Sweeney Todd The Cast
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
27 in. x 40 in.
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"Sweeney has had a long and successful career on stage, and yet, in a way you've never had the opportunity to get emotionally close to Sweeney," says producer Parkes. "It's the nature of the stage. You don't have close ups. But when you bring Tim, and particularly Johnny(Depp), to the mix, you have an opportunity to get inside Sweeney emotionally. In a way, it almost redefines the way you look at the play."
While on stage Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett have usually been played by actors in their 50s and 60s, Burton was determined to skew the cast younger for his film. "It just felt that part of the energy on this was to make them a bit younger, in their 40s, and have the kids be kids, so the ages were a bit more appropriate to what the story really was, and it's not a teenager being played by a 30-year-old," he explains. "That, to me, was an energy that was very filmic as opposed to a stage thing when you could get away with it."
"Tim very much wanted there to be a potential for romance, two people who had a moment and lost it," observes producer Walter Parkes. "I think Helena does as much as Johnny to deliver that. There's a moment at the end where she sings one of my favorite songs, `By the Sea,' in which she is imagining the life she and Sweeney and little Toby could have if they could just let this all go. It's so poignant and so beautiful because it's simple, direct, unadorned and legitimately emotional -- and made all the more so because you know this cloud of tragedy is hanging over these three peoples' heads."
"The absolute core of Mrs. Lovett is that she's in love with this man who never notices her," says Bonham Carter. "He doesn't even look at her, except when she comes up with the genius idea of how to dispose of his bodies when, suddenly, she's visible. And she is a good partner, a good foil for him, because whereas he's a total introvert, she's extroverted. She's practical and, I think, a lot cleverer, frankly. She was Sweeney's landlord 15 years ago, when he was married. So when Sweeney comes back from Australia and finds her, she gives him back his old room, above her pie shop. But the thing is, she's always been in love with Sweeney. And I don't think he gives two hoots about Mrs. Lovett. He's so obsessed with avenging his wife's death. But there's something quite crucial she fails to tell him..."
"When we first meet Sweeney Todd he's a very mysterious character," says Logan. "He doesn't say a lot but you know from his eyes that there is something haunting him, that he has a secret, that his past is haunting him, literally haunting him. As the story goes on, we learn what led him to this very dark place. He's just escaped from penal servitude in Australia. He was floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean, trying to make his way to London because he is on a mission of revenge. He wants revenge on the people who essentially destroyed his life."
To play his Sweeney Todd, director Tim Burton had only one actor in mind. "Johnny Depp plays Sweeney Todd as only Johnny Depp can," says producer Richard Zanuck. "Talk about a risk taker. The bigger the risks, the more attractive a role is to Johnny. He's built his whole career on pictures and roles that most actors have turned down or would turn down. He's the master of disguise. He's the master of doing something unique every time out. He has a different look, a different personality, and in this case, he'll have a voice that people will be absolutely astounded by."
Considered to be one of his generation's finest actors, Depp's stock has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to his starring role as Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," a global box office smash for which he received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Actor, which was followed by two enormously successful sequels. "I've always admired Johnny because of his choices as an actor, and because he's always done things according to his own lights," says Bonham Carter. "He's never done anything according to any sort of pattern or formula or to create a career, or because he was relying on his looks. I think, in a funny way, we're a bit similar, in that we don't have much respect for what we look like, we rather like camouflaging and getting away from ourselves."
"Sweeney Todd" marks Depp and Burton's sixth film together, after "Edward Scissorhands," "Ed Wood," "Sleepy Hollow," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Corpse Bride." "They are like any good team with almost an unspoken way of doing things, and can practically read each other's minds," says Zanuck. "Johnny looks to Tim for guidance and Tim looks to Johnny for taking what he has outlined and pushing it a little further. They really love each other and would do anything for each other. It's a deep friendship, and they're both lovely people, fun to work with and hard-working. And they're both at the top of their game. So the combination is wonderful in terms of freshness and inventiveness."
"Every time Johnny and I work together we try to do something different -- and singing for a whole movie is not something we're used to," says Burton. "You never just want to feel like, `Okay, that was easy. What's next?' Johnny and I are always wanting to stretch ourselves, and this was a perfect outlet for that."
