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Johnny Depp: Cutting Loose in ''Sweeney Todd''

Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, ...
Image credit: Peter Mountain

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you first start practicing?
JOHNNY DEPP: When I was finishing Pirates of the Caribbean, the third one, I had a good two-hour drive to work and a good two-hour drive back home, and that was what I did every day. I would listen to [the score] nonstop, just constantly. Various versions. And then just a musical version without any vocals. I saturated my noggin with it.

But you didn't undergo any formal training?
I was talking to people and they were saying, ''Well of course you're going to get a singing teacher.'' And I said, ''Oh, yeah — Yeah! Of course I will, yeah.'' But the closer I got to knowing the music, and to knowing the character, the further away I got from that whole thing.

Why?
I just didn't see the character developing with me doing scales in front of a piano, with a vocal teacher going, ''No, no — bring it up from the bollocks.'' That kind of thing would have been a disaster. I would still be rehearsing right now. Or I'd have been fired. Singing couldn't be more foreign to me in a lot of ways, but at the same time, I need to incorporate my own process to find it, to see where I land.

So you went into a West Hollywood recording studio with Bruce Witkin, who used to play in that band the Kids with you in the early '80s, and now is a recording engineer.
It was just myself in a booth and Bruce at the controls. Just the two of us. I was in there singing and he was in there pushing buttons, recording stuff. This guy is someone I've known for 30 years. He's a brother. We worked in bands together, we were on the road together. We lived together when we were teenagers. His mom was basically my second mom. It was an enormous help and comfort. It meant everything in finding Sweeney. I'm so pleased that he was there, that the first dive was with him.

What's with Sweeney's big shock of white hair?
The idea was that he'd had this hideous trauma, from being sent away, locked away. That streak of white hair became the shock of that rage. It represented his rage over what had happened. It's certainly not the first time anyone's used it. But it's effective. It tells a story all by itself. My brother had a white spot growing up, and his son has this kind of shock of white in his hair.

What else went into your preparation?
In those early meetings, what started to go into the look, before the white streak and any of that, was the eyes. As with any character, the history is there. It sounds really stupid, but I thought they needed to be far away and very close at the same time. They needed to have experienced too much, you know. That's where the darkness came around them. These heavy rings around his eyes of purple and brown, this kind of awful fatigue and rage. It's like he's never slept.

NEXT PAGE: ''I remember everyone except me being covered in plastic trash bags. There'd be a countdown. Three, two, one...action! And then blammo, you know? The great deluge.''