For the Rango press conference, the main draw was Johnny Depp. I don’t think Depp has been all that press shy, but being the mega-watt super-star that he is, the majority of the questions were for him. I’ve trimmed some of the nonsense, such as when – magically – Justin Bieber appeared at the end. Perhaps young girls should say his name into a microphone and see if it happens for them. Perhaps Paramount was attempting some synergy. Regardless, staged or not, Johnny Depp was asked if he was a fan and I left that in, because his response was funny. I have no idea why Justin Bieber was at the Four Seasons – where this was being done – and I like to think it wasn’t a planned stunt (the Grammy’s were that weekend, the Four Seasons is the hot spot for famous guests), but I in good conscious can’t include their exchanges, mostly because it’s “you’re great!” Depp met Bieber, end of story – and I’m not the demographic. Happily, Gore Verbinski seemed engaged – at least – when I asked him a question and I got Johnny Depp to laugh, so I feel like a winner.
Press conferences are hit and miss, but all the performers in these situations know what they’re planning on saying, so I don’t really feel awkward about running them because the information here is pretty solid. Please enjoy.
So I’ve heard in previous reports that you fought tooth and nail in order to make sure that Rango isn’t in 3-D. Are you for or against 3-D in general? Is Rango not being in 3-D like the only time when you’re going to say no to 3-D? And how do you all feel about 3-D as the big trend in general?
JOHNNY DEPP: I’m waiting for 5-D. That’s what I want.
GORE VERBINKSI: I’m supposed to say something? I watched the movie – I don’t think there’s a dimension missing. I don’t watch it and think “It’s flat,” or it’s missing anything. We talked about it early on and it just didn’t seem like we needed to go there.
ISLA FISHER: I think the glasses are really uncomfortable.
ABIGAIL BRESLIN: It looks so like lifelike anyway – I think it looks like 3-D; it looked like the animals were there anyway. It looked really cool. And 3-D makes me dizzy.
Johnny, I wanted to ask you a little bit about getting into your character. The voice is a little different than your regular speaking voice. So can you talk about finding your Rango?
DEPP: Sure. Early on some of the talks that Gore and I had had about the character – two middle aged men discussing the possibility of one of them being a lizard… It started off on a surreal note. But as for finding the voice, we talked about when people in life, when they have a tendency to exaggerate or lie or whatever, you always sort of notice that their voice goes up quite high. It goes to a completely different register. Whereas if I’m talking to you and speaking and babbling non-stop, and then suddenly I’m really nervous about telling you the truth – but I’m lying – the voice goes high so that’s where it came from. You imagine the character to be a nervous wreck.
Mr. Depp and Mr. Gore, you have obviously worked together a few times now, and I was just wondering if you could each comment on what you like so much about working with the other.
VERBINSKI: I like the way he smells.
DEPP: I’ve been told I smell good; I mean, I don’t look like I smell good.
VERBINSKI: I don’t know – because we have shorthand, talking in sound effects and unfinished sentences and –
VERBINSKI: He seems to understand exactly what that means, and I get it back. Complex direction, like “more fuzz.”
DEPP: “More fuzz,” yeah.
VERBINSKI: “More stink on this line,” you know. Really, that’s about as intellectual as it gets.
DEPP: And it really is that “maybe some more fuzz. Let’s put some more fuzz on it.” “Okay. Gotcha.” Working with Gore in three Pirates films and Rango certainly there are no limits to the possibilities – he allows you to try all kinds of things that sometimes fail miserably.
VERBINSKI: Yes, please.
DEPP: And other times you just arrive at some place that you know no one’s ever been to before. He welcomes it and he creates an atmosphere that allows you to go ape. And yeah, and it’s a blast – that’s really a fun part of the process.
VERBINSKI: What’s great about Johnny is the trust that neither of us are going to make the other one look like an ass. He has to trust that at the end of the day we’re not going to use that stuff where we’ve tried something that didn’t work, but we’re going to try it because you never know. We’ve got this pursuit of finding the truly awkward moment, which you’re only going to get there by not knowing and venturing into the unknown. And so I just think he’s incredibly brave on top of being incredibly talented. It’s like you’ve got to cross that threshold.
Johnny, you’ve played a lot of characters that kids must love, from Edward Scissorhands to Captain Jack to Willy Wonka. What is your relationship with that audience, as opposed to the more grownup roles you’ve played? And for Gore, I’ve just got to throw in – is it weird to see trailers for a new Pirates movie coming out?
VERBINSKI: No, I want to go see it.
