Despite the gore depicted in trailers aired on screens, the atmosphere was nothing short of festive as director Tim Burton, actor Johnny Depp and producer Richard Zanuck entered the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo’s Roppongi district last week to promote “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Reporters were told that no personal questions were allowed to be asked, and, heeding the warning, the scribes were on their best behavior, barring this query aimed at Depp: “If you had the chance to eat your own flesh, what would it taste like?” The actor (who lives in Paris) replied: “Oh, I would think . . . frog’s legs. I would recommend deep-fried.”
You’ve collaborated with Johnny Depp many times before. Was there anything new that you discovered about him during the making of this movie?
Burton: “This is the first time I’ve heard him sing and dance at close quarters. I’ve just never seen him do anything like this before. But then Johnny has always invented himself anew with every movie. He is never the same. He’s one of those rare actors you hardly ever see anymore, who can convey emotion and sadness just by looking out the window. He transforms himself every time, and this makes everyone working on the set feel very excited. They could feel like they’re making an art form and not a business project.”
Apparently, you had always loved the story of Sweeney Todd.
Burton: “When I saw the show on Broadway I was still a student and I was struck by the beauty of the music, the tragedy of the love story. There just wasn’t anything like it. So yes, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
What was the best thing about signing on for the project?
Depp: “For me it was first and foremost the opportunity to work with Tim again. And like Tim, I was taken by the incredible music and lyrics, the emotions. I wasn’t sure I could sing in a musical but I wanted to try something new and see how it would turn out, how I could work on it so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself.”
How did you feel about playing a “demon,” and how did you make the switch from demon to angel?
Depp: “I never really saw Sweeney as evil. He was much more complex than that. When we talked about him on set, he was always referred to as a victim. He had his life ripped away from him in a very cruel way, and he died at that moment. When he came back 15 years later, he was a different person.”
Who is your favorite character in the movie?
Zanuck: “I love Toby, played by Ed Sanders. That young man has a great future ahead of him.”
Depp: “For me, it would have to be Sweeney Todd. It has nothing to do with my performance or ability, but just because the character is so complex, so grand-scale. He belongs in a classic horror movie, like with Boris Karloff.”
Burton: “I always thought Sweeney Todd was like the bloodthirsty and depressed version of Edward Scissorhands. They had both lived alone in sadness and despair for so many years that when they come out of seclusion they’re not themselves anymore, but turned into something different.”