Warner Bros. recently held a press junket for their upcoming summer bonanza Charlie & The Chocolate Factoryin the Bahamas in the city of Nassau. The morning of the junket began interestingly enough with me helping a short staffed hospitality person. Warner Bros. had retained a banquet room as a type of base camp where we could eat, socialize, watch some clips of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and basically find out where we needed to be and when.
"Warner Hospitality?" I was told to say, so I said it.
The person wanted to speak to someone.
"Is [INSERT SOMEONE'S NAME] here?" I asked the real WB employee who was talking to someone else on another phone.
"No, she's at the movie theater." he said.
"No, she's at the movie theater." I told the person on the phone.
There was a pause and I was almost thought the voice on the other end was going to yell at me.
"Oh, that's right!! Thank you so much!" The voice said. We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then I got off the
Shortly after that, I was whisked from the Wyndham Nassau Resort to The Atlantis Hotel Paradise for an afternoon of press interviews with the films stars, director, producer and screenwriter in a large banquet room area. Up first was the amazingly poised for his age, Freddie Highmore. This having been the first time I had seen him not in a movie, I was amazed at how normal he looked. For someone who is only 13 years of age, he really seems to have a strong sense of himself. He said that he waited until after Charlie & The Chocolate Factory was done, to screen the original film and that the only material he really drew on for his portrayal of Charlie Bucket was Roald Dahl's classic book.
Highmore described the environment on the set as "relaxed" and stated
"Tim, never told me to do anything."He said what make's Charlie a character that people can relate to is that "he's not special", and he also thinks they get engaged by the moral of the story which is to "be nice to people." He currently is shooting Luc Besson's Arthur and the Minimoys, and when asked he said that he wasn't sure if he wanted to be an actor when he grew up. He said he thought it might be "fun" to direct films but he'd like to visit the "disappearing rain forest", and he'd also like to work with Johnny Depp for a third time. Lastly, he hinted that the DVD of the film should contain some outtakes but he wasn't sure.
Next up, Director Tim Burton came in to greet us. He started off by talking about personal issues and how he made movies as a way to deal with them. He also said that inspite of doing this the personal issues "stay with you." He said that he and Johnny Depp used Kid's Show Hosts as a jumping off point for Depp's portrayal of Willy Wonka. He also said that he really wanted to explore Wonka's back story in this film, and that he wanted to be truer to the book. He feels that Charlie & The Chocolate Factory is "lighter" then the original film, and that oftentimes "adults forget what it's like to be a kid." Burton also says he didn't feel daunted by Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, because that film didn't have the same impact on him that it had on other people.
"Each time it's personal,"he stated, referring to the movies he makes, and he says it has to be that way because films take so long to complete. In the end, he feels that the message of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory is a "spiritual" one, in that all the bad kids "get their just desserts."
In talking about Freddie Highmore, Burton made it a point not to see Finding Neverland when he auditioned him. He stated he wanted to see Freddie with fresh eyes. Then he spoke a bit about The Nightmare Before Christmas and his upcoming stop action film Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, that he made with Johnny Depp doing the lead voice of Victor Van Dort. Referring to The Nightmare Before Christmas he talked about running into people who still carry around merchandise from the movie and he feels validated by that because
"that's who you make movies for."He then stated that he wishes he had been invited to the film when it opened.
Burton also said that he most likely won't be doing a Charlie & The Chocolate Factory sequel, and that just because he's a dad now (and this film happens to coincide with that) he won't be doing a "Teletubbies" or a "Wiggles" movie.
"I'd be more inclined to do porno films,"he stated jokingly,
"although I'd probably only do G rated pornos."He ended his 30 minute interview by saying that he currently had not seen the new film Batman Begins because he didn't have the time. He also mentioned that he was glad that he had done his version before all the darkness that currently pervades comic books appeared.
John August the screenwriter and Dick Zanuck brought a more technical aspect to this afternoon of interviews. August spoke about "the love" in Charlie Bucket's home, and that the challenge of the screenwriter is "knowing when to stop". Working with someone like Tim Burton, whose mastery of the craft could bring almost any idea to life, August said that he "wrote for Tim" but he was mainly focused on giving him "what he needed" to make the film. August also said that Burton was very predisposed to not making this movie "contemporary". He also said that his first image of this movie (when he started writing the script), was the end shot of the Bucket home beside the chocolate river. He said the only character he came on board knowing he was going to be writing for was Johnny Depp, and at first Johnny Depp was supposed to play Willy Wonka and Wonka's father. When asked if he thought this movie might be too scary for the young audience that will be seeing it, August said that he didn't think so and that "rotten things happen to rotten kids, and I think people are okay with that." August is currently working on a Tarzan movie. He says the script is good but they still need a director. He's also going to be producing a Prince of Persia movie based on the popular video game, and that it's the first project he's worked on that he hasn't written.
Zanuck brought a more producer-like slant to the conversation, stating that he didn't consider Charlie & The Chocolate Factory to be a "remake", and that rather it is it's own stand alone movie. He went on to explain when Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory came out it wasn't a hit. It was only on home video that it really caught fire. When he made the film, he didn't revisit the earlier movie but instead revisited the book. He also went on to say that Plan B (Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston's Production company) had the rights to do the movie, but during production Pitt was present "in only a general sense."
Based on Felicity's Dahl's (Roald Dahl's widow) glowing endorsement of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, Zanuck feels that "through her" the film is also getting a winning vote from the author himself. Even with the inevitable problems of such a large production, Zanuck says the film still came in "under budget" and exactly as everyone involved wanted. He said the trick is working within the financial parameters setup by the film business. Lastly, he and August both think that there won't be any sequel's to this film, and Zanuck punctuated this thought with
"especially without Tim."
After moving to another room in the banquet hall, Johnny Depp was the final interview for the day and he greeted all of us with,
"Isn't it weird we're in the Bahamas?". On that note, he would display his true down to earth self during the interview, by pointing at various tape players, so that the owner could switch them out because they had run out of tape.
He explained that he is currently shooting both Pirates of the Caribbean movies down here, and since he can't leave, that is why we are having this junket in the Bahamas. He talked about his portrayal of Willy Wonka, and echoed Burton's claim that they drew from TV hosts of earlier children's shows for some of their inspiration.
"Oh my god,"he said of the hosts,
"they can't be like that at home."Depp also went on to say that to play Willy Wonka, he should "change the shape of my face." There has been some speculation likening his rendition of Willy Wonka to that of Michael Jackson. Depp said that this idea "never occurred" to him and that he felt the character of Wonka was more in line with Howard Hughes. He talked about the need to have flashbacks of Wonka's childhood in the movie, as it would "give you more insight into who the character is." Depp also expressed a deep admiration for his costar, Freddie Highmore. He spoke of him having "purity" and that he's "incapable of lying." He also praised the performance of Oompa Loompa Deep Roy.
Lastly, Depp concluded his interview by briefly talking about Pirates of the Caribbean 2. Production was supposed to go on a hiatus, but they ended up going earlier than they had planned because some sets weren't ready and Kevin McNally (who plays Joshamee Gibbs) contracted a bad ear infection in both ears. He said when they started up production he didn't know what to expect, but when he first stepped on the set it was as if he'd
"only had a week off"from the last Pirates movie.
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory opens in theaters on July 15th.