DEPP: I think kids in general as an audience are the way forward because they’re not sort of sullied by intellectual expectation or this or that. It’s a very pure response to the work. And the great luck that I had before Pirates is that I had a daughter. And for about four years, all I watched was cartoons – just cartoons. I realized at that point that the parameters were far away from what we do in sort of normal everyday movies, and that you can get away with a lot more. Kids accept more – they buy it, because they’re free. So for me, that was everything in terms of coming up with what Captain Jack would be. So I trust kids far more than I do adults. Kids give you the honest opinion. They tell the truth.
Johnny, there’s obviously the call back to Raoul Duke in the film, a character you played before. But part of your character reminded me a lot of William Blake in Dead Man, and I wondered if that was conscious at all.
DEPP: It wasn’t conscious, but I can see what you’re saying. This sort of journey – this sojourn – this spiritual quest that William Blake was on, I can definitely see that. But yeah – no, I didn’t consciously connect the two.
Johnny, you’re a very physical actor, and I just wondered with this process, it’s different than the other animated films you’ve done, where you were in a booth. You actually acted this out. And I wondered if that helped you. And maybe the actresses, as well, could talk a little about doing that. It’s different than most animated pictures.
DEPP: Ultimately, it was everything; though there were times when you didn’t feel that, when you were doing it. You’d rather have been (in a booth) – because you know, well, we’re lazy. At least I am. And I’d sort of rather just sit in front of a microphone and do the thing. However –
VERBINSKI: That’s exactly the point.
DEPP: The process that we did, that Gore created this sort of atmosphere that was really, truly ludicrous; I mean, just ridiculous. It was like just regional theater at its worst. And somehow, because of – not the idea of motion capture, but emotion capture, you know; certain gestures, body language, movement, something you might have done with your eyes – the animators took it and put it in there. So it was very strange. Harry Dean Stanton walked up to me one afternoon – because I’ve known him for a million years – and said “This is a weird gig, man.” (Note:; Depp’s Stanton is perfect) And I said, “Oh, yeah. You’ve just started. You just wait.” But ultimately, it was the right thing to do. And that was his vision, and we saw it through.
FISHER: I think the characters had humanity because we were interacting with each other, and had more chemistry; and so it felt more organic and real. What do you think, Abigail?
BRESLIN: When you’re in a booth by yourself it’s like very isolating, and you don’t really have anything to play off of except one take of one line, and then a beep. This was a lot more fun. Although I did wear a wig, a black wig and I got a really bad rash on my neck from it, and so that was a little unfortunate, but –
FISHER: And you were carrying a gun.
BRESLIN: I was.
FISHER: Which was weird, to see Abigail with a massive gun.
BRESLIN: It was so bizarre, because there were actually guns, and I didn’t think there were going to be firearms in an animated movie. And it’s live. That’s all I thought about it.
DEPP: Gore always travels with guns.
VERBINSKI: Absolutely. Keep people from going to sleep.
I was curious about the process of making the film. One of the earlier questions implied that because it’s animated it’s a kids’ film. And I certainly think the prostate joke takes it beyond that, but I wonder. The fact that you’re getting into existential issues, you’re getting into metaphor and things like that – is this a kids’ movie, or are we kind of blinded by the fact that it’s just beautiful animation?
VERBINSKI: I think it’s a kids’ movie. I mean, my kids like it. My kids like The Holy Grail, so it depends on your kid, I suppose. We’ve shown the movie for 500 kids and they seem to be absolutely mesmerized and enjoying it. When we get into the existential moments, I think they’re not seeing it – their frontal lobe doesn’t operate in that way. But they’re not squirming. You should watch it with a bunch of kids because it’s quite fascinating. They seem to have a kids’ dream, they have a dream logic that we seem to not appreciate as adults – we take everything on face value. And certainly there’s stuff in there for adults so that we get to have a good time as well. But they stick with it. And I think people constantly underestimate what they can handle.
There’s a lot of references, obviously to Westerns. What is everybody’s favorite Western?
DEPP: Oh, boy.
VERBINSKI: Wow, that’s a tough one.
BRESLIN: I’ve never seen a Western besides this one.
VERBINSKI: Perfect answer. I love that.
BRESLIN: That’s really bad. But this is the only one I’ve ever seen. But my dad loves them and he told me that to be like a smart person, I have to watch them. So –
DEPP: I mean, certainly, I was always a fan, as Gore, I know, was of the great old spaghetti Westerns, you know, the Sergio Leone films. But the one that always sticks with me, that I just thought was brilliant and perfect is Cat Ballou. Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou –
DEPP: He reinvented some form of acting there.
