Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka is eccentric to the extreme -- but will it suit audiences' tastes?
Johnny Depp is wearing fake teeth and a safari outfit. A pith helmet rests on his head. And in his hand is a very large machete to protect him from the hornswogglers, snozzwangers, and whangdoodles that live deep in the jungles of Loompaland.
As Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘s crazed confectioner, Willy Wonka, Depp is bushwhacking his way through the far-off jungle home of the Oompa-Loompas (or, in this case, an enormous soundstage at England’s Pinewood Studios) in search of exotic new flavors for his sweets. If this tropical setting doesn’t ring any bells, that’s because Loompaland wasn’t in the original 1971 film that starred Gene Wilder. The new Charlie, as everyone involved is quick to point out, is not a remake. And while the basic story — five kids (four brats plus Charlie Bucket) find golden tickets and get a privileged peek inside Wonka’s top secret chocolate factory — remains the same, director Tim Burton went back to Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s book for his inspiration. ”A lot of people are huge fans of the movie and hold it in awe,” says Burton, enjoying the shade under one of Loompaland’s bamboo trees. ”I wasn’t one of them.”
Depp’s bizarre safari getup is merely an appetizer for how downright freaky he looks as Wonka. For most of the $150 million film, he wears his hair in a Prince Valiant bob, has a powder white face, sports lavender contact lenses, and carries a see-through cane filled with candy. He’s also a germaphobe of Howard Hughesian proportions and speaks in a high-pitched voice that makes him sound like a 16-year-old Valley girl shopping for tank tops at the Galleria. Not surprisingly, Depp wanted to make Wonka even stranger. ”What I was really excited about was a long nose,” he says during a break in his trailer. ”I brought it up with Tim, and he was like, ‘Hang on, hang on. A prosthetic nose? Come on!”’