Keen to spend time with Johnny Depp, Kerry Ann Eustice attends the Sweeney Todd press conference to find out more about this year's hottest cinema release

CONSIDER a few of the wildly-eccentric and brilliantly-bold roles actor Johnny Depp has played. There's the modern- day Frankenstein Edward Scissorhands, a wonderfully weird Willy Wonka and the loveable rogue, Captain Jack Sparrow, to name a few.

You'd be forgiven for thinking Johnny himself is far from a wallflower; dressing himself up in pirate garb and adopting an accent at any opportunity.

But while Johnny is indeed known as being one of his generation's most versatile actors, unafraid to tackle difficult roles, each quite unlike the last, I'm surprised to see at the Sweeney Todd press conference he's far from the extrovert his outlandish characters suggest.

He's clearly got a sharp sense of humour; banter between him and director Tim Burton, and indeed the rest of the film's fine cast, has the crowd of hacks in stitches.

But he's succinct, softly spoken and awfully polite. He even spends a good 20 minutes signing autographs for the assembled journalists, me included, after proceedings have come to an end.

Johnny's in the UK to discuss his latest role as Sweeney Todd, in long-time collaborator Tim Burton's all singing, all slashing big-screen version of the Broadway musical.

It soon becomes clear, it is in fact Burton - the odd ball director famed for telling macabre fairy tales, charming horror stories and the triumphs of outsiders - who is the confident joker of the duo, who have become firm friends.

Another reason Johnny's demeanour is a surprise is in previous interviews Johnny has said he feels it's important to bring an element of yourself to every role. So just what part of himself does he see in the wronged family man turned murderer Sweeney?

"I do believe that you have to bring some degree of truth from yourself to the thing and I'll admit it here I have shaved a grown man before," he jokes.

"I have done it. It wasn't Tim. He did survive and he's still walking around today."

He added: "As Tim said the other day, revenge is one of those things most people don't want to admit to but I think we all have it certainly secretly in there. I'm a big fan of revenge.

"Clearly Sweeney's obsession is to avenge the horror which happened to him."

It's fair to say Johnny developed a reputation for playing strange souls and weirdos.

But what is it drawing him to these roles?

"It's just the luck of the draw, really. I don't know. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to have played all these different characters whether they're androgynous or incredibly macho like Ed Wood or Edward Scissorhands," he joked.

"He's going to be doing The Village People Story next," interjects Tim, cheekily.

"It's a ballet. With an edge," added Johnny.

"And he's going to play each and every one. The Indian, the cowboy, the cop, the whole crew," Tim added.

Despite gallons of blood on set, throat slicing galore and enough smashed skulls to justify an 18 certificate, these horrors were not the scariest elements of the film for Johnny.

He said: "I did do this thing with John Waters called Cry Baby', but technically it was only half me because it wasn't me singing. Tim's the only person brave enough to actually let me try to sing. It was the first time I've ever sung. I don't even sing in the shower, I'm too mortified.

"Once I got over the initial fear it was kind of enjoyable. Sondheim's melodies and lyrics were a real pleasure to tromp around in. Really beautiful stuff. I enjoyed it. Would I ever do it again? No, I doubt it."

"We are about to embark on a production of Cats," adds Tim, jokingly.

Half of the vocals were recorded in a studio before the lip-synched scenes were filmed. But Johnny says in order to achieve the right level of passion he had to more or less sing in the same way before the cameras.

He said: "The only way to do it is to belt it out once again on the set, which is extremely mortifying because everyone's close and you just feel like an idiot.

"But it was oddly liberating having music on the set."

It turns out the prospect of shaving co-stars like Alan Rickman was just as nerve wracking.

"Honestly, the killing of everyone, that was the easy part," said Johnny.

"The most difficult bit was lathering them up and shaving them. That's the bit which freaked me out the most."

"I asked him to give me a Brazilian but he wouldn't," added Tim, before cracking up .

Rolling Stone Keith Richards famously inspired some of Captain Jack's mannerisms and it's not Depp's only role to draw comparisons. A few commentators feel his Willy Wonka has a touch of Michael Jackson about him and that Depp's Sweeney sings like David Bowie.

"I've heard that before," he said of Jackson similarities.

"But no I didn't. I wish I'd thought of that. There's still time and he might get up to his old tricks again and I could be in a TV movie about him.

"I wouldn't dream of attempting to channel David Bowie. If there's a similarity it wasn't intentional. But it's a nice compliment."

Despite a string of daring roles in cinema, Johnny gets most excited when quizzed about his Fast Show cameo.

"The Fast Show," he said. "It was one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen in any way, television, theatre, whatever.

"So when it was mentioned as a possibility I actively pursued it. I went after Whitehouse. I stalked him. I was sitting in a tree outside his bedroom window with a funny mask on and that's how I got the job basically."

If this tongue-in-cheek press conference is to be believed the next role we see Johnny in could be as Michael Jackson in a Cats adaptation with a Village People soundtrack. Only Johnny could.

Sweeney Todd (18) is released Jan 25.