In late 2001, before Burton was even attached to direct "Sweeney Todd," he visited Depp at his house in the south of France and gave him a copy of the Angela Lansbury stage production on CD. "He said `I don't know if you've ever heard this. Give it a listen,'" Depp recalls. "I gave it a listen and thought, `Wwell, that's interesting.' Then, five or six years later the question comes. `Do you think you can sing?' The answer I gave him was, `I don't know. I'll see if I can.'"
"I know he's musical," says Burton, "because he was in a band. But I think I saw him so clearly as Sweeney Todd, in a way. And I know he wouldn't just do anything with me just to do it. That's all I needed and I just knew he could. It was just a feeling I had that he could do it."
In the 1980s, Depp had played guitar in a band in Florida called The Kids, although he says he never actually sang an entire song. "I was the guy who would come in and sing the harmony, very quickly," he laughs. "It would be all of like three seconds and then I was out, and I could find my way back to the dark and continue playing guitar. So I had never sung a song, certainly not. I said to Tim, `I'm going to go into the studio with this pal of mine and I'm going to investigate and try and sing the songs, and if I'm close then we can talk about it, or I'll just call you and say, you know what, I can't do it. It's just impossible.'"
To find out whether he could sing or not, Depp called his former bandmate Bruce Witkin, who had been the singer and bass player in The Kids, and the pair went into Witkin's Los Angeles studio to record Depp singing "My Friends." "That was the first song I ever sang in my life," Depp explains. "It was pretty weird and scary." But Depp trusted his friend to be honest enough to deliver a verdict on whether he could sing or not. "I was like, `Do you want the good news or the bad news?'" Witkin remembers. "He goes, `Well, give me the bad news.' And I said, `The bad news is you're going to have to do this.'"
"I was in my office on the phone," recalls Zanuck of the day he first heard Depp's singing voice. "Tim bursts in and lays down a little cassette player and his headphones and he walks out. So I got off the phone, put them on, and listened to Johnny sing for the first time. I went into Tim's office, and we both just stared at each other with great relief. We had the biggest smiles because we knew we had a great voice with Johnny Depp, and we knew he could really pull this off."
"It's very sexy," says Bonham Carter of Depp's singing voice. "It's very sexy singing, and it sounds like him, that's what's exciting. He really sings from the gut, and it's a very emotional role. So it's very naked and very sexy and very touching and brave and beautiful, very beautiful, and soulful."
Agrees Burton: "Johnny's got a nice timbre to his voice. It's coming from within and that's what's so great about it."
For Depp, the key to Sweeney Todd was to think of him not as a killer but as a victim. "Sweeney's obviously a dark figure," he reflects, "but I think quite a sensitive figure, hyper-sensitive and has experienced something very dark and traumatic in his life, a grave injustice. But I always saw him as a victim. I mean, anyone who is victimized to that degree and then turns around and becomes a murderer, can't be all there. I always saw him as a little bit slow. Not dumb, just a half-step behind. The rug was pulled out from under his perfect life, his perfect world. He was in a 15-year hellhole. The only reason he came back was to eliminate the people who had done him wrong."
"Johnny Depp's performance is quite remarkable," says Sondheim. "Sweeney's desire for revenge and the simmering anger and hurt that he feels carry the story forward, and Johnny finds the most remarkable variety within that narrow set of emotions. The intensity is at a boil all the time and he never drops it. It's real anger."
"He's incapable of feeling happy," says Depp, "unless this corner has been turned and he's that much closer to his objective, which is slaughtering the people who have wronged him."
Sweeney's favored instrument of death are his cutthroat razors, the shiny implements that are also his tools of trade as a barber, and which we learn Mrs. Lovett held on to while Todd was in jail in Australia. "I think it's an indication of how much she loves him because she could have easily sold those razors," says Bonham Carter. "They're worth a lot. But she doesn't. She keeps them. I think she's been holding on to the hope that he might return. His razors are a completion of his self."
Once back in Sweeney's hands, they become both his lifeline and his means of revenge, and he serenades them in the song "My Friends." "These blades are his family," explains Depp. "They're an extension of him, the only love in his life now that his family's gone."
