The star channels Roddy McDowall for his geeky role in ''Sleepy Hollow''
Johnny Depp
Credit: Clive Coote

When Washington Irving wrote ”The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” he probably didn’t see his gangly protagonist as ”Tiger Beat”-hottie-of-the-month material. So when Johnny Depp stepped into Ichabod Crane’s homely shoes (”Sleepy Hollow” opens Friday.), he was ready for things to get ugly. Really ugly. ”Initially I wanted to go the obvious route, which was prosthetic makeup and the snipe nose and the huge ears and all that,” says the 36-year-old actor. ”But the brass at Paramount didn’t want that at all.”

Ultimately a script rewrite that played up the character’s geekiness convinced Depp he could toss the cosmetics. ”I think the new version was infinitely more interesting,” says Depp, who was also happy that Crane became a bumbling detective instead of a drab schoolteacher. ”He maintains this facade of strength and stoicism when underneath he’s a nervous wreck about to burst into tears or break out in shingles.” Depp, who is currently taking several months off to enjoy fatherhood and his daughter, Lily-Rose, and his girlfriend Vanessa Paradis, can’t wait for his next opportunity to get uglied up on screen. ”Is it a conscious choice to try to mess yourself up a little? Yeah,” says the actor, who donned gold-capped teeth for the upcoming movie ”The Man Who Cried.” ”I think it would be boring to the point of impossible to be just a leading man. I’m much more interested in being a character actor.”

Even if he can’t be one, he can at least channel a few of them for each role. ”When reading a script, I get these visions of things that I feel would be good ingredients for the role,” he says. ”When I did ‘Ed Wood’ I saw the blind optimism of Ronald Reagan, the Tinman in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and Kasey Kasem. For ‘Edward Scissorhands,’ I saw dogs I had as a child and newborn babies. And for ‘Sleepy Hollow,’ I saw Angela Lansbury from her character in ‘Death on the Nile,’ and Roddy McDowall, who was some kind of a genius. So this movie is Angela, Roddy, and a little bit of Basil Rathbone.” Whatever he envisioned for ”Nightmare on Elm Street” he can just keep to himself.

Sleepy Hollow (Movie)
  • Movie
  • 105 minutes