I got Tim Burton on the phone the other day while he was on the set of “Alice in Wonderland” and I had to admit right off the bat that I was surprised that, with the filming just underway, he was taking the time to chat. “Yeah, well, me too,” he said in his droll deadpan, and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or apologize and hang up. Then he let me off the hook. “Actually,” he said in a sunnier voice, “we’re just about to get going so we’ll see how things go. Good, I hope.”
I’m guessing things will go quite well for the 50-year-old filmmaker, who seems like the ideal auteur to bring Lewis Carroll’s surreal 1865 classic “Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland” to the screen for a 21st century audience.
Young Aussie Mia Wasikowska will be Burton’s Alice, while Johnny Depp is the inspired choice to play the Mad Hatter.
I told Burton that it seems as if Depp 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. “It’s true. Yeah we have a big dress-up clothes trunk here. We take it with us wherever we go.”
More on a Depp and “Alice” in a moment, but first: This Saturday night Burton will be at the Scream 2008 Awards at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, an event that in just its third year has become a signature event in sci-fi, comics, fantasy and, yes, horror, which was is its original mandate but is now just part of its genre cocktail. Burton is getting something called the Immortal Award and the Scream people boldly say that Burton has “contributed more to the genres of fantasy, sci-fi and horror than any other filmmaker of his generation,” and there’s certainly an argument to make that they are completely right. “Batman,” “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Ed Wood,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas“…the list just goes on and on. Burton’s film visuals — a sort of cemetery cabaret ethos — have put him on an short list (Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Woody Allen spring to mind) of filmmakers who have such distinctive on-screen traits that they become evocative brand names to even casual filmgoers.
Burton will be making quite the dramatic entrance on Saturday (which you can see yourself when the show airs on Spike TV on Oct. 21) but he has a reputation as a fairly shy fellow. I asked him if he was looking forward to the trophy night or dreading it.
“I haven’t been to the event but I’ve seen a bit on TV and it looks quite fun, you know, which in itself is different from most of these kinds of shows. It looks like a nice big Halloween party, which is always good. It seems like all the type of people that nobody liked in school all getting together for a nice big party. A prom for the kids that didn’t go to prom.”
I told Burton that, for the night, the venue should change its sign to read ‘The Geek Theatre’ and he laughed again. “That’s very good! I like that. I can’t use, that, I can’t take credit for that.” He said he had a better way to sum up the geek and Goth crowd that will attend: “We’re all the people on the yearbook pages devoted to “the most likely to disappear before the semester ends and no one will notice…”
Burton was making “Batman” films when the cape genre was still viewed as a campy ghetto by serious Hollywood creators, so it must be interesting for him to watch the fringe entertainment move so squarely to the center of mainstream film and to finally do so with respectable reviews. “It is a different time now, yes. It’s strange to me. At the time back in school when everybody tortured you, it didn’t seem quite the same. It wasn’t fashionable then. It didn’t seem viable and vibrant and accepted at the time. But sometimes those things take a while.” Read more HERE.