VERBINSKI: Yeah. For me, I think it’s probably Duck, You Sucker – the first Leone movie I saw when I was very young – totally age inappropriate; I snuck in and saw that movie in the theater. And it felt like I was viewing some forbidden world. And I entered the Western from this post-modern Western – Leone and Peckinpah and “the myths are dying” and “the railroad’s coming,” and “the gunfighter’s a dying breed,” and “progress is inevitable for us.” The silhouette becoming less visible because of all the clutter that comes with progress. So I was always fascinated with those. I got into John Ford later; I came in through those movies.
I’m curious if Isla or Abigail have any desire to do animated projects in the future again.
FISHER: I’m actually doing an animated movie now – The Rise of the Guardians – and I’m playing Tinkerbelle, which is a really different voice from this. And I’m really enjoying that. But I’m in an isolated booth.
BRESLIN: Yeah, I love animated movies, so I’d love to do one again. But I liked doing it like this, and I don’t think that they do many animated movies like that. But I supposed I’d be in an isolated booth, too, if it was a cool movie.
DEPP: But you’d still wear the wig and the gun and stuff.
BRESLIN: I’d still come completely in the character’s costume.
For you, Johnny, the only real critics that you pay attention to are your kids. How do they feel about their dad playing a lizard? Were they down with it? Did it work for them?
DEPP: They actually call me the Lizard King. My children – they do. I’ve forced them to address me like that since they were tykes. It was an odd sort of thing, you know. “Where you going, Daddy?” “Ah, I gotta go to work.” “What are you doing?” “Well, I’m playing a lizard.” “Okay.” It’d literally be that – you drop your kids off at school, give them a kiss and “Oh, yeah – now I’m gonna go be a lizard.” The things that I’ve done that my kids have been sort of privy to, I mean, Willy Wonka and all it doesn’t register. They’re far more interested in you know, Family Guy or Justin Bieber…
Are you a Belieber?
DEPP: You know what? Yes. I am a Belieber. And I shall remain so.
For Gore, I wanted to know why the mariachis?
VERBINSKI: Early on in the development process, it became obvious the movie is very much a film within a film. The protagonist is an actor looking for an audience. So we just felt like we needed one more layer, that kind of Greek chorus. Early on Crash McCreary was doing some character designs, and he drew a mariachi owl. I saw the drawing and said, “Okay, we need to work this into the script.” We just started getting some guitars out and writing a narrative using the mariachis as an absurdist Greek chorus somewhere between Cat Ballou and those guys that follow Sir Robin with the coconuts singing of adventures. And then just the idea that all good legends must die, or some horrific dance – that was a key. Talking to Hans Zimmer, trying to describe emotionally the soundtrack for the film, but also babbling for 15 minutes. He just said, “Schadenflamer – That’s what you’re saying.” It’s this “delight in this character’s pain,” and only the Germans would have a word for that. But that celebration of the demise of this guy; and it’s looming, following him throughout the film. It just seemed like good fun.
My question is for Johnny. Rango’s character told the lies to the people to get through a critical situation. So I’d like to ask you, could you share with us your kind of lying experience?
DEPP: I actually tell lies for a living. Exactly. I mean, that’s what acting is, really.
VERBINSKI: That was a lie.
DEPP: Yeah, I was lying. I’m sorry.
Your voice didn’t go up.
DEPP: No. It’s kind of stuck at the moment, in this register. I felt having kids gave me horrific guilt for many years in playing along with the Santa Claus thing. Waiting for that moment to arrive where they’re going to say, “Hey, you’ve been telling me a lie for my entire life. What are you prepared to do about that?” I mean, it’s like that. So I had horrific guilt. And we’re now kind of just on the outskirts of that, so I feel okay. But no, these are lies that society tells you must keep these lies going – these kinds of myths. I feel guilt about it; I still do.
BRESLIN: Santa’s not real?
DEPP: No, no – he is.
BRESLIN: Thank God.
DEPP: No, I had to lie and tell her that he’s not. It was horrible.
This is for Gore. The ILM guys did a presentation and they showed that you guys did the reference video on some of the sets, and then some of the animators did their own reference videos for the performances. Did you ever have to discipline the ILM guys for overacting?
