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

Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, ...
Image credit: Leah Gallo

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you conscious of what previous actors had done as Sweeney?
JOHNNY DEPP: Tim and I early on said, ''We've got one shot. I don't think we need to go where Len Cariou went or Michael Cerveris went. We should go somewhere else. This could be the punk-rock Sweeney, you know. The alternative Sweeney.''

So who did you look to for inspiration?
I'd say if there was someone hanging around the back of my mind, it had to have been Peter Lorre from Mad Love. He was kind of my ghost for it.

Why him, and why that movie?
He's unbelievably disturbing. Broken and haunting and sweet. Way ahead of its time, that film and performance. The other sort of God for me is Lon Chaney Sr. Aside from Peter Lorre, he would be the other enormous inspiration. Did you ever see his film The Penalty? It's shocking. He plays an amputee who's had his legs cut off at the knee. And he walks around on crutches. What he did was he trained himself to be able to pull his legs behind his back and fold them, and then harness them to his back and he could only stay like that for like 20 minutes at a time or something. It was already beyond Cirque du Soleil. His performance is so heightened and gorgeous. I highly recommend that one.

How messy was it filming Sweeney's really bloody scenes?
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. The process we shot in called for a slightly over-the-top kind of color. They were going to desaturate it later, so they had to bring the color up on the set. It was kind of orangeish. A very unnatural-looking color.

What does all that fake blood smell and taste like?
It tasted kind of like a Karo-syrupy sort of thing. It was oily. And it was dangerous. Slippery. You'd see these big English grips, tiptoeing through the swamp of blood. Very surreal.

Sacha Baron Cohen plays another barber in Sweeney Todd. What's he like when he's not Borat or Bruno or Ali G?
He's not what I expected. I didn't look at those characters and think, This will be the sweetest guy in the world. He's incredibly nice. A real gentleman, kind of elegant. I was impressed with him. He's kind of today's equivalent of Peter Sellers.

You have a scene with Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, set to the song ''My Friends,'' where you never once look at her — she's out of focus behind you. It's right for the character, but did that freak her out on the set?
She was terrific about it, Helena. We did that entire piece and I don't think we made eye contact at all. It seemed like the right thing to do. I thought the only time he'd have real intense eye contact would be with his wife when they were younger, or with Judge Turpin. I really tried to stick to that. It wasn't always possible, but we came close.

NEXT PAGE: ''After certain takes, Tim would just howl with laughter and go, ''I think this is my favorite character.'' [Laughs] Because he just answers people with grunting: Uhhhhhhhh.''