UK Shivers Issue 73, 1999
JOHNNY DEPP DISCUSSES HIS LIFE AND WORK, AND HIS NEW MOVIE, SLEEPY HOLLOW
JOHNNY DEPP has always chosen roles that are different, and his newest film Sleepy Hollow he displays his talent for humour and drama in a film reminiscent of the Horror films of the ’50s and ’60s. Depp has the starring role in this new version of Washington Irving’s fable Tile Legend of Sleepy Hollow but the success of the film comes from the multi-faceted character of Ichabod Crane.
American-born Depp now lives with his wife Vanessa and their young daughter in France, but he had to adopt an English accent for the role of Crane. It is something he worked hard to develop.
“You know what I did?” he responds to our inquiry. “I watched a lot of old Horror films. People like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.” The inspiration for the character, he says, was in fact three people. “Number one was Basil Rathbone from the old Sherlock Holmes movies. Number two was a very great friend of mine that recently passed away, Roddy McDowell. He was a great man, a great actor and he was a very important model for the character. In a way this was my opportunity to tip my hat to him, to thank him, to salute him. The third was a terrific actress, Angela Lansbury,
she was a great model for the character. I just tried to hold on to those three people and out of that came the accent.”
Depp is too modest to admit that the success of the character may have had something to do with his own talent as an actor, but whatever talent he has, he says, it is something he’s nurtured through constant education.
“l’vc been blessed to know certain people who have been great teachers to me,” he says. “I think that every film you do is a kind of continuation of your education. You meet great teachers along the way. Marlon Brando was one, and he became a great friend. Al Pacino was another, Martin Landau, the list goes on. You learn from everybody.”
He pauses momentarily, before continuing. “Acting is a strange job, What’s at the heart of it for me is my fascination with human behaviour. I think the main thing for any actor when he’s starting out, before you go to class, before you read a book, is just to watch. Just observe people. And if you can take that on board, if you can learn from that and put it in a drawer somewhere, you can use it later to playa character. You’ll show how people do behave, and try to do it as honestly as possible.”
“We present a certain image of ourselves to the public, or to other people in life but in fact there is usually something going on underneath. There’s the subtext underneath. That’s what fascinates me about acting, and that’s why I love it.”
Depp has acquired a reputation for taking on roles that other actors might turn down, but he has also turned down roles that have made others superstars the so-called ‘blockbuster’ films. Still, when asked, he insists that what he projects is only himself, not something he’s modeled on anyone else.
“I’m not sure I can say I’ve modeled myself on anyone else, no. But there were people influencing me even before I was an actor. One was Buster Keaton, another was Charlie Chaplin, another was Lon Chaney. Chaney influenced acting before Marlon did. Lon Chaney was one of the greatest character actors ever to stand in front of the camera. Unbelievable performances. Unbelievable transformations.”
Chaney, of course, played some of the greatest Horror roles during his Hollywood career, popularising the Horror movie long before Karloff or Lugosi.
“I find all of those early stars very inspiring. but Chaney in particular. If I can be anything I would like to think that I can at least make an attempt at being a character actor. I think that is more important than just being a leading man. I think the term is pretty limiting. I’d like to consider myself, some day, a character actor.”
Clearly his role as Ichabod Crane shows a progression towards that goal, although by his own admission, Depp had his uneasy moments during the film. “I could keep my distance from the atmosphere of the film, the Horror clement,” he says. “But you do get kind of wound up in these things. There were some scenes with the horseman that were pretty spooky. I got really scared.”
CREATING SLEEPY HOLLOW COSTUME DESIGNER COLLEEN ATTWOOD
SLEEPY HOLLOW marks Colleen Atwood’s fourth collaboration with Tim Burton She earned an Oscar nomination tor little Women and a second nominanon for Jonathan Demma’s Beloved She previously worked with Burton on Mars Attacks. Edward Sclssorhands and Ed Wood
For Sleepy Hollow, Atwood’s research focused on period paintings and Visual descriptions of costumes from books, “There were no existing photographs,” comments Atwood. “but since this film IS not a history lesson the work becomes impressionistic ..