VERBINSKI: Oh – consistently (laughs). One of the biggest things early on is “you’re an animator; you’re animating.” “And what about the pause? Don’t be afraid to do nothing for sixteen frames” is a very, very early on discussion. We’ve never made an animated movie before. People keep saying, “For an animated movie… this,” and, “For an animated movie, that…” It’s like it’s some kind of genre. It’s just a technique to tell a story. So early on, we just felt like we’re not going to think of this as an animated movie; we’re going to think about this as a six foot tall lizard and I’ve got a camera on my shoulder, and I’m photographing him perform this scene with these other people. And so there was a great fear about multiple iterations destroying that, and things becoming clinical or homogenized by virtue of discussions about “why is he blinking on frame 38 – it should be blinking at frame 34” or whatever – it just becomes minutiae, minutiae, minutiae. But also trying to get out of the animators a sense that they’re your cast as well and that they’re performing. And moving away from the concept of the shot, and discussing the concept of the scene and “where is Rango coming from or going to?” or “What’s Bean’s feeling now?” or the reaction shot. So there were sometimes we have to just get a camera out because it can’t be frontal lobe anymore, it’s got to be intuitive. And that whole emotion capture, live-action record was really – when I heard people say, “Well, it’s an animated movie; this is how they do it. They get a microphone and an actor.” And that sounded so crazy to me. I’ve got Harry Dean Stanton and Johnny Depp – I want to see them together. I mean, it’s acting, it’s reacting. So all of those things were just trying to create. We had a mantra up at ILM, which was “fabricate anomaly wherever possible” you’ve got to fabricate it because otherwise it’s not going to feel honest. So it was encouraging them but then absolutely – noose, zipper mask
DEPP: (laughing) Ball gag, yeah.
Johnny, I heard that you’re set to work with Emir Kusturica on Pancho Villa. And I was just wondering if you could tell me how you plan on segueing from Rango into Pancho, and if you’re brushing up on your Spanish for that.
DEPP: It’s a project that I think is a little bit up in the air. Kusturica is an old friend, and certainly a filmmaker that I admire greatly. From the first second that we spoke about it, I always had a bit of a problem. My dilemma is just the fact that it’s Pancho Villa – one of the great heroes of Mexico. I feel like it should be played by a Mexican, and not some –
VERBINSKI: Charlton Heston.
DEPP: Yeah, not some mutt from Kentucky. I still feel very strongly about that. It’s sort of floating at the moment. But it’s a great character and Kusturica is a great filmmaker. I’m sure he’s going to do something very special.
Have you had a chance to look at any of the screeners for the films for the Oscar this year, and what do you think?
DEPP: I have. I don’t do well with modern films, to be honest. Opening credits, and I’m just gone. People make great films. I just don’t have the eyes to watch them. But there’s a film that I was really impressed with, that I absolutely adored, and I’ve seen it a few times now. Exit Through the Gift Shop. And I thought it was a very brave and honest film.
I noticed, looking through the Rango movie storybook, that he has a continuing adventure and goes to another town. Can we hope that there might be a Rango 2?
VERBINSKI: I don’t know. Let’s see if people like Rango – Rango. I’m not even going to call it Rango I.
JOHNNY DEPP: Rango 1.
So there’s a possibility?
VERBINSKI: Currently, not talking about it. If you just had a kid, would people say “How about twins?” We’re still recovering.
This question is for Isla. Can you tell us a little bit about creating the voice of Beans, and if you feel like having to cover your accent so frequently in films made it easier to do the characterization?
FISHER: I kind of imagine Beans, if Clint Eastwood and Holly Hunter would have a love child, that would be Beans…
DEPP: I’d like to watch that.
FISHER: The physicality of the character had already been created; Gore presented me with 20 minutes of the movie, just linear drawings. So I knew how she moved. Gore was with me every step of the way vocally, and he was very specific about what he wanted. And no one ever wants to hire an Australian, so I’m just used to never doing my own voice, ever. I mean, they do want to hire – oh, that came out wrong. They do want to hire Australians, obviously.
I was just wondering, for all the actors – how much of your characters did you get to see in terms of the artwork, before you started playing with them?
ABIGAIL BRESLIN: I saw a picture of Priscilla. And I would have done it based on like how – I mean, let’s face it, she’s a glamour girl. So she’s kind of gorgeous. I thought she was adorable. So I would have done it based on that. But I thought all the characters were pretty cute – but in a strange way: odd but cute. They’re not like cuddly, you don’t want to like hold them, but – yeah.
My question is for Johnny. In the past you’ve said that you’ve always chosen characters that you had like a personal connection with. And I was just wondering what your connection with this character would be.
DEPP: You mean a lizard.
DEPP: I always had an affinity for lizards; I’ve always felt close to them, feeling somewhat reptilian myself at times. When we were doing Pirates when Jack Sparrow had to run – there was this very specific run that I wanted. And it was from seeing this footage of a lizard running across the water. It was like the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. I said “Gore, he’s got to be the lizard,” and he’s like, “Oh, yeah, absolutely.” So whenever we were in that situation…
VERBINSKI: Get in touch with the lizard.
DEPP: Get – yeah, get in touch with the lizard. And we did it. So I actually think that Rango was somehow planted in Gore’s brain from that lizard run. And when he called me and said, “I want you to play a lizard,” I thought, “Well, God, I’m halfway there.”
And with that Justin Bieber showed up and then it rained frogs. One of these things is true. Rango opens Friday.