Since his 1985 debut with “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” Burton has directed a dozen films, but “Sweeney Todd” marks his first musical. Burton saw the musical the year it was staged in London in 1980. He didn’t know who Stephen Sondheim was, “but I liked the poster and I kind of wandered in. I thought it was very cinematic.” He flirted with a film version a decade ago when he was under contract to Warner Bros., but that never came together. And then a few years ago, he was approached again.
GENESIS: “John (Logan, the screenwriter) was working on it before I got involved the second time, doing a lot of drafts for different people. When I first got involved, it had less music, but the thing we both loved about the show was that the music was driving the plot. So we discussed structure and did a lot of work on it.”
VISION: “It’s a simple passion play. One thing Johnny (Depp) and I talked about was old horror movies, with Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney and all. It’s a different acting style, a different approach to things.”
CHALLENGES: “Most everybody in the cast is not a singer, which gave things a different layer. They couldn’t approach it as a Broadway singer, nobody could rely on their voice; they had to approach things from a different angle. (Though some of the singing was prerecorded), we learned very fast you can’t just stand there and lip-sync. You have to sing, because this is so internalized. These are pent-up characters, with their emotions coming out through the music. Sondheim’s music is so complex, and on set I was surprised at how much they nailed it.”
MAGIC: “With musicals, actors move in a way they’d never done before. It’s more poetic and fun, it galvanizes you, the actors and crew. Most of us found it quite liberating. What surprised me was how much fun it was.”