"When Johnny picks up the first razor and holds it, it is a pure moment of love," remarks Logan. "And when he sings to his razors, it's a love song, and he holds them very close. He keeps them in a special sheath, a special holster, the entire movie."
Sweeney's one connection to the real world is Mrs. Lovett, who "is one of the great dramatic creations of 20th century theater," says Logan. "She's a counterpoint to Sweeney, because Sweeney is very grim and brooding and very, very, very serious about what he's doing. Mrs. Lovett brings life and energy and has a sort of twinkle in her eye. Together she and Sweeney are an unstoppable combination."
"There were a lot of people who wanted the role," says Richard Zanuck. "A couple of major stars who wanted to do it came in and exposed themselves, singing the score with just a piano player. There were about eight in all. We did several auditions in London, several in New York, and there were major people who didn't come in but made their own recordings and sent them in."
Bonham Carter ("Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix") has been enamored of Sondheim's musical since she was a teenager. "I remember sitting in my drawing room looking at the score, going through the lyrics and listening to it," she says. "I got completely hooked on the music. I've always loved Sondheim. He's such a genius to be able to write both lyrics and music." But her love extended further than just an admiration for Sondheim's music and lyrics.
"I wanted to be Mrs. Lovett since I was thirteen," she laughs, "and I went around, apparently, in Mrs. Lovett hairdos."
Even though she'd wanted to play Mrs. Lovett since she was a teenager, Bonham Carter didn't know if she could really sing the role. "I've always wanted to be in a musical but I never thought I could sing, except in the bathroom," she says. And so Bonham Carter gave herself three months to learn. "I went to this amazing teacher named Ian Adam," she explains. "He died recently, but he was quite famous for making actors who can't necessarily sing, singers too. Ninety percent of what he does is give you confidence and a self-belief that makes you able to open your mouth and produce a sound. From June to September of 2006, I sang every single day and I learned pretty much the whole score because I was very, very keen. I thought my only chance was to act it as well as I could. I knew Sondheim loved Judi Dench's performance in `A Little Night Music' because it was the most well-acted. I thought `If you go for the truth of the lyric, that's your only chance.'"
Although Burton had worked with Bonham Carter on "Planet of the Apes" and later "Big Fish" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," the idea of casting her as Mrs. Lovett brought a unique set of complications, not the least being the perception he was giving her the part because she was his girlfriend. "I was very nervous about it, because it's a big role. And it wasn't just me. It was Sondheim who had to okay it," he reflects. "With a role like this, you've got to be able to really, really deliver."
"Despite the close relationship between Tim and Helena, he was absolutely not biased," insists Richard Zanuck. "I'd never seen anyone deal with someone he's so close to and be as objective as he was."
Without knowing Burton's choice, Sondheim watched all the candidates' audition tapes and also opted for Bonham Carter. "He said, `I think she is far and away the best,'" recalls Zanuck. "Not voice-wise, because there were some real skilled singers, but voice and personality and look and everything, she was Mrs. Lovett."
"That was probably the best day of my professional life to be absolutely honest," Bonham Carter recalls. "I was in complete shock and, to be honest, Tim was, too."
"She's very brave," says Depp. "I mean, without question, that's the toughest part in the movie and she beautifully made it her own. She made Mrs. Lovett kind of vulnerable and horrific and funny and sweet. There's a lot of angles on that woman that Helena brought to her."
"I saw her as totally amoral, full of zest and full of life, and a survivor," says Bonham Carter. "Somebody who was as zestful and vital as Sweeney, was depressive and introverted, and very canny and a wannabe middle-class person. But the main thing that motors her, and the main thing that defines Mrs. Lovett is that she's tragically in love with somebody who doesn't love her back."
"I think she'd rather he didn't think about killing so much and maybe he were slightly more romantic and paid more attention to her," says Depp. "Eye contact is not one of his strongest points, even with Mrs. Lovett, bless her."
"There's something very sad and haunting and emotional and delusional about that kind of a character," explains Burton. "That's why they make such a perfect couple, really. It's a relationship movie."
