LOS ANGELES — To Tim Burton, there are two types of people in the world: “Dark Shadows” fans and everybody else.
The Academy Award-nominated director wasn't surprised that his friend and frequent collaborator Johnny Depp could be counted among the followers of the late 1960s-early '70s supernatural soap opera. But Burton, 53, was a bit taken aback when the actor brought the idea of a “Dark Shadows” movie to him, simply because Depp hadn't instigated any of their seven previous cinematic collaborations.
“We've talked about it for many years, but I think this was the first project that I ever remember for Johnny where he sort of said, I think (you said) you've wanted to play this ever since you were a little boy,” Burton said, turning to the actor sitting beside him.
“Just a wee tyke,” Depp confirmed during a news conference that gathered cast and crew in the swanky SLS Hotel.
“I mean, you knew Barnabas Collins before you knew your own father, didn't you?” Burton said with a sly grin, launching the first of many joking volleys they exchanged in the 40-minute meeting with the media.
“Pretty much, yeah,” Depp answered with his signature charming smile.
For their eighth project together, the three-time Oscar-nominated actor took on the most enduring role in “Dark Shadows,” as the elegant but definitely undead vampire Barnabas Collins.
The TV series, which aired on daytime television from 1966-'71, has mostly slipped out of the mainstream collective consciousness, though it retains its share of die-hard devotees who fondly recall its strange mingling of soap-opera melodrama and horror-flick characters and occurrences.
“It's a tricky tone. I mean, we all recognized that when we talked about ‘Dark Shadows,' part of its appeal was the weird nature of all the elements that went into it. You know, it was very serious, but it was on in the afternoon on a daily basis,” Burton said.
“The weirdest challenge was to get the kind of acting tone, the kind of soap opera nature of the tone, which like I said, is a weird thing to go for in a Hollywood movie.”
Although his character's look and behavior is more Nosferatu than Edward Cullen, Depp, 48, said his primary inspiration was Jonathan Frid's original turn as Barnabas. The Canadian actor, along with his “Dark Shadows” castmates Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott and David Selby, visited the set and filmed cameos in a party scene before Frid's death in April at the age of 87.
“It was apparent to both Tim and myself that it had to be rooted in Jonathan Frid's character of Barnabas. It just had to be. It was so classic,” Depp said. “And it's like Tim and I talked early on, a vampire should look like a vampire, and it was a kind of rebellion against vampires that look sort of like underwear models.”
Of course, it wouldn't be a Depp-Burton production without an eccentric sense of humor, and in the case of “Dark Shadows,” the actor sinks his fangs into a particularly peculiar fish-out-of-water tale. Depp's Barnabas is the heir to an 18th-century fishing empire in a scenic coastal Maine town actually named for his wealthy family: Collinsport. The lothario is caught in a love triangle between his sweet beloved Josette (Bella Heathcote) and sexy servant girl Angelique (Eva Green) that gets creepy when Barnabas spurns Angelique, who turns out to be a vengeful witch. She counters by transforming him into a vampire, killing Josette and inciting the town to bury Barnabas alive.
Two centuries later, a team of construction workers accidentally free Barnabas, who is shocked to re-emerge amid the oddities of 1972 America. He is reunited with his family — proper matriarch, Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her layabout brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), her rebellious teenage daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), Roger's ghost-seeing son, David (Gully McGrath), the new nanny who looks shockingly like Josette and alcoholic live-in psychologist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter, another of Burton's frequent collaborators and his real-life romantic partner) — who has fallen on hard times. Barnabas vows to return the Collins clan to its former glory.
“I wanted Barnabas to come across as ... this very elegant, upper-echelon, sort of well-schooled kind of gentleman who is cursed in the 18th century and is brought back to probably the most surreal era of our time — the 1970s — (and) how he'd react to things and how radically different things were, not just through all the technology and automobiles and such, but you know, actual items of kind of enjoyment for people like pet rocks and fake flowers and plastic fruit and troll dolls. Lava lamps,” Depp said.
“The important things in life,” Burton deadpanned. “And macrame. Let's not forget that.”
“Oh yeah, and the macrame owls,” Depp added with toothy smile. “My favorite.”
Travel and accommodations provided by Warner Bros.