Entertainment » Movies

Barnabas has risen from the grave :: Depp & Burton on ’Dark Shadows’

by Jim Halterman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday May 11, 2012

If there's one movie that (excuse the pun) is poised to take a bite out of the competition in the early summer movie offerings, it's Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows," which lands in theaters this weekend.

Besides Burton's frequent collaborator Johnny Depp (as the iconic Barnabas Collins) the film's impressive cast also includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green. Helena Bonham Carter (aka Mrs. Tim Burton), Chloe Grace Moretz, Jonny Lee Miller, Gulliver McGrath and Jackie Earle Haley.

With vampires being everywhere in film (the "Twilight" series) and television ("True Blood," "Vampire Diaries"), the timing to revisit Barnabas Collins and the classic "Dark Shadows" television series (which ran on ABC from 1966-1971 with a failed TV revival attempt on NBC in 1991) seems ideal. In Burton's telling, Barnabas wakes up after being down and out for 200 years and finds that not only has the current Collins clan taken over but also, it being 1972 when he awakens, things are just plain odd. It's that oddity that lends itself to the light, comedic tone that Burton has attached to the film.

Doing a vampire movie

Depp and Burton, during last weekend’s "Dark Shadows" press junket in Beverly Hills, revealed they were big fans of the series for years and have been interested in working on a film adaptation in for some time. "We’ve talked about it," Burton recalled, "for many years but I think this is the first project that I ever wrote for Johnny where he sorta said, ’I think you wanted to play this ever since you were a little boy.’"

Depp agreed that he’s wanted to play Barnabas since he was "a wee tyke." Burton continued by adding "Johnny, Michelle and I were there at the time when [’Dark Shadows,’ the TV series] came out so we recall it being a very strong, interesting property."

Depp remembered, "I think it was during ’Sweeney Todd’ where I think I just blurted it out in mid-conversation, ’God, you know, we should do a vampire movie together where you have a vampire that looks like a vampire!’ And, you know, ’Dark Shadows’ was kind of looming on the periphery and then Tim and I started talking about it."

Set in the 1970s

Also in the mix was screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, who has created a new horror/classic literature genre with his book "Pride and Prejudice," "Zombies," and "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter;" someone Depp said was vital to the collaboration. "Tim and I got together and started figuring out how it should be shaped. Seth came on board and the three of us riffed, really. Just one thing led to the other and it basically dictated to us what it wanted to be in a sense certainly with Tim at the forefront of leading the troops."

Why was 1972 so important to the timing of the film? Burton and Depp clearly felt that that particular year was ideal for the story they wanted to tell and the all-important music in the film, which was scored by frequent Academy Award nominee Danny Elfman.

"Setting it in 1972 was important," said Burton. "We went through all the music of that year; just doing that research reminded me of being quite ill that year, 1972, because I remember being sick, having a fever and hearing all that kind of music on AM radio over and over again."

Burton being Burton

Of course, Burton being Burton, the odd and strange are things that he’s naturally drawn to as evident from past works like "Edward Scissorhands" and the remake of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." As for "Dark Shadows," however, Burton said,

"That’s what was so strange. [The music] felt strange at the time and it still feels strange. That’s the weird thing about that... everything from really kind of cheesy pop to really kind of hardcore cool stuff. It was a weird year for music. I remember Alice Cooper being quite a strong influence to me at that time and he looks exactly the same way now, which is really scary!" (No big surprise that Cooper plays himself in the film to truly capture the eccentric time of the early 1970s.)

Besides music, Depp marveled at the thought of playing Barnabas as he wakes up in 1972. "The idea of this very elegant upper echelon well-schooled kind of gentleman who’s cursed in the 18th century and is brought back to probably the most surreal era of our time, the 1970s - 1972. How he would react to things and how radically different things were, not just throughout the technology and automobiles and such but actually items of enjoyment of people like pet rocks and fake flowers and plastic fruit, troll dolls, lava lamps...and the macramé owls."

Pfeiffer - a ’Dark Shadows’-fan

Besides Depp and Burton, Pfeiffer has always been a "Dark Shadows" fan but even for a multi-Academy Award nominee calling the acclaimed director was nerve-wracking for her. A mutual friend of she and Burton’s nudged her to make sure the director knew of her interest.

"At that point, I don’t even know if there was a script really... so I didn’t even know if there was a part for me and it had been so long since I had seen the series. I didn’t even remember, I just said [to Burton] ’If there’s anything, I want to throw my hat in the ring,’ and then I hung up and went, ’I’ll never hear from him again.’"

Burton, however, was more than happy to work with Pfeiffer again and cast her as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. It had been twenty years since they last worked together, however, on the 1992 film, "Batman Returns," where Pfeiffer famously played Catwoman. "It was a long time ago but it just flooded back because I never really watched [’Batman Returns’] again but it sort of flooded back like how impressed I remember being with Michelle. She learned how to use a whip, and jump around on roofs in high heel shoes, let birds fly out of her mouth, let cats eat her... I mean, really impressive stuff."

Not ’Dynasty’

After reminiscing, Burton also loved that Pfeiffer was as much of a fan as he and Depp were of the original series. "It was a real joy to get hold of Michelle and find out she’s a closet ’Dark Shadows’ fan. I knew that she was weird but it confirmed the whole situation, which was great because between Michelle and Johnny, we were the only ones, I think, in the cast who knew ’Dark Shadows.’

"I don’t know if I showed it to anybody else because you can’t really show ’Dark Shadows’ to anybody else that doesn’t know it because they’d probably run away screaming out of the room but it was nice that Michelle playing the head of the family... it just made me realize how much I enjoyed working with her."

Burton did have fun teasing Pfeiffer about the way Elizabeth had to walk grandly down the staircase. "My first day of shooting in eight-inch platform shoes walking down that treacherous staircase," said Pfeiffer. "I wasn’t allowed to look down..." Burton quickly interjected, "they didn’t look down on ’Dallas’ or ’Dynasty’..."

Hommage to Jonathan Frid

Depp also joked about some of the same-sex blood sucking that vampires are known to do. When Burton brought up a construction worker that Barnabas feasts on, Depp added, "We’ll go back to the erotic nature of vampires. I felt as though I was biting one of the Village People!" However, no matter who he was supposed to be biting, Depp did it with care. "When I had the fangs in you wanted to be a little bit careful that you didn’t actually pierce the jugular!"

Finally, Depp had to pay homage to the original Barnabas Collins, actor Jonathan Frid, who passed away recently. "It was apparent to both Tim and myself that it had to be rooted in Jonathan Frid’s character of Barnabas. It just had to be. It was so classic." Depp also talked about the physicality that he took from Frid’s portrayal. "Jonathan did have, when he was playing Barnabas, there was kind of a rigidity to him, kind of that pole up the back, this sort of elegance, that was always there." Depp also added a little dig against all the sexy, good looking vampires on the scene in projects like ’Twilight,’ ’True Blood’ and ’Vampire Diaries’ by saying, "I did believe when Tim and I talked early on a vampire should look like a vampire and it was kind of a rebellion against vampires that looked like underwear models."

"Dark Shadows" opens nationwide on Friday, May 11th. For more on the film, visit its website.

Watch the trailer to Dark Shadows:

Jim Halterman lives in Los Angeles and also covers the TV/Film/Theater scene for www.FutonCritic.com, AfterElton, Vulture, CBS Watch magazine and, of course, www.jimhalterman.com. He is also a regular Tweeter and has a group site on Facebook.


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