughs]
IH: Are you a Belieber?
JD: A Belieber? Wow. I've actually never heard that one. [Laughs]
IH: Ask your kids.
JD: That is my favorite. And you know what? Yes, I am a Belieber. [Laughs] I am. And I shall remain so.
IH: Rango's character told the lies to the people to get through a critical situation, but I'm pretty sure everybody has experienced lying to someone else; I'm pretty sure you have. And maybe the sweet lie. Could you share with us your lying experience?
JD: I actually tell lies for a living. Exactly. That's what acting is, really. Yeah, I was lying. I'm sorry.
IH: Your voice didn't go up.
JD: No, it's kind of stuck at the moment, in this register. I had horrific guilt for many years, playing along with the Santa Claus thing, and waiting for that moment to arrive...because you're never going to bring it up to them. They're going to arrive and say, "Hey, you've been telling me a lie for my entire life. What are you prepared to do about that?" It's that kind of thing. So I had horrific guilt. And we're now just on the outskirts of that, so I feel okay. But these are lies that society tells you you must keep these lies going--these myths. I feel guilt about it; I still do.
AB: Santa's not real? [Laughs]
JD: No, he is. [Laughs] He is.
AB: Thank God.
JD: No, I had to lie and tell her that he's not. It was horrible.
IH: Johnny, I heard that you're set to work with Kusturica on Pancho Villa. Can you tell me how you plan on segueing from Rango into Pancho, and if you're brushing up on your Spanish for that?
JD: It's a project that I think is a little bit up in the air. Kusturica is an old friend and certainly a filmmaker that I admire greatly. From the first second that we spoke about it, I always had a bit of a problem. My dilemma is just the fact that it's Pancho Villa. It is Pancho Villa, and it's one of the great heroes of Mexico. And for me, I feel like it should be played by a Mexican and not some [laughs] mutt from Kentucky. I still feel very strongly about that. So it's sort of floating at the moment. But it's a great character, and Kusturica is a great filmmaker. I'm sure he's going to do something very special.
IH: I wanted to, with all due respect, congratulate you on your Golden Globe nomination that you got earlier in the year.
JD: Oh, thank you very much.
IH: This is a two-part question, although you didn't win it...
JD: I didn't? [Laughs] They told me I did.
IH: What was your take on the whole brouhaha? Also, have you had a chance to look at any of the screeners for the films for the Oscar this year, and what do you think?
JD: I have. I don't do well with modern films, to be honest. I just...I don't know. Opening credits, and I'm just gone. [Laughs] And it's not about people make great films. I just don't have the eyes to watch them. But there's a film that I was really, really impressed with, that I absolutely adored, and I've seen it a few times now, and it's called Exit Through the Gift Shop by Banksy. I thought it was a very brave film and a very honest film, and for me, I'm all the way with that film.
IH: And the brouhaha on the nomination--that whole sub-story...?
JD: What was it? I don't really know about it, myself.
IH: Okay, fine. Steroids.
JD: What? The fact that I'm pumping steroids? What?
IH: Maybe you should.
JD: It's not steroids; it's suppositories. [Laughs] It's a French thing. It's an addiction, and I'm working on it. I'll get through it. [Laughs] Steroids?
IH: Johnny, you say that you trust more in the kids, and what do you think when you get that attention from the other people, especially from women?
JD: I do trust women. I have a lot of women in my life. I have a mother. I have a woman; there are a lot of women around me. And I do trust them, and they trust me, as far as I know. [Laughs] But attention is a strange being anyway--the idea of attention. It's always nice that someone appreciates your work. But I've never quite understood any of the other bits, where somehow you've been voted something for a magazine--it's a complete mystery to me. I wake up and I have to look at that head when I brush my teeth every morning. It's weird and it's unpleasant at times. So I don't know about the attention thing.
IH: Isla, can you tell us a little bit about creating the voice of Beans, and if you feel like having to cover your accent so frequently in films made it easier to do the characterization?
IF: If Clint Eastwood and Holly Hunter would have a love child, that would be Beans.
JD: I'd like to watch that.
IF: The physicality of the character had already been created. Gore presented me with 20 minutes of the movie, just linear drawings, so I knew how she moved. And then Gore was with me every step of the way vocally, and he was very specific about what he wanted. And no one ever wants to hire an Australian, so I'm just used to never doing my own voice, ever. [Laughs] I mean, they do want to hire...oh, that came out wrong. They do want to hire Australians, obviously, but...
IH: For all the actors, how much of your characters did you get to see in terms of the artwork, before you started playing with them?
AB: I saw a picture of Priscilla, and I would have done it based on how...I mean, let's face it, she's a glamour girl. So she's kind of gorgeous. But I thought she was adorable. So I would have done it based on that. But I thought all the characters were pretty cute, but in a strange way--odd but cute. They're not cuddly. You don't want to hold them, but...
IH: Johnny, in the past, you've said that you've always chosen characters that you had a personal connection with, and I was just wondering what your connection with this character would be...
JD: I always had an affinity for lizards; I've always felt somewhat close to them. They're reptile. Feeling somewhat reptilian myself at times. No, oddly, I think Gore might even disagree, but I feel like when we were doing Pirates 1, 2, and 3, at times, when Jack Sparrow had to run, there was this very specific run that I wanted. And I saw this footage of a lizard running across the water, and it was the strangest thing I've ever seen. So I said, "Gore, he's got to be the lizard running across," and he's like, "Oh yeah, absolutely." So that was the whole thing. So whenever we were in that situation, "Okay, it's time to get in touch with the lizard." And we did it. So I actually think that Rango was somehow planted in Gore's brain from that lizard run. And when he actually called me and said, "I want you to play a lizard," I thought, "Well God, I'm halfway there." [Laughs] I know what I'm doing.
IH: Justin Bieber!
JD: Hey, man. We just established that I'm a Belieber.
Justin Bieber: And I'm a big fan of you, so I had to come support you.
JD: Bless you, man.
JB: I had to come say hi. I heard you were in the building.
JD: Bless you. By the way, Justin Bieber. Well done, man, thank you. Okay, now who's not a Belieber? You know what I mean? Aren't we all Beliebers? Bless him. Now how am I going to explain this to my daughter? [Laughs]
Paramount Pictures' 'Rango' is released on March 4, 2011.