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Tim burton

Giovanni Bogani

July 18, 2023

Tim Burton and his special bond with Rome

Our interview with the great director who never ceases to amaze

Tim Burton is one of the geniuses of contemporary film. Director, writer and maker of movies with a Gothic, fairytale feel. He’s the youngest director ever to receive the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Venice, and once of the most commercially successful directors in cinema history. But the cult director doesn’t take such good care of himself. He lives in his own country, his gothic wonderland: the one he’s built in his head.

But meanwhile, in the real world, he’s met one of the world’s most beautiful women, Monica Bellucci. And they’ve fallen in love. In an interview with Elle France, the Italian actress confirmed she was in a relationship with the director. “I’m glad I met him. It’s one of those encounters that rarely happens in life”, she said. Monica Bellucci also stars in Burton’s Beetlejuice 2, the  sequel to his 1988 film, which is being shot in London.

Italy seems to be in Burton’s destiny. Prior to February’s Tim Burton Tribute - an evening of music from the soundtracks of his movies, with a piano performance by Nicolas Horvath - two years ago Rome honoured him with a Lifetime Achievement award at the Rome Film Fest. For the ceremony, the director turned up with his children Billy Ray and Nell. All, naturally, dressed in black, apart from the immaculate white of adored family dog Levy. On that occasion, he indulged the curiosity of journalists.

Mr Burton, what’s your tie with Rome?

Rome has always been in my heart. I’ve always loved the great Italian directors, from Federico Fellini to Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento. When I walk around the city it’s like I’m living in a dream, I feel like the protagonist of one of my movies.

Every film begins with the choice of a story, a project; there’s always an idea. How do you choose your films?

There’s never a rational choice, a calculation; it’s always instinctive. I only choose projects that I feel enthusiastic about, passionate.

Which of your characters would you say you’re most like?

I’d say Ed Wood or Edward from Edward Scissorhands

Edward is different to other people. And deep down, many of your leading characters are. What are your thoughts on inclusivity, respect for others?

I’ve always chosen the view of the underdog; I’ve always rooted for them. Maybe it’s because I’ve always considered myself to be different from other people. I’ve always felt like an outsider, and close to those who feel marginalised because of their race, age or gender.

In your view, is there still room for fantasy in today’s filmmaking?

Yes, I believe there still is. Sure, truth often overtakes fantasy, but the extraordinary thing about film is its enormous ability to invent parallel realities, non-existent worlds, and make them true and alive.

Your movies touch on many fears, both deep-seated and passing. What are you scared of?

I’m scared of speaking in public, I’m terrified of the stage; I can’t sleep before an appearance. But I’m not afraid to follow my passion and my imagination. I’ve never been scared of failing. If you want to do something different, something special, you always need courage.

What do you look for in your actors?

I look for actors who know how to get into the role, to take risks. In Batman, Michelle Pfeiffer plays Catwoman: she dances on roofs, surrounds herself with cats, even puts a live bird in her mouth. I like actors who don’t stand around admiring themselves but accept that they’re part of the game, an instrument in a wider creative process.

How do you find inspiration? Where do your characters come from?

For me, daydreaming is a real thing, concrete and habitual; I often do it. I spend a lot of time watching things, and every time I discover different aspects of reality.

Your latest film is Dumbo, the live animation movie for Disney.

Yes, it’s been a few years. After shooting that movie, I had a breakdown, and I realised that in some ways the film was autobiographical: I felt like Dumbo, I was the elephant in the Disney story. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I stopped after that one.

What’s your view on live action remakes of cartoon classics?

I myself am responsible for some of those remakes, but I’m no longer a great fan, and I don’t want to do any more.

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