In the film’s opening scene, Depp wears a constable’s uniform which Alwood describes as ‘incredibly chic” Once lchabod travels to Sleepy Hollow. he wears one costume in varying stages – a long waistcoat with gold trimming and a hand-printed silk lining that kicks back light when he moves, “People didn’t have a lot of clothing unless they were wealthy.’ Atwood explains “The Idea with lchabod’s costume was to make It very minimal and sleek
The more elaborate costumes were worn by the Villagers of Sleepy Hollow – each one crafted by Atwood and her team from specially chosen fabrics. “They’re country folk that are 5 or 6 years behind the minute. says the designer, “but With the maximum amount of trim and gear to show their money on the outside.” The most extravagant dresses belonged to Lady Van Tassel (Miranda Richardson) “She’s definitely ruling the roost. When a character aspires to something greater. they take it to a different level.
One of Atwood’s favorite costumes IS a black and white dress worn by Lady Van Tassel. “It was such a challenge to create. and the way Miranda Richardson wore the costume was fantastic. The original Inspiration was bark in the forest. I wanted the dress to lit In the woods. but still be very grand. Miranda understood the architecture of the dress. that It went from light to dark, When she walked in it she walked straight forward and then turned to the Side, so you got the play of light on the costume ..
CREATING SLEEPY HOLLOW
AND SCENIC DESIGN
AMONG Sleepy Hollow’s action set-pieces. including stunts. pyrotechnics and special effects is a choreographed fight between Ichabod (Johnny Depp). Brom (Casper Van Dien] and the Headless Horseman (Ray Park) in the creepy entrance bridge to the village, The lengthy coach chase through the Western Woods. recalling several Hammer scenes. was filmed inside Leavesden’s ‘flight shed’ where designers built a 400·1001· long forest.
Stunt co-ordinator Nick Gillard. whose recent film credits include Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. brought Originality to the action sequences, In addition to choreographing the fight scenes, Gillard, along with horse master Steve Dent. also gave riding instruction to the entire cast. Depp’s horse. Gunpowder, is a Belgium carriage horse. The Headless Horseman’s horse. Daredevil. was brought over from Seville and trained from scratch, “Spanish horses have the best nature.” says Dent. “You Just have to work with them for ten minutes and they’re rewed up like a Ferrari”
Leavesden’s largest sound stage (,A’) underwent almost weekly transformations, changing from a forest to a barren field with haystacks, to a freezing snow-covered battlefield. Even a family of birds nesting in the ceiling grids were fooled by the changing seasons, When stage ‘A’ was revamped into a battlefield, the birds flew next door to stage ‘B’ where designers had created a cherry orchard for the spring dream sequences
Filming ‘exteriors’ inside a sound stage required ingenuity and constant collaboration from director of photography Lubezki. production designer Heinrichs and the special effects department. “The biggest challenge.” according to Lubezki ‘was creating a false sense of sky” Lubezki pre-rigged the stages With hundreds of space lights (strung from the ceiling) that could be controlled from a dimmer board.
CREATING SLEEPY HOLLOW
CREATURE EFFECTS ARTIST KEVIN YAGHER
CREATURE EFFECTS artist Kevin Yagher admits his greatest challenge was finding unusual ways for people to die. “Tim wanted very stylized decapitations, nothing that we’ve seen before.” explains Yaqher. In one instance. it meant a head spinning on its axis three or four times after being lopped off, Cast members had ‘life casts’ taken of their heads and bodies, a process some described as incredibly claustrophobic, The heads were then plastered and painted with silicone. then sculpted and textured by artists, Hairs were individually punched in. eyeballs inserted, and acrylic teeth are filled into the gums
On average. a head tooks five weeks to complete and the results were often staggering for the actors. “I was silting in the make-up truck gossiping over a cup of coffee: recalled actor Richard Griffiths. “when one of the effects guys asked ‘have you seen your head yet?’ I said thank you. no, So he pulled it out of a box, Well the jolt. the thump, somewhere underneath your fourth rib that you get when you see it. Talk about intimations of mortality, I’ve seen my head In somebody else’s hands!”
In addition to creating more than a dozen realistic looking heads. the creatures department had an even ‘bigger’ project on their plate – the building of a life-sized (and life-like] mechanical horse to double as Daredevil. the Headless Horseman’s horse.