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Tim Burton and Johnny Depp

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 3204 words Published: 17th May 2017

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They are two giants of films of our times or the Modern Cinema. Together, the magic they have created for big screen is certainly worthy of discussion as it is the longest lasting partnership between an actor and a director till date and that too only to produce unique cinematic masterpieces of their own kind. Indeed the legendary Director Tim Burton and the pliable acting machine Jonny Depp are under discussion here. How and why have they managed to play together the most successful innings of all times? Who are they? What are the films they have collaborated in? How do they think about each other’s art? But the most important of all the thoughts would be that Why Tim Burton almost always depends on Johnny Depp and how predictably Mr Depp proves to be a Burton-magnet equally? Why are they inseparable? My essay is going to explore and throw a light on this unique partnership that is continuing to entertain us for the years to come, how it is affecting the viewers and critics alike and if it is worth practicing this bond almost every time?

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Tim Burton has used his vision to embark on Hollywood genre filmmaking, gathering an international audience and fans. His work also influences a young generation of artists working in film, video and graphic industries. Tim Burton: the name alone enlivens up the images of Gothic landscapes, demonic clowns, and the sombre pleasantness of a loner struggling to find his way into un-accepting world. Like Alfred Hitchcock before him, Tim Burton has become mythical persona, known as much for his physical appearances, alternately described as endearingly passé, dork chic, or dishevelled for its highly stylized films. His films have been able to rise above both genre and explanation. The ideas and the material that appear in his work are both universal and timeless. His films, in first place, affect people emotionally rather than being intellectual. This resulted in Tim Burton becoming one of the filmmakers who based their films on their personal visions, the other being Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubirck, David Lynch and Spike Lee.

Timothy Walter “Tim” Burton was born (1958) and grew up in suburban California. He was into drawing and painting since early childhood together with a thing for movies and that too, monster movies. Trying his weird ideas of “home-made” animation through stop motion in his back yard resulted in his first proper short came into being which was produced by Burton’s friend, Rick Heinrichs. Tim Burton managed to get screened and noticed at Chicago Film Festival. Following this, his first live action film Hansel and Gratelfor Disney Channel was released. It kind of went nearly un-noticed and only recently has been un-earthed. Next was the live-action short Frankenweenie which got the attention of the American actor Paul Ruebens who provided Burton the opportunity to materialise his first feature based on Ruebens popular character ‘Pee-Wee Herman’ into the Pee-Wee’s BigAdventure (1985)which proved a box office success.

When the time came to make Edward Scissorhands, there were many considerations for main role of the film. One prominent of all was to cast Tom Cruise, who was the top shining star of the period who was nearly finalised for the film, due to his star power, the film studios needed. But Tim Burton and the producer Denise di Novi fell for the auditioned, the bored television star, Johnny Depp, who had never done a feature before.

John Christopher “Johnny” Depp was born (1963) in Kentucky, USA. He was mostly known for strange and unusual characters, playing as a garage band musician in his early teens. He covered many a mile stones while staying within the music circles. His make-up artist wife introduced him to Nicolas Cage, and it was him who advised Depp to pursue an acting career. According to Squidoo (2010), Depp’s talent was first recognised in television series 21 Jump Streetby audience and he was regarded as a teen idol. Depp diverted his focus to suitable film roles because of uncomfortable characterization in television roles. It was then, when ‘Edward Scissorhands’ stepped into his life to change his fate forever.

Depp recalls the memorable encounter with Burton in his exclusive present of forewords for a book, “Burton on Burton” based on interviews of the director, when he wasn’t doing much, rather stuck up with a television series and after even finishing it, its post traumas. He received a script which referred to a story of boy with scissors for hands. It was certainly a change, a breath of fresh air that he got quite excited and obsessed with the script and read a couple times. Under-estimating his selection as a possible candidate for the ‘Edward’, he went on to meet Burton and the producer in LA. Post three hour long meeting, Depp remembers the thought of certainty of him not being the Edward of Burton’s film. Weeks later he couldn’t believe his fate when he got a call saying “you are Edward Scissorhands”.

There was a path that seemed to be appearing in front of Depp. Salisbury (2008) stated that after their first work together, i.e. Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990), both of them have taken their relation to produce some of the best work of their respective careers. Johnny Depp is not only lead by Burton but by his own interpretation of a character, whether it is razor-fingered Edward Scissorhands, cross-dressing film director Ed Wood or creepy confectionery king Willy Wonka. They’ve since made five films together including Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; the animated Corpse Bride, Depp doing the voice over for lead character) and, most recently, Sweeney Todd.

