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Johnny Depp

Lead Actor: 'Sweeney Todd'

Johnny Depp’s never been one to shy away from a challenge.

With more than 40 roles under his belt, he rarely approaches his craft in a traditional fashion. Take the upcoming musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” for example. Depp was excited about playing the lead without ever having sung onscreen before.

Don’t let 1990’s “Cry-Baby” fool you. Depp’s songs were dubbed by James Intveld because director John Waters hadn’t ever planned on having his cast sing.

“He offered to sing in his own voice,” Waters recalls. “I knew Johnny was in a band. I remember hearing a tape, but I think we were just too far along. I don’t know, maybe I made the wrong decision.”

Before taking on “Sweeney Todd,” Depp met with composer Stephen Sondheim (who had final casting approval) to discuss his unique take on the role, and luckily Sondheim gave him his blessing. Then Depp made an atypical decision: to forgo all voice training.

As Depp recently told Entertainment Weekly, “Sondheim said to me early on that the singing was secondary to hitting the notes emotionally. … I just didn’t see the character developing with me doing scales in front of a piano.”

Of course Depp never officially told anyone that he would shun voice training.

“Every picture he’s ever made he’s taken a risk with,” says producer Richard D. Zanuck. “Early on we sent some (voice) coaches to him, who he cordially said hello to but never sang for them. I have such great respect for Johnny, but, yeah, it made everybody nervous.”

Depp recorded practice demos as a way to get his arms around the role, and two months before production he sent Zanuck and director Tim Burton a demo that included the song “My Friends.”

“We were both thrilled,” Zanuck recalls, “because even though we assumed Johnny would never take on something that he couldn’t handle, never in our wildest dreams had we any idea that he was going to sing that well.”

FAST FACTS

Next: Depp has two films on his docket, but production on the the Mira Nair pic “Shantaram” is now officially delayed because of the writers strike. He’s also signed up for “The Rum Diary,” written and directed by Bruce Robinson.

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