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Friday, March 3, 2000

Shooting for a horror classic

Sporting his trademark mane of unkempt hair, dressed entirely in black and accompanied by his vampy muse/partner Lisa Marie, director Tim Burton materialized at Tokyo's Hotel Okura to plump his latest film. Burton is perhaps the ultimate role model for turning adolescent obsessions into a career, and Tokyo being a town that's always friendly to otaku, Burton was relaxed and loquacious, offering a few insights into the making of his Gothic opus.

On what attracted him to the project:

"Most countries have a wealth of folk tales, fairy tales and ghost stories, but there aren't that many in America, and I think that's why a lot of us grew up hearing of that story. And I always liked upstate New York. It has a nice, haunted feeling. I was actually quite surprised to find that there's a real Sleepy Hollow, with a Sleepy Hollow High School, where the mascot's a headless horseman.

"I remember seeing the 'Sleepy Hollow' Disney cartoon, and I thought it was a very good mix of being funny and scary, and good design. That chase in that cartoon, specifically, was one of the reasons why I wanted to get into animation. But I've always liked beautiful, classic horror movie imagery, like the original 'Frankenstein.' When I first looked at this script, that's what drew me to it, the potential for all that beautiful horror movie imagery."

On whether he considered shooting in black-and-white for more of a "classic horror" feel:

"Well, the studios don't like that. I did that on 'Ed Wood,' and when it didn't make any money, they said 'See? That's what happens if you shoot in black-and-white!' "

On casting Christina Ricci:

"Christina has sort of an ambiguous quality, which we thought was good for the part. Not quite knowing, with any of these characters, what was really going on [in their heads] was really kind of crucial to the film. Even though there was a lot of dialogue, we treated it like it was a silent-movie, and tried to cast people that come across like silent-movie actors; I like to go with people who can say something without having to speak.

"With [composer] Danny Elfman, we treated [his music] as if we were scoring a silent film, so that even if you weren't listening to the dialogue, you could almost tell what was going on emotionally by the soundtrack."

On casting Johhny Depp:

"Well, it's the third time I've worked with him, and each time he does different things, and I like that in actors. Some actors are kind of the same from film to film, but I like people who like to become different characters. Especially in a film like this, where it's quite technical, it's good to have people who are willing to try different things, and don't care how they look -- you can squirt blood on them and drag them through the weeds, and they don't care."

On casting Christopher Lee (as the Burgomaster):

"Well Christopher Lee, it's always such a great pleasure to meet somebody you grew up idolizing. You know, I was lucky to have that [experience] with Vincent Price, and to finally meet Christopher Lee . . . for two hours, it was like we'd been hypnotized by Dracula. He could still play Dracula to this day."

On Christopher Walken's uncredited cameo as the Headless Horseman:

"He just wanted to do it as a surprise; if people recognized him fine, if not, fine. I think he saw it as 'no head, no dialogue, so no credit.' It was funny, because when I called him and offered him the part, he said, 'Well, there's just two things: One, the character doesn't have a head, and two, I'm afraid of horses.'

"He's really terrified of horses. But he was great, he's an actor who can say things without having to say them. He said that one of the reasons he did it was because it was the first real screen kiss he got to do. And I said, 'Probably your last, too.' " [Laughs.]

On current horror films such as "Scream":

"I'm a fan of horror movies where the imagery is beautiful, and where it's part of it. There hasn't been a wealth of that lately. But I enjoy the different genres for what they contribute."

On his obsession with classic horror films:

"It's weird for me, my parents said I was watching monster movies before I could walk or talk, so I was never really scared by monster movies, so I have a weird reaction to them. I'm much more scared of real life."

On the prospects for his latest film:

"You never know. I think that's what I enjoyed so much about the Ed Wood character: Every time you make a film, it's a very delusional process. You get so close to it that you feel like, 'Oh, this is the greatest thing in the world!' But you may be the only person who feels that way, so . . . you never know. "I feel close to whatever I do, whether it's a success or not."

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