Film interview: Director James Bobin talks Alice Through The Looking Glass

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  • Sequel is expected to rake in $60m in opening weekend in US
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Tim Burton’s gone and Sacha Baron Cohen’s joined the cast - but the second Alice movie is just as fantastical as the first, says Keeley Bolger

The first Alice film, 2010’s Alice In Wonderland, has all the hallmarks of a Tim Burton classic.

There’s Johnny Depp, Burton’s former partner Helena Bonham Carter (the couple announced they’d split in December 2014), the gothic fantasy elements, the outcasts, the flashbacks and the rebellious ingenue...

But for the second film, Alice Through The Looking Glass, California-born Burton decided to step aside, and allow James Bobin to take up the reins.

This outing sees Alice, who is a sea captain, head back in time to save the Mad Hatter (Depp), who has taken a turn for the worse.

So has it been daunting to take over from Burton?

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“Well, Tim’s a producer on the film, so he’s still involved,” says British-born Bobin, who previously directed Muppets Most Wanted and Da Ali G Show.

“If I had a question or something I wanted to show him, he was on the end of a phone. That was incredibly helpful.”

His stamp comes in comedic form, he says.

“I wanted to bring that absurdist, surrealist element a bit more to the fore,” explains the film-maker, who studied history at Oxford and is married with three children.

We did one take that went on for about 15 minutes, saying surreal, absurd, random things to one another. The crew was totally lost.

Johnny Depp

“Hence I could do things like hire one of my friends, Sacha Baron Cohen, as one of the lead characters, which instantly means you think ‘funny’,” he adds enthusiastically.

This sequel shows a grown-up Alice struggling to find her place in a man’s world.

For Mia Wasikowska, the 26-year-old Australian actress who plays Alice, it wasn’t hard to find the commonalities between her world and that of the character, created by Lewis Carroll in the mid-1800s, even though there’s 150 years separating them.

“I haven’t had to fight in the way Alice has, but I feel like I’ve been really lucky to work with mostly really wonderful people, and play some really great characters,” says Wasikowska. “There’s definitely a way to go before it’s more equal for everybody.”

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The film is out on May 27.

And much has changed for the actress in the six years since the first film.

“I’m still relatively new to it,” says the star, whose other notable credits include the titular role in 2011’s Jane Eyre, pyromaniac Agatha in 2014’s Maps To The Stars, and Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary. “I had done a few films before Alice, but Alice was the biggest one I had done at that point.”

Known for his outrageous characters Ali G and Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen plays Time, the powerful being responsible for ensuring the Chronosphere - a spinning disc inside the master clock which allows time travel - remains in its place.

He had a hard time on set.

“I was very depressed,” deadpans the comedian.

“Johnny Depp bullied me. There were elastic bands thrown at me. He had his security team hound me, pin me down... I think the term is ‘wedgied’ by a large man from Zambia. I was overwhelmed.”

As for his accent, the 44-year-old father-of-three, who’s married to Isla Fisher, is less concise.

“He’s Germanic,” he says, pausing between each word. “He lives in ‘thingy’ land. He’s Bavarian-y. He has that kind of overly pompous, very empathetic way of talking, where everything seems very crucial, even though it can be complete nonsense.”

Returning star Depp found it “difficult to keep a straight face” in Baron Cohen’s company.

“It was even more difficult not to improvise, which is what we would normally want to do,” the 52-year-old Pirates Of The Caribbean star explains. “We did one take that went on for about 15 minutes, saying surreal, absurd, random things to one another. The crew was totally lost.”

Away from set, another Alice has been holding his attention - explaining how his musical collaboration with Alice Cooper came about, the actor, who’s been playing guitar since he was 12, says: “I kept a low profile [with music], but then Alice Cooper asked me to jam with him at the 100 Club, which was a real honour.

“He asked if I felt like writing a few songs, so I wrote about five or six, and suddenly I find I’m writing songs for Alice Cooper and it turned into this band, Hollywood Vampires.”

That was 2015, and Depp admits he had long “left behind” his dreams of becoming a musician, but suddenly they “became a reality”.

“Since I’m not built for lead singer, I just get to play the guitar, stand in the dark, and it’s a gas,” he adds. “It’s like movies have become my day job.”

But coming back to the Hatter was a “real treat”, he notes: “You always feel like there’s something more you could do, and when you come back, you get a chance to do that and make more of an interesting performance.”

Alan Rickman voiced Absolem, the wise blue caterpillar.

“He was an incredible actor,” says Bobin, who readily imparts it was a “real pleasure” working with the late actor, who died in January due to pancreatic cancer.

“His voice is such a weapon. There was so much depth to it, and so much range and so much meaning.

“Absolem as a character was very interesting, because he is someone who imparts advice but really leaves you to work it out for yourself, and so there’s always a double edge to what he’s saying. Alan got that right. It wasn’t even me telling him what I thought about it, he’d just get it right.

“That’s such a great gift.”

Talitha Bateman as Janice.

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