What If?: Burton Never Met Depp

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In Too Depp?

Imagine an alternate film universe. One in which Johnny Depp never became an A-list actor, but instead was still a telemarketer who moonlighted as a musician. In this Depp-less universe, Johnny never met Nicolas Cage, and in turn never met Tim Burton. As a result, Burton wouldn’t have cast Depp for pivotal roles in five different films.

What would Burton’s career look like if he wasn’t able to lean so heavily on Depp? Would it have gone better? Worse? For starters, there aren’t a lot of actors who would have been good casting choices at the time for any of these roles, let alone all five. If Burton went with five different actors who had enjoyed success at the time of each film, the following actors might have been cast in the Depp roles.

  • Edward Scissorhands/Edward Scissorhands – Keanu Reeves
  • Ed Wood/Ed Wood – Nic Cage
  • Ichabod Crane/Sleepy Hollow – Edward Norton
  • Willy Wonka/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Kevin Kline
  • The Mad Hatter/Alice in Wonderland – Brad Pitt

Here’s where you see just how valuable Depp has been to Burton’s career.

The Replacements

Keanu Reeves

Reeves is by no means in the same league as Depp, but his look and naivete would have served the Scissorhands role well. He would have made a terrible Ed Wood, and an even worse Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka. It’s unlikely that he could have pulled off the Crane role either. Despite remaining a fringe A-list actor for the entire span of the aforementioned films, Reeves couldn’t carry any one of these films the way Depp did. In fact, I’d be surprised if Reeves could carry a briefcase; most of his hits did well in spite of him, not because of him.

Nicolas Cage

Cage is a box office enigma, but he remains one of the biggest stars in the business after roughly a quarter century in the spotlight. He would have made a terrific Ed Wood. But can you picture Cage as Edward Scissorhands? Subtly is not exactly a big part of Cage’s skillset. He would have been hammier than Christmas dinner with the in-laws as either the Hatter or Wonka, and he would have been distracting as Crane. Basically, even if Cage was as good a fit for Ed Wood as Depp, he would have been terrible filling in for every other role.

Edward Norton

Edward Norton would have kicked ass as Ichabod Crane — he’s perfect for the role. But his Primal Fear breakout performance didn’t occur until 1996. He wouldn’t have even been available for the first two roles. He also was too young for the Willy Wonka role, and he just feels off for some reason when you try and imagine him as the Mad Hatter. Once again, we have another 1-for-5er.

Kevin Kline

Honestly, Kevin Kline probably would’ve been a better Willy Wonka than Depp. Then again, that would depend on Burton’s direction. If he wanted Kline to try and pull off Depp’s hybrid of Mary Tyler Moore and Michael Jackson, I’m not sure he or anybody else could have. But he would have nailed the character much the same way Gene Wilder once did. As for the Scissorhands role, he’s too old. He would have been fine for both Crane and Wood, but he doesn’t seem like a good fit for the Mad Hatter. Additionally, Kline has never really been the household name that Depp has been for most of his career.

Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt is probably the most interesting name on the list above. Pitt is at his best when he’s playing kooks, so he would’ve owned the Mad Hatter role. But how would he have fit everywhere else? Scissorhands? No. Crane? Too pretty — no. Wood? Can’t see it. Wonka? Maybe. Pitt is arguably a bigger star than Depp, and he’s the same age. But he just isn’t a good fit for most of these roles.

Check out the next page to see who could fill Depp’s shoes…

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Topics: Casting, Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr., Tim Burton

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