August 4, 2008

Burton Discovers His Wonderland – in Plymouth

By Amol Rajan

Take the fantastical realm of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, add the eccentric imagination of Hollywood director Tim Burton, and where do you end up? Plymouth.

The Devon port will this week host auditions for 250 extras for Burton's forthcoming blockbuster based on Carroll's 1865 novel, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. Scenes will be filmed in the locale in September.

Burton has chosen the western city because of the ease with which it will accommodate his plans for a Victorian setting. The only confirmed casting is the highly-rated 18-year-old Australian actress, Mia Wasikowska, who recently starred in HBO's acclaimed television psychotherapy drama In Treatment, who is lined up to play Alice.

Casting director Ilenka Jelowicki said filming would take place for a fortnight in September in and around Plymouth.

"It's a period movie, set in Victorian England, so we're very specific about the look we need," she said. "In an ideal world, out of the 125 women we need, they would all have long, naturally coloured hair. We'd love men with beards or facial hair - lamb chops or big sideburns, that sort of thing."

Most of the extras chosen would need to have holiday left or flexible working hours, to be available for the full two weeks.

Unconfirmed rumours suggest that Johnny Depp may take the part - perhaps a voice-only one - of the Mad Hatter. Burton and Depp have teamed up to critical acclaim several times, including on Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd, and the recent remake of the Roald Dahl classic Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

The film, which is likely to go on general release in 2010, is expected to make use of several historic buildings in Plymouth. These include historic properties such as the George II mansion Saltram House, seen in 1995 in Sense And Sensibility, and the Royal William Yard, which in 2003 hosted Churchill, The Hollywood Years.

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of South West Tourism, said there were huge benefits to filming in the West Country. "There are three main benefits with an event of this kind," he said. "Firstly, we can't overestimate the amount of money the cast and crew of the film will spend in Plymouth while they are here. Secondly, the PR that will be brought to the city, and thirdly the number of film lovers who will come here to catch a glimpse of the sites on the film. All you have to do is look at what Doc Martin [the ITV comedy starring Martin Clunes] has done for Port Isaac [a resort 30 miles north- west of Plymouth] to see the effect."

David Shepherd, head of locations at South West Screen, confirmed his team had been scouting for possible sets. "The locations chosen in Plymouth had just the right feel for the needs of the film," he said. "Our primary role is to attract productions to come to film in this region and we're absolutely delighted to attract such a big production to the South-west."

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