Johnny Depp Plays a Reluctant Vampire in ‘Dark Shadows’

Adding to his gallery of memorable film characters such as Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, Sweeney Todd and the Mad Hatter, Johnny Depp now plays the reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins in Warner Bros.' new black comedy “Dark Shadows.”

Frequent collaborator Tim Burton adapted the film from the 1970s cult TV classic of the same title. Johnny Depp recalls, “There was nothing like it, certainly not in the daytime, with its vampires and ghosts and witches. I’ve always been attracted to that genre, even as a very young kid, so when I got a hold of ‘Dark Shadows,’ I didn’t let go.”

“Johnny always puts 100 percent into everything he does, and I could tell right away he had a passion for this,” says Burton. “I was excited to see where we could go with the story, and I knew it would be a lot of fun.”

One of the joys of working with Depp is the actor’s ability to push himself. “Johnny is willing to try anything,” shares Burton. “He’s always coming up with new things, which we both enjoy. So every time we work together is different, and that’s what keeps it fun and fresh.”

Producer Richard Zanuck observes, “Each collaboration between the two of them is quite amazing—Tim comes up with these incredible ideas and Johnny translates them on the screen. They know each other so well, Johnny can tell by Tim’s expression whether he likes something, or Tim will say one or two things and Johnny will immediately get what Tim wants.”

Makeup artist Joel Harlow was responsible for transforming Depp into Barnabas, working closely with the actor and Burton to form the character’s distinct visage. They went through a number of makeup tests before finding the perfect pallor for the undead but still strangely handsome personage. It required coat after coat of customized grease paint to give Barnabas his chalky complexion. “When you saw him on the set or in the monitor, he looked white,” says Harlow. “But there was a vast number of colors in that makeup blend.” To contrast with the pale skin, Harlow ringed Depp’s eyes with darker circles and hollowed out his cheeks to make Barnabas look more cadaverous.

A vampire’s most distinctive trait is his fangs, and Depp had several choices with which to work. Harlow details, “We had some that were curved and others that were straight, one short set and one longer one. We even had a set that were more like rattlesnake fangs, which came down from behind the teeth. We also had a set that were activated by the way Depp opened his mouth; the fangs would drop down into place.”

Another of Barnabas’ sharpest features were his pointed fingernails tipping elongated fingers. Burton comments, “There was something about the fingers that was important to me, just the way a vampire touches things. I think it also helped with the emotional quality of the character’s expression.”

“Tim wanted Barnabas to be ‘tactile,’” Harlow elaborates. “His hands sort of lead the way, like they’re feeling things out. That may seem like a very easy thing to do, but it’s actually quite complicated because it had to look slim and seamless, but when you add anything to a finger, you’re adding bulk. It also had to be rigid enough so they didn’t bend when he touches things, because that would blow the illusion instantly.”

“The hands really helped make the character,” notes Depp, “although I had to learn how to touch things or pick things up about three inches from where my fingers actually were. It took a little while but I got used to it, and it completed the look.”

Graham King says, “Johnny just dove into this role; you could see his commitment in the hours and hours of hair and makeup he had to go through every day, as well as in his performance. Barnabas says and does some pretty outlandish things, but Johnny’s delivery is totally straight-faced as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. No one does these kinds of characters better than he.”

Opening across the Philippines on Thursday, May 10, “Dark Shadows” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

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