Behold the real visage of Johnny Depp’s vampire from Dark Shadows!
Last week, long-range paparazzi shots of the actor wearing ghostly white makeup, large sunglasses and a pulled down fedora made fans of the original 1966-71 supernatural soap opera bristle nervously, with complaints he looked simply too strange.
Nevermind that he’s playing a 200-year-old vampire, which is strange enough.
As you can see from this cast shot, Depp’s bloodsucking pater familias Barnabas Collins actually borrows heavily from the aged-little boy look of original Dark Shadows star Jonathan Frid – not that anyone would be happy to see this guy show up as your prom date either.
Still, this official First Look may reassure those die-hard fans of the original series, memorably offbeat ABC daytime drama about a vampire whose extended family are bedeviled by ghosts, witches, and other gothic woes.
Depp, who fought for years to make this movie, is one of those fans. “I do remember, very vividly, practically sprinting home from school in the afternoon to see Jonathan Frid play Barnabas Collins,” the actor says. “Even then, at that age, I knew – this has got to be weird.”
Weird certainly sums up this particular family portrait – a shot director Tim Burton, who also obsessed over Dark Shadows as a boy, staged in the early days of production.
“I remember seeing a group photograph of the cast of the original series,” he tells EW. “For me it captured the weird Dark Shadows vibe in a single image. I had a brief window of opportunity to have our cast present at the same time, the day before principle photography began. We decided to stage a similar picture instead of rehearsing, to see if we captured the Dark Shadows feeling.”
Here’s who those family members are, one by one.
Barnabas Collins (Depp) – He was an 18th century gentleman, a businessman just before the Revolutionary War, who was transformed against his will into a vampire and buried in a tomb for two centuries. After he finally emerges, uncovered by construction workers in the year 1972, he seeks out his descendants – as well as some long-ago foes and a possible lost love.
“He’s been alive this whole time and very hungry, with no idea what’s going on outside,” says screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (author of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which Burton is producing as a film.)
Barnabas is one vampire who is just as frightened of our times as we are of him, says producer Richard D. Zanuck: “Two-hundred years later, he’s suddenly walking into the town he saw being built and seeing girls in skirts, cars for the first time. It’s a man-out-of-time, supernatural horror story, but I put ‘horror’ in quotes.”
Despite his confusion, he’s still a ladies man. “In some sense he can be a terrifying killer; on the other hand, women have a weakness for him and he has a weakness for women,” Grahame-Smith says. “He can be a very well-mannered, well-meaning vampire most of the time, until his stomach is empty or someone challenges his beloved Collins family.”
Here’s that family, from left to right:
Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) – From Alice in Wonderland’s Red Queen, to the cannibalistic cook Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Burton can’t help but cast the mother of his children as a deranged person. This prim and proper psychiatrist, who has taken up residence with the Collins family to care for their troubled youngest boy, might seem to break that trend – but don’t bet on it. “Dr. Hoffman’s been there for years, working with David [the little boy in the photo] but not making any progress. He still claims he sees ghosts and talks with his dead mother,” Grahame-Smith says. “She’s crazy but brilliant. Obviously she’s an eccentric, and definitely likes a drink or two. She’s definitely a little bit off her rocker, and is a woman with a lot of secrets herself.” The writer teases: “She’ll also become interested in Barnabas in more than one way. “
Carolyn Stoddard (Chloë Moretz) – Though she played a voracious child vampire in the acclaimed (but little seen) Let Me In, Moretz is on the human side of the spectrum in Dark Shadows – though that doesn’t mean this cousin of young David Collins (and daughter of Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, seen on the far right) isn’t without her own peculiarities. “Carolyn is your typical early-1970s teenager,” Grahame-Smith says. “She likes her music and likes her magazines, and does not like anyone in her family. She likes to keep her door closed and keep to herself. She’s pretty normal, but appearances can be deceiving. I wouldn’t say there is a normal person in this photo.”
Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) – The Bond girl from Casino Royale turns up here as the villain of the story. “Angelique is a witch who has known Barnabas since the 1700s, when they had an affair that went sour. She is the one who cursed him to be a vampire and locked him in that box,” Grahame-Smith says. “Since he has been away, Angelique has made it her life’s mission to destroy the Collins family. So when Barnabas turns up again after all these years, she’s not very happy to see him.”
David Collins (Gulliver McGrath) – Lonely, confused, and neglected by his pompous father (Jonny Lee Miller, over on the right next to Pfeiffer), David has no one to confide in except his bizarre psychiatrist – and the dead people he claims to see. Grahame-Smith describes him as “a sweet, curious, precocious little boy whose family has branded him as slightly crazy.” Then he finally gets a new caretaker to look after him …
Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) – This young woman arrives to become David’s new governess, only to find herself swept up in the vampire-witch melodrama. “When Barnabas meets Victoria, he’s instantly reminded of the woman he lost in the 1700s, before he was cursed to be a vampire,” Grahame-Smith says. “I wouldn’t say he falls in love with her, but there’s an instant attraction, an instant connection.” Is she the reincarnation of his doomed lover Josette du Pres? “We get the sense at the beginning she has a secret past, and that’s unraveled as it goes on,” the screenwriter says.
Mrs. Johnson (Ray Shirley) – “Poor old Mrs. Johnson …” Grahame-Smith sighs when talk turns to the old woman seated in the back behind Depp. “She is the mostly blind, mostly deaf maid, who has been with them for decades and decades. You might find her polishing a piece of silverware with a slab of baloney because she thinks it’s a polishing cloth. I don’t think she actually says anything in the entire film. She’s just sort of there.” He laughs: “Adding her was Tim’s idea.”
Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) – How awesome is it to play an actual Groundskeeper Willie? The Oscar-nominee for Little Children is a slightly more competent servant than Mrs. Johnson, but that’s not saying much. “He’s the guy who takes out the trash, mows the lawns, and fixes the cars, except he’s usually so drunk and so disinterested that he doesn’t take his job seriously anymore,” Grahame-Smith says. “The lawn is overgrown, the house has fallen into disrepair, and all the cars are on cinder blocks. His heart’s definitely not in the job anymore.”
Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller) – This scion of the once-great Collins family is one of the main reasons the aristocratic clan has fallen into such disgrace. “He’s a creepy, self-centered guy who likes to order Willie around, likes to pretend the family is still on top of his game,” Grahame-Smith says. Not only is he a bad father to David, but he is a poor manager of whatever meager wealth the family retains. “When Barnabas shows up and has some very specific ideas about how to make things right, he’s obviously going to bump heads with Roger Collins.”
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) – The mother of Carolyn Stoddard, and mother-figure to David, she’s the one adult member of the Collins clan who is at least slightly competent. “Elizabeth is the rock of the family. She’s the matriarch,” Grahame-Smith says. “She’s the keeper of the Collins history, and a fierce protector of what remains of her family. She’s the one that insists on the best care for the children, even though money isn’t what it used to be. She’s a very strong woman who unfortunately has been dealt a very difficult deck.” With a witch perpetually trying to destroy her, and a long lost vampire relative turning up to reclaim control, “there’s just too much for her to handle,” Grahame-Smith says.
When the movie opens May 11, we’ll see how she holds up.
Follow Anthony Breznican on Twitter: @Breznican