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Johnny Depp – In Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, The Master Actor Gets Deep Into the Role


JOHNNY DEPP stars as Willy Wonka in Warner Bros. PicturesÕ fantasy adventure Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Johnny Depp – In Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, The Master Actor Gets Deep Into the Role of Willie Wonka

by Brad Balfour

Originally posted July 16, 2005.

Though often nominated as one of the world’s best looking men as well as for various Oscars [Finding Neverland, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl], the 40-something Johnny Depp inspires fascination. But it’s not for his looks or love life but for his attraction to the offbeat roles that he does that play against his star qualities. And when he works with director Tim Burton, Depp delves further into his truly deviant side. The two were particularly inspired with Charlie and The Chocolate Factory-their collaboration on a cinematic version of the Roald Dahl children’s book that’s much closer to the spirit of the original than the 1971 movie starring Gene Wilder, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Why are you both drawn to such quirky characters? 

One thing that Tim and I share is a kind of fascination with the human animal. I think that we also share the idea that most people in life, especially the ones who are considered super normal, if you really take a step back and observe them a bit, you’ll realize that they’re actually completely out of their minds. Most people are really nuts and that’s fascinating to me. I think Tim feels the same way. I just love and respect Tim so much that I would do anything with him. The thing that I most enjoy about our relationship, our friendship, is that there’s a lot of trust. One minute he and I are talking very deeply about Captain Kangaroo and then the next thing I know, we’re doing impersonations of Sammy Davis Jr. and Charles Nelson Reilly. We can go anywhere.

Who was the model for your version of Willie Wonka?

There wasn’t specifically one or two guys that were models for the character. But there were memories that I have as a little kid watching children’s shows and children show hosts. I distinctly remember, even at that age, thinking that their speech pattern and the kind of musical quality of the way they were speaking to the camera and to the children that I thought was really strange. Guys that I watched like Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers and all of these guys became the main part of the ingredient. Then also game show hosts that I remember seeing and watching and thinking, “My God, they can’t be like that at home. They can’t actually be like that.” That led me to believe that they put on a mask in a way, that all-important positive smile. That was the other side of Wonka. Then doing stuff for the look of Wonka was incredibly important. It was important to put that costume on and click those veneers into my mouth for the teeth that actually changed the shape of my face a little bit.

Well, I was definitely a Gene Wilder fan, but that’s not what drove me to this. Initially the material, even though I love [the late author] Roald Dahl’s works, was one of the seductive elements certainly. But more than anything it was the fact that was Tim asking me to do it. As luck would have it, this material and that character was a great opportunity and I knew that as soon as he mentioned it and as soon as I could say I’m in, I knew that there great risks involved. I could have very easily blown it. But again, it’s exciting for an actor. It’s a challenge.

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