According to Cortez (2004), Depp again worked with Tim Burton in Ed Wood (1994) proving his flair and winning a. This movie is one of the Burton’s highly praised films. In the movie, other than Johnny Depp, there were some vibrant performers including Bill Murray, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi. Both of them, Depp and Burton, once again collaborated in 1999 in Sleepy Hollow. The film was a hit at box office; it was recognised as Burton’s extra-ordinary work rather than being seen as Depp’s star power, as stated by Cortez (2004). For the movie, Depp incorporated some of his own attributes into the character of an officer, named Ichabod Crane having a prudish nature, who is on to solve some mysterious murders taken place recently in and around the town.

Depp was able to gain reputation with other directors and the critics also showed some confidence in his abilities. Depp’s career was at peak with an Oscar to his name for the film Finding Neverland, a Pirates sequel was on line and Tim Burton’s eagerly awaited Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was about to be released. As stated by Terry Gilliam after completing Fear and Loathing, “As far as I’m concerned, Johnny Depp is the best actor of his generation. I think he’s capable of anything – there’s no limit to his abilities… He doesn’t cheat by giving you all these cheap emotions. He won’t make you comfortable – for him that would be a foot in the grave. “In reply to this Depp said that he decided to have patience in selecting the roles. He also said that he preferred roles of his interest and not the roles with chance of his career advancement. He also added that he never wanted to be remembered because he was a star.

Depp turned down every offer, with full confidence, which did not attract him or was not interesting. Mostly, he rejected the offers because they were in his way of acting in Burton’s film. He rejected the offer of acting in Speed and Interview with the Vampire and instead he acted in Tim Burton’s best film Ed Wood (1994). Since their first movie together Edward Scissorhands, Burton and Depp shared a strong bond between each other and both individuals are so perfectly similar that Depp became Burton’s first and convenient choice for his every movie. According to Winter (2005), Burton once stated, “Johnny is like a character actor in a leading man’s body. He could do it all.” No one had any idea of the consequences of their imaginative collaboration. They both had already made seven blockbusters and their partnership has not ended yet.

The classy understanding they both have developed with each other at work, over the years, is one of the important trait of their teamwork at work. They do not face difficulties in explaining anything to each other. They would be speaking normal language, though shorter sentences, on the sets with everyone present but no one would be able to understand it but the person who it is intended for. A Little saying, a gesture and certain look of the director will get look out of the actor that will be termed as “just what the doctor ordered”. In order to make a grasp of Burton’s and Depp’s style of collaborating, we need to have an insight of their methodology or simply their way of working while developing “things”.

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp worked together in Sweeney Todd (2007) paying a respect, both visually and verbally, to the horror movies they watched in their childhood. Salisbury (2008) stated that both of them have a common favourite movie named Mad Love (1935), with actor Peter Lorre and sharing an expensive acting style like Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney. Depp said, “It’s almost a lost art! [John] Barrymore was a master, but the king for me was Lon Chaney. You go back and watch films like The Penalty and see this rage and sadness, this huge range of emotions, without the luxury of dialogue.”

According to Salisbury (2008), Sweeney’s lines were cut down every day on set to bare minimum. Burton told, “Johnny can, just by looking and not saying anything, project pain and sadness and anger and longing. That’s what all those actors could do without a word and that was the exciting thing about this. The story’s told through the eyes and the singing. “As in Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood, Depp played a similar role in Sweeney Todd helping Burton to connect emotionally and psychologically. Depp recalled, “There were moments when Burton used to say that this is his favourite character.” Johnny also expresses about their bond and the expectations, “By now people know that when Tim and I get together, they should expect the unexpected”. Audiences are again getting to set for yet another beautiful artistic version of Burton’s Alice in the wonderland,(rel,Mar,2010) in which by the look of it, we get to see his stars, including Depp again, dazzle in a startling look. Film journalist, Geoff Boucher, mentions in Los Angeles Times about his recent telephonic-conversation with Tim Burton on the sets of Alice in Wonderland, “I told Burton that it seems as if Depp (who has other upcoming roles as an Old West hero, a pirate and a vampire) approaches his acting choices the same way a gleeful kid rummages through a trunk of dress-up clothes; the filmmaker let out a loud laugh”. According to Boucher (2008), Burton replied, “It’s true. Yeah we have a big dress-up clothes trunk here. We take it with us wherever we go.”

After all these years and a good load of successful experiences, it is no surprise that Johnny has become a ‘yes man’ to his Burton. He is never short of words each time when he has to talk about his mentor and which he has memorably expresses on several occasions. As stated by Salisbury (1995, xii) that in Johnny Depp’s own words, “You can’t label what he does. It is not magic, because that would imply some sort of trickery. It is not just skill, because that seems like it is learned. What he has is very special gift that we don’t see every day. It is not enough to call him film-maker. The rare title of ‘genius’ is better fit, in not just films, but drawings, photographs, thought, insight and ideas.”

