Fans noted a similarity between Jackson’s voice and the voice Depp used when portraying Wonka. In addition, they noted like Jackson, Depp’s Wonka was an eccentric who had an extravagant estate and an estranged relationship with his father. The question is: Did Depp ever confirm his performance was inspired by Jackson?
Michael Jackson and Willy Wonka
The character of Wonka first came to the silver screen through the 1970s film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. In that film, Wonka was played by Gene Wilder. Depp starred in Tim Burton’s remake of the movie titled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Some felt Depp’s characterization resembled Jackson’s mannerisms more than Wilder’s.
People also noted similarities between the way Wonka was written and Jackson’s personal life. Wonka had issues with his father — just like Jackson. Fans also noted a resemblance between Wonka’s wardrobe and Jackson’s.
What Johnny Depp had to say about Michael Jackson and Willy Wonka
Depp said this was not the case. According to RogerEbert.com, he said “That never crossed my mind. I never thought about it once, honestly. But it’s interesting, people’s perceptions.’”
Did Depp at least expect the comparisons? According to Deseret News, he said “A few people have mentioned it, and it kind of took me by surprise. I really didn’t expect that. Michael Jackson was not a sort of ingredient or inspiration for the character at all.”
Depp saw more of a similarity between Wonka and Howard Hughes — another celebrity eccentric — than between Wonka and Jackson. Hughes was a businessman and film producer known for having obsessive-compulsive disorder. In an interview with IGN, Depp described Wonka as “Reclusive, germaphob[ic], [and] controlling” three qualities he associated with Hughes.
The connection between Mr. Rogers and Johnny Depp’s performance
Depp said he based the character on entertainers, just not Jackson. Specifically, he wanted his version of Wonka to come across like the children’s show hosts he’d watched on television when he was young. He cited Fred Rogers, Uncle Al, and Captain Kangaroo as examples.
Depp elaborated “I distinctly remember, even at that age, their speech pattern and their kind of musical quality of the way they’re speaking to the camera, to the children. I thought, even then, it was really strange. I thought it was super bizarre because it was all, “Hello, children. How are you??”…And game show hosts that I remember seeing and watching and thinking, ‘My God! They can’t be like that at home. They can’t actually be like that.’”
Depp came to the conclusion game show hosts put on a happy face as part of their job even when they weren’t feeling happy. He wanted his Wonka to have that same quality. That’s certainly an interesting route to take a beloved character from children’s literature.
Depp did not take influence from Jackson while playing Wonka. Instead, he took inspiration from other entertainers. The fact that people connected his character to Jackson serves as a testament to Jackson’s pop culture ubiquity.