Nominated for his third best actor Oscar in five years, Johnny Depp tells Mike Goodridge why he worried he wouldn’t be up to playing Sweeney Todd
As part of his preparations for the all-singing role of the eponymous murderer in Tim Burton’s film of the Stephen Sondheim musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, Johnny Depp intended to see a vocal coach and take singing lessons. But in the end he decided against it.
“I went into the recording studio, which was a tiny garage, with a friend of mine and we started to record the pieces of music just to see if I could sing. I didn’t know if I would be able to. As I started to sing and we’d get these recordings, the idea of going to a vocal coach and standing in front of a piano and doing scales seemed to be counter-productive. I just thought it would be better for me to find the character through the process of singing the part as opposed to trying to be a singer.”
He said he found Epiphany and Johanna to be the most difficult songs in the score. “Epiphany is the one where he goes kind of nuts and is running around a little,” he says. “You’d think that one would be most difficult because of hitting certain notes and sustaining them, but ultimately I think Johanna was the most difficult because it’s so soft. It’s such a heartfelt piece and there are notes you have to sustain and you have to remain somewhat pleasant.”
Depp tested out his early recordings of the songs on his popstar partner Vanessa Paradis. “She was the initial victim in the sense that before I sent them off to Tim I brought them home to Vanessa and I said, ‘If I am going to make an ass of myself, I may as well go the whole hog and play it for you.’ She was super-supportive and offered me all kinds of advice in terms of projecting the voice or holding a note.”
Indeed, for all Depp’s experience and fame, he was clearly worried that he would not be up to the task. “I just didn’t want to let Tim down, you know,” he explains. “I was afraid I’d disappoint him. It was a very foreign process to me in that even though my background is in music - I was a guitar player - the idea of standing in front of a microphone was one of the more daunting possibilities. I was scared to death, to be honest. It’s just very exposing on some levels and the only way to find out if you can do it is just to do it. So I closed my eyes and dove in.”