Honestly, you had us at 'Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter'...but when you throw in a Wonderland with Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, Helena Bonham-Carter as the Red Queen and all manner of visual delights caught between the two, we can hardly wait for to see the whole world... Buzzine‘s Izumi Hasegawa meets up with other-worldly director Tim Burton in Hollywood, CA and gets the inside story on his amazing new take on the classic tale of Alice in Wonderland.
Izumi Hasegawa: What is it about the book of Alice in Wonderland that you felt suited your unique sensibilities?
Tim Burton: It wasn’t only the book. It was growing up and you hear this kind of imagery and music and songs. It was just something about the imagery that [Lewis Carroll] created that, throughout lots of different generations, it still plays in people’s minds. I think any kind of thing that has strong, dreamlike imagery that stays with you is important to your subconscious and thinking and creative mind. I just felt like trying to do it a different way, because I’ve never really seen any movie version that I really liked. The intent was to take that imagery and try to make it into a movie.
IH: What’s your emotional connection to Alice in Wonderland?
TB: The emotional connection came from the fact of seeing other movie versions of it that I never felt an emotional connection to. It was always a series of a girl wandering around from one crazy character to another. I never felt any real emotional connection, so it was an attempt to really want to try to give it some framework and emotional grounding that felt that had never been seen in any version before. That was the challenge to me, to take it. Every character is weird, but I tried to give them their own specific weirdness so they’re all different. I think all those characters and this imagery indicates some type of mental weirdness that everybody goes through, but the real attempt was to try to make Alice feel more like a story as opposed to a series of events.
IH: What did Alice mean to you as a child?
TB: I think it’s a fairly universal concept. These kinds of stories, whether The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland, are an internal journey. These characters represent things inside the human psyche. I think that’s what every child does. You try to work out problems as you go on. Same thing as an adult. Some people get therapy, some people get to make movies. There are different ways of getting this sort of thing worked out.
IH: How did you get Johnny Depp to Comic-Con last summer?
TB: He just happened to be in the neighborhood. We saw him wandering around outside dressed as Jack Sparrow. No, it was just nice that he came to support the movie. I haven’t been here [since] I came when I was a student, but it was a few people in a room with a bad slideshow. This is a whole amazing different thing. The one thing that was always true about it was people’s love and passion about this kind of stuff, so it always had a good feeling that way. It’s always nice to see people dressed up. Halloween is my favorite time of year, so this sort of extends that a whole extra weekend, seeing great costumes and stuff. It’s got a great spirit to it.
IH: Is there an evolution to your films?
TB: No. I don’t know. It takes a while. It’s easier to look at things in retrospect and see where you were mentally. At the time you’re doing things, you’re just kind of in that zone of in the present and all, so I think it takes time to see where things lie in terms of that kind of thing. I never try to think too much about it — just move on.
IH: What did Johnny Depp bring to the character of the Mad Hatter?
TB: It’s a very iconic character. Again, it’s been portrayed animation and live action. I think Johnny tries to find the grounding to the character — something that you feel as opposed to just being Mad. Again, a lot of versions — it’s a very one-note kind of character, and his goal is to bring out more of a human side to the strangeness of the character. For many years, every time I work with him, that’s all he tries to do. This was no exception.
IH: Your first Alice experience — was it book or movie?
TB: I’ve seen the imagery. Movies I’ve seen, I’ve never liked. I’ve seen the Disney cartoon probably — that might’ve been the first one. There’s a 1930s version, there are other TV versions. I never really got into them. The goal was to try to make something to make sense of some characters.
IH: Did you read the book? What age?
TB: Oh yeah, when I was maybe eight, ten or whatever. I had a weird connection because I bought the house. I don’t know if you know the illustrator, Arthur Rackem. I live and work out of his studio. In 1905, he did some amazing versions of Alice in Wonderland, Sleepy Hollow, things that I’ve been involved with, so I felt there was a weird connection to me — the material, and life. It always helps somehow.
IH: Any thoughts on the techno split?
TB: As you can see here today, there are so many different techniques. There’s pure mocap kind of thing, or animation, live action, a mixture of them… For my own personal reasons, I didn’t want to do the mocap thing. I’m not personally so much into that, so I just went more with the pure animation and then live action, but then try to work the live action to fit into the world. All the techniques have been done before, but this is a new mixture of them that way. We’re still working on it, so it remains to be seen how it all turns out. The goal is, when we had actors to use them, not put green dots all over them and not use them. All these mediums are valid. It’s not like there’s one, I don’t think, that’s any better than the other. Whatever the project is, you just try to do it for whatever you think works for that project.
