Tim Burton's latest film, Dark Shadows, stars his old friend Johnny Depp and is imbued with the Gothic sensibilities that have made the director's work so recognisable.
Tim Burton returns with new film showcasing his signature style
It seems apt that when Tim Burton walks into London's Air Studios he's dressed, as he often is, in all black. From Batman to Beetlejuice, Sleepy Hollow to Sweeney Todd, the 53-year-old Burbank-born filmmaker has imbued just about everything he's ever made with his Gothic sensibilities. And his latest, based on the 1960s TV series Dark Shadows, is no different. Starring his old friend Johnny Depp as the 200-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins, it's time to go back to black.
Was Dark Shadows, the TV series, a big part of your upbringing?
Yeah. It was at a time when a lot of kids would race home from school to watch it. It was this strange thing - this weird, supernatural soap opera in the middle of the afternoon. It had this weird tone about it. It just felt different from everything else in my life at that time. I didn't get much homework done!
Did you watch a lot of TV shows then?
Yeah … Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Beverly Hillbillies. Those kinds of things. I was a television kid.
Looking back, what is it you liked about the show?
It explored the fact that most families are screwed up. Every family has a bit of that. Every family is a bit strange. I remember growing up … my family life wasn't that great, so I'd always try to find other families that I thought were nice families. It seemed to be a lot of Italians. The mother was always a great cook. So I had a lot of Italian friends growing up. But even in that dynamic, once you went through the surface, there was always strangeness to every family.
You set it in the early 1970s. Did you relate to this era specifically?
It's a time when I was going through a real transition from being a child to a teenager, which was unpleasant and awkward. I remember the clothes, the music … in fact, doing research on it, I started to get physically ill! It brought me back to a time where it just was very strange and uncomfortable. But that also helped me relate to Barnabus as somebody who has been locked away for 200 years and comes into this era, feeling very strange and awkward.
Johnny Depp was also a fan, so was this the perfect project for him?
Well, he's always trying different characters. I think Johnny as an actor is more comfortable being more of like a Boris Karloff type of actor than a leading man. So in that respect, I think he was enjoying it.
His character Barnabus is a vampire. Do you see the film as part of the whole Twilight and True Blood cycle?
I really never considered this a vampire movie. It's just more of a supernatural soap opera. It's just he happens to be a vampire - a reluctant one! Really, he's more of a romantic family man. And that was the thing about the original Dark Shadows - it was the precursor to all that stuff. All those franchises owe a bit of inspiration to Dark Shadows.
Was it automatic that you found a role for your partner, Helena Bonham Carter?
No. I wasn't really sure. We did say: "Let's take time out." But strangely enough, there's something about the actress [Grayson Hall] that played her character that Helena had a certain similarity to. I'm not sure how good she felt being offered the part of an ageing alcoholic psychiatrist! But she took the role.
You've also re-teamed with Michelle Pfeiffer, who played Catwoman in Batman Returns, and here plays the family matriarch.
Yeah, and I haven't really seen her since then. When she did Catwoman, that was one of my favourite performances from any film I've worked on. I hadn't spoken to her in almost 20 years. And she called me up and said: "I never really do this but if you do Dark Shadows, I'm interested."
Your recent films have been huge hits. Does that make it easier to get new projects made?
The thing I learnt quite early on, no matter how successful you get, it's still a struggle to get each project made. No question about it. Once you get the moniker of being the weirdo, no matter what you do, that label sticks.
Do you find it strange that the B-movies and TV shows you grew up with are now mainstream?
When I was growing up, these B-movies … that's what they were: B-movies, people dismissed them. I remember walking to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, looking at every Academy Award winner, thinking: "I'd never see that! Who cares about that? I'd rather see Blacula!" These were always my kind of movies. To me, they were always A-movies.
What films do you watch if you're at home?
I don't know. Maybe it's why I can't sleep. But I usually watch old horror movies - whatever's on.