At another place, stated by Salisbury (1995), the most humble and defining remark comes from the actor himself, “My life is my life because of Tim,” he once declared. Same is the case in their private lives. In order to analyse the inseparable nature of both the individual professionally, we cannot ignore the importance of their bonding on personal fronts. The once an essential relationship of an actor and director turned-friendship has now turned to something that is much more than mere friendship that holds a unique bond of trust and has personal life touch to it. Depp is now the Godfather to Burton’s four year old child. Flipping through the pages of memories, he remembers that “who would have ever thought it possible that their progeny would be swinging on swing-sets together, or sharing toy cars, toy monsters, and even potentially exchanging chicken pox? This is the ride he never imagined.”

Salisbury (1995) stated that Depp showed his emotional side for the director, “seeing Tim as proud papa is enough to send me into an irrepressible weeping jag, because, as with almost everything, it is in the eyes. Tim’s eyes have always shone: no question about it, there was always something luminous in those troubled/sad/weary peepers. But today, the eyes of old pal Tim are laser beam! Piercing, smiling contented eyes, with all of the gravity of yester years, but bright with the hope of spectacular future. This was not the case before. There was a man with presumably everything- or so it seemed from the outside. But there was also something incomplete!”

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There have been numerous arguments on both Burton’s and Depp’s creative partnership on many levels; from newspapers to interviews or from books to online blogs. Some of the members of the public, especially the younger generation consider the “magical” film relation of both the artists a bit overrated or in some cases, annoying. But this opinion obviously takes its birth from freedom of expression of modern day and need not to be taken very seriously as there is a substantial amount of followers who can never have enough of the results both Burton and Depp churn out. In this context, obviously the critics and the writers have more weighting and almost all of them are the applauding lot of their work. There are some exceptions as well like, although he is all praise for the talented duo, but in one article for Radio Times the known film writer Andrew Collins expresses that he was relieved when ‘Alice inWonderland’ (to be released, march 2010) was announced that he realised that Depp couldn’t take the title role. “But guess what? He’s playing the Mad Hatter. And after that, Burton plans to make Dark Shadows, a vampire story…starring Johnny Depp.” Commenting on his article were many, but one particular member of the public responded to it like this: “This article is like saying that people should stop putting maple syrup on pancakes because people do it too often. Just because they work together often does not mean the work that they accomplish together gets any worse. The pancakes still taste good. The movies are still entertaining. They make amazing movies together so why should they stop?”

By exploring the “strategic” partnership of both the talented ones on most of the projects I would frankly say Why Not? I do not feel hesitant to express that it is no doubt a God-send bonding which has never failed to amuse and amaze us and I am of the opinion that there is nothing wrong with it if they carry on to make more cinematic pieces together in future. While doing that the least they can do, like they always do, is to strive for their repute and continue to bemuse the audiences by weaving more dreams. But still, being somewhat well researched in my own manner and by equally respecting the different argument I cannot turn my back to an interesting and important comment at a film blog by an unknown blogger and I will sum up my essay with that, “Just the fact that he used Ewan McGregor instead of Depp for Big Fish was refreshing and a big plus for the movie to me. It’s like a painter deciding he’s only going to use red and yellow for the rest of his career, when I’d really like to see what he can do with some other colours.”


· Answers (2010). “Tim Burton.” Available at http://www.answers.com/topic/tim-burton [Accessed: 2nd April 2010];

· Boucher, G. (2008). ‘Hero Complex; Tim Burton on Johnny Depp”. Los Angeles Times;

· Collins, Andrew. “Tim Burton & Johnny Depp: Joined at the hip?”Radio Times, 30th January 2009. http://www.radiotimes.com/blogs/558-andrew-collins-on-tim-burton-johnny-depp/ [Accessed: 2nd April 2010];

· Los Angeles Times (2010). “Hero Complex.” Available at http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/herocomplex/2008/10/tim-burton-talk.html [Accessed: 2nd April 2010];

· Fraga, Kristian. “Tim Burton Interview’. Mississippi, USA: University Press. 2005;

· Salisbury, Mark. “Burton & Depp: Partners in crime.” The Envelope (Los Angeles Times), January 2nd 2008. http://www.deppimpact.com/mags/transcripts/envelope_02jan08.html [Accessed: 1st April 2010];

· Salisbury, Mark. “Burton on Burton”. United Kingdom: Mackays of Charham. 1995;

· SquiWho (2010). “Who is Johnny Depp?” Available at http://www.squidoo.com/Johnny_Depp13 [Accessed: 2nd April 2010];

· Tim Burton Collective News (2010). “Alice #1 at Box Office: $116 Mil. Opening Weekend.” Available at http://www.timburtoncollective.com/labels/charlie%20and%20the%20chocolate%20factory.html [Accessed: 3rd April 2010];

· Winter, Jessica. “Depp and Meaningful.” Time Out (UK), April 6-13 2005. http://www.deppimpact.com/mags/transcripts/timeout_06apr05.html [Accessed: 1st April 2010];



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