IH: Is this a sequel or reimagnining?
TB: It’s not a sequel because there are so many stories of Alice in Wonderland – a couple books. The goal was just taking elements of the books and making its own story. A lot of it is based on this “Jabberwocky” poem in one of the stories. That’s not a big part of the story, but we’re just using elements of all the books because that’s the nature of them. They don’t necessarily follow a specific linear structure.
IH: Do you have ideas for another original, like Edward Scissorhands?
TB: Oh yeah. Those are always inside so yeah, I’ve got a few lying around. I’ll try and sneak them in somewhere, yes. Nothing right at this moment.
IH: Do you enjoy dressing up for Halloween?
TB: I’m sort of dressed up now, at some point. I don’t know. It’s the one time of year where you get into that feeling — you actually can learn more about yourself when you’re in a costume sometimes. There’s something about being hidden, a certain kind of freedom about that. That’s why it’s fun to see people dressed up around here because there’s a
certain sense of artistic freedom that I think comes from that. I’m all for that whenever it’s possible, not just Halloween. It’s something that’s very private, though, dressing up, okay?
IH: Were the characters’ lines based on the actors?
TB: People brought — yes, that’s what actors like to work with. They bring something to it. If there’s a line or something from the book, a Carroll line that wasn’t in the script that they wanted to be in the script, if an actor connects to something and feels passionate about something, it’s always nice to…you usually get something better from them because it’s something meaningful they can grasp onto. That’s always, I think, very helpful. Disney came to me and mentioned the fact of Alice in 3-D and I just felt the material in that sort of medium worked — was a good mixture of elements. Again, as I said earlier, just wanting to try and do a version that’s like a movie.
IH: Did you shoot in 3-D or do it later?
TB: We didn’t do it with a 3-D camera. We got all of our information with other cameras and stuff. It’s a mixture of things. There’s two reasons for that, or maybe three or four reasons. One was the time element, where we didn’t really have five or six years to make it. Also, I felt, with the techniques we were using, the pure animation, live action but manipulating, doing strange things to that, plus the other elements that we were adding into it — this gave us more freedom to get the depth, the layers, everything we wanted to in the time that we were dealing with. Also, for me, I couldn’t really see the difference. There are people that are probably saying it’s more pure this way or that. When I lined it all up with what we were doing, this seemed the right technique and the right approach to doing it.
IH: I want to continue the 3-D thing. How do you think it helps the story…
TB: There were days you used to put the glasses on, you’d walk out of the theater with a splitting headache. That’s no longer the case. It’s a much more pleasant experience. I’m personally not out to make it a gimmick. It enhances, it puts you in this world more. Just with the Alice material, growing and shrinking, the spatial, weird spaces and places that you’re in, it just helps with the experience. Obviously, these movies have to not only work in 3-D but you’ve got to look at it in 2-D and say this is still a good movie that you want to see. I think the gimmick elements are falling by the wayside and it’s just more about an experience that puts you in it more. I remember when we did Nightmare converted to 3-D, I felt it’s almost the way it should’ve been because it’s like you felt the texture of the puppets more. You felt things you actually felt when you were on the set, and I think that just enhances the experience and, in a lot of cases, it makes more of the textures and things the way you wanted them to be at the beginning. When you’re looking at them on the set or in real life or touching the fabrics or feeling it, you feel it.
IH: Is the relationship between Alice and Mad Hatter a love story?
TB: I wouldn’t say. She’s just a young girl, please. She’s older, but she’s not that old.
IH: Would you dispel the rumor you’re doing Dark Shadows?
TB: Dispel the rumor? No, that’s the plan. If I’d ever finish this one, yeah. That’s the problem. Hard to think beyond this at the moment because there’s so much to do still, but that’s the plan.
IH: Why Mia [Wasikowska] and Helena [Bonham-Carter]?
TB: Mia was just…we wanted somebody with a gravity to her. Most Alices are just a precocious girl wandering through things. We wanted somebody who had…it’s hard to put into words, but just had a gravity to her, an internal life, something that you could see the wheels turning. It’s just a simple kind of power to her that we really liked. Not flamboyant, not very showy, but just somebody that’s got a lot of internal life to her. That’s why I picked her. Helena…I don’t know…she’s got a big head. Seemed to fit the red queen, I don’t know. She was available.
Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland is released theatrically on March 5, 2010 by Walt Disney Pictures