But Mrs. Lovett's affections aren't directed solely towards Todd. There's also Toby (Edward Sanders), Pirelli's young assistant who becomes her charge. "I think she's got a mother obsession," says Bonham Carter. "She thinks that she's Mother Lovett, as it were, that she's Mother Nature, and she's got this maternal instinct towards people, a bit towards Sweeney, and definitely towards Toby. She's a frustrated mother. I made a bit of a thing of maybe she was a mother once and she lost her child. That might have sent her over the edge. But she's with Toby because she's a frustrated mother and because Toby looks up to her. Toby listens to her. Sweeney doesn't. So she's pretty lonely. But Toby thinks she's a lady. And that's the other thing she's always wanted - to be a lady and be posh. Toby sees her as she likes to be seen."
To play Judge Turpin, the object of Sweeney Todd's unquenchable revenge, Burton needed an actor of substantial stature.
"The Judge is a pivotal role," says Zanuck. "He's the reason for Sweeney being sent off to prison, and when he lands back in London, he's the one guy Sweeney wants to get. We needed someone who would be an equal opponent of Johnny. He had to sing. He had to be very nasty. And nobody can be meaner, while doing very little, than Alan Rickman."
"Alan has always been one of my favorite actors, and I didn't realize this until later but he has a wonderful singing voice," says Burton. "He's also got a strange Vincent Price quality to him. He doesn't have to have a line of dialogue or be saying something to register a feeling. He's able to be bad, but you also kind of understand because there's a strange vulnerability about him as well."
"He's amazing," says Depp, "because he can be unbelievably creepy and then, in the same shot, turn his head and be super-sweet and have these puppy dog eyes. Rickman's really something."
Although singing was part of his training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London, Rickman had never sung on film before. "I played the male lead in the end of finals musical and, during my early days in rep, I was in the chorus of `Guys and Dolls,'" he reveals. "I'd always enjoyed singing, but never thought anything like this would come along. It's quite good to meet those Waterloos when you least expect it."
For Pirelli, the flamboyant barber who rumbles Barker's new identity but also hides a secret of his own, Burton cast the talented British comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen in his first film since his breakout success with "Borat: Cultural Leanings of America Make For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan." "Pirelli is the competing barber in town who has a great confrontation with Sweeney in one of the town squares," explains producer Laurie MacDonald. "He is a big comic character, so that obviously played into Sacha's gifts, but I think what people will be really surprised to see is how beautifully he sings and how strong he performs in this other world."
"We got him before we saw `Borat,' and before he became a household name," notes Zanuck. "He asked to come in. We met him for the first time in a recording studio. I didn't realize how tall he is, about six-five or six-six, and very handsome. He told us he's always loved this show, and that he had sung early on in his life in choirs, so we asked him to step into the booth. He wasn't prepared to sing from `Sweeney Todd,' but he sang practically all of `Fiddler on the Roof' and did it in such a way that Tim and I were literally on the floor, buckled over. He was so funny, but despite all the laughter, we realized this guy had a great voice. He had the part right then and there as far as we were concerned. And he's wonderful. Sacha is extraordinary in the picture."
Depp agrees, saying, "Sacha is someone I'd admired greatly for a number of years, all the way back to Ali G. The guy came in and won us all over in no time. He was a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to work with. It's like meeting the new Peter Sellers. He's clearly an incredibly gifted actor."
Playing Judge Turpin's nefarious henchman Beadle Bamford is Timothy Spall, one of Britain's most respected film, television and stage actors, who starred in the "Harry Potter" series as Peter Pettigrew. Like Rickman, Spall is a graduate of RADA and had sung there as well as in Mike Leigh's Gilbert & Sullivan musical comedy "Topsy-Turvy." "My character, he's a nasty piece of work, really," says Spall of Bamford. "He's a small-time sort of parish official who has adopted authority because of his association with the Judge, who he's ingratiated himself with in many ways. He's sort of his bodyguard, his henchman. He's a procurer of various things, seemly and unseemly. Also he's a pretty violent piece of work. He's not very nice."
Rounding out the rest of the cast were a coterie of talented newcomers all making their feature film debuts: A-level student Jamie Campbell Bower (Anthony), Jayne Wisener (Johanna), who's in her second year at the Royal Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, and schoolboy Edward Sanders (Toby), as well as Laura Michelle Kelly, a veteran of London's West End whose theatrical credits include the musicals "Mamma Mia," "Mary Poppins" and "The Lord Of The Rings," in which she starred as Galadriel.
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