Movie Fanatic is getting to spend a lot of time with Tim Burton lately and we could not be more honored. After our exclusive chat with Burton at CinemaCon, we visited the visionary this past weekend at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills for a talk that solely focuses on his latest film, Dark Shadows. The director chats about working with Michelle Pfeiffer again after two decades as well as his star, Johnny Depp, on their eighth film together and he also lets us in on what unique challenges he encountered bringing the cult TV soap opera to life.
Depp and Burton had talked about a Dark Shadows movie for some time, and the helmer felt he owed it to his number one star to sign on and bring a childhood favorite of both of theirs to life. “This was the first project that I ever remember Johnny saying that he’d wanted to play this ever since he was a little boy. He knew Barnabas Collins before he knew his own father,” Burton said and laughed. “It was one of those things where the show had a lot of impact for some of us. This was something that Johnny had had in his mind for a long time.”
The film also allowed Burton to hook back up with Michelle Pfeiffer, whom he hadn’t worked with for over two decades since she played Catwoman in Batman Returns. “It was weird because it reminded me how much I loved working with Michelle. It was a long time ago, but it just flooded back,” Burton said. He recalled how game she was for whatever he needed her to do on that superhero set. “She learned how to use a whip and jump around on roofs in high-heeled shoes, let live birds fly out of her mouth, and let cats eat her. It was very impressive stuff.”
Pfeiffer, too, was a fan of Dark Shadows the series, and placed a preemptive call to Burton begging him for a part, any part, in the film. “It was a real joy to get a call from Michelle before there was even a script and find out that she was a closet Dark Shadows fan. I knew she was weird, but that confirmed the whole situation,” Burton said, smiling.
“Michelle, Johnny and I, we were the only ones of the cast that knew Dark Shadows. You can’t really show Dark Shadows to anybody else that doesn’t know it ‘cause they’d probably run screaming out of the room. It was nice that Michelle, playing the head of the family, was a fan.”
It was not an easy task bringing a supernatural soap opera to the big screen. Certain elements remained, but others had to be left out. “It’s a tricky tone and we all recognize that. When we talked about Dark Shadows, part of its appeal was the weird nature of all the elements that went into it. It was very serious, but it was on in the afternoon, on a daily basis. There were certain reasons why we loved the show, but you couldn’t necessarily adapt to a film,” Burton said. “It was the weirdest challenge to get the acting tone and the soap opera nature of the tone. That’s a weird thing to go for in a Hollywood movie.”
In the end, Burton isn’t worried about reaching an audience beyond fans of the classic show. It’s a summer movie and he believes the audience will follow. “You can’t really make it with projecting what you think it’s going to be,” he said. “We made a movie that we wanted to see, and then you just hope for the best.”