It seems Johnny Depp finally caught the fever – Bieber fever, that is.
“We just established that I’m a Belieber,” Depp said while shaking the “Never Say Never” star’s hand at a recent “Rango” press conference in Los Angeles.
Depp was describing how he first channeled his inner lizard to play the voice of Rango when suddenly Bieber strolled up to the table where Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin and Gore Verbinksi were sitting.
“I had to come say hi – I heard you were in the building,” Bieber said, as the crowd of journalists slowly began to lose their professional cool over the collective star power assembled in the Orchid Room in the Four Seasons Hotel.
Reporters began to shamelessly whip out their stowed cameras, despite the strict policy prohibiting photography. But rules be damned – Biebs and Depp were meeting for the first time – this required documentation.
It seems only fitting that a tween idol would crash the press conference of an animated family flick like “Rango.”
Despite the fact that the film chronicles the life of an adventurous, talking chameleon on the precipice of an identity crisis, the feeling of existential panic transcends ages, and in this case, even species.
As the first animated feature from the acclaimed director of the blockbuster “Pirates” franchise, “Rango” taps into the brilliance of visual effects guru Industrial Light & Magic to create a different kind of computer animated Western.
ILM, which in the past has only been used for their dexterity with special effects, wanted to create a tactile world for the viewer, according to Hal Hickel, the animation director for “Rango.”
At a “Making of Rango” presentation, Hickel and Tim Alexander, the visual effects supervisor, explained the painstaking process of creating each critter’s eyes. The animators wanted to provide a realistic depth to the eyes. Take a look at the eyes in “Rango” and then compare them to the eyes in “Up,” for instance. You’ll notice a stark difference.
But to create those realistic aspects and translate them into animation, Verbinksi knew he had to take a different production approach when working with his voice cast.
“…when I heard people say, “Well, it’s an animated movie; this is how they do it. They get a microphone and an actor.” And I just thought – that sounded so crazy to me,” Verbinski said, explaining how the actors stepped out of the recording studio and onto a crudely designed set to interact with one another using minimal props and costumes so animators could see their interaction, instead of just hear it.
“The process that we did, that Gore created, was this sort of atmosphere that was really, truly ludicrous; I mean, just ridiculous. It was like just regional theater at its worst,” Depp said jokingly.
“I think the characters had humanity because we were interacting with each other, and more chemistry; and so it felt more organic and real,” Fisher added.
Part of building that humanity within the characters is creating the persona of the character itself, which fans of Depp have grown accustomed to, especially since the inception of his iconic Captain Jack Sparrow, who’s peculiar athleticism served as an inspiration for Depp’s characterization of Rango.
“When we were doing ‘Pirates’ one, two and three… when Jack Sparrow had to run – there was this very specific run that I wanted. … I saw this footage of a lizard running across the water. And it was like the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” Depp said. “So I actually think that Rango was somehow planted in Gore’s brain from that…lizard run. And when he actually called me and said, ‘I want you to play a lizard,’ I thought, ‘Well, God, I’m halfway there.'”
For Fisher, who plays Beans – a rough and tough desert iguana – her muse was slightly different.
“I kind of imagine Beans… If Clint Eastwood and Holly Hunter would have a love child, that would be Beans,” Fisher said.
Looking to the old Westerns of the past, animators’ inspiration stemmed from “Shakiest Gun in the West,” a Don Knotts Western that features Knotts personifying his signature Barney Fife guise – a personality Rango identifies with. One tavern scene in particular, in which Knotts is explaining a tall tale to a circle of interested, gun-slinging onlookers, is replicated almost exactly in “Rango.”
But because “Rango” is a Western, and because Westerns usually involve the hallmark pistol showdown, smoking and the occasional swig of whiskey (or in Rango’s case, cactus juice), critics have already begun to question if “Rango” really is a kid movie, especially with the amount of the adult humor cleverly woven into the script.
“…Certainly there’s stuff in there for adults so that we get to have a good time, as well,” Verbinski said. “But… I think people constantly underestimate what [kids] can handle.”
“I think kids, in general, as an audience are the way forward because they’re not sort of sullied by intellectual expectation or this or that,” Depp said. “It’s a very pure kind of response to the work.”
Another unadulterated response? Verbinski’s reaction to Bieber:
“OK, who’s not a Belieber now”?
Statements made by the actors and filmmaker occurred during a press junket made possible by Paramount Pictures. “Rango” hits Madison theaters March 4.