Johnny Depp Cast as Edward Scissorhands Over Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise

Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton are looking back at what started their years-long screen collaboration. 

During 1990’s darkly fantastical Edward Scissorhands, an instant kinship developed between Burton, its director and co-writer, and the star he took a chance on. As a new docuseries about Burton, 65, indicates, there were other casting options for the titular role.

Depp, 61, says in his interview in Tara Wood’s still-untitled documentary that Hollywood icons as far-ranging as Tom Hanks to Michael Jackson had contacted Burton about wanting to play the story’s scissor-handed hero. Tom Cruise, he reveals, “was not far away from actually playing Edward Scissorhands — true story.”

After becoming “pigeonholed” as a teen idol starring in 21 Jump Street from 1987 to 1990, Depp says he “had to fight it.” Skewering his own rebellious image in John Waters’ 1990 classic Cry-Baby, he adds, “was the first solid step in the direction I wanted to go.”

Of 21 Jump Street, he says, “In all honesty, I was probably doing my best for probably the last two years to get fired… I knew how important the choice to make Cry-Baby with John Waters was, which gave me the opportunity to make fun of this arena I’d been placed in.”

(Left-right:) Tim Burton, Winona Ryder, Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman at the ‘Edward Scissorhands’ premiere in 1990.
Barry King/WireImage

Burton and fellow screenwriter Caroline Thompson’s script for Edward Scissorhands, says Depp, “passed through everything, anything, solid and went to the very core of whatever I am. The writing was beautiful. The character was beautiful. What I suppose [attracted] me emotionally was that Edward was me. It’s exactly what I should be doing.” 

But after his agent set up a meeting with Burton, who was following up the success of 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and 1988’s Beetlejuice, Depp heard about the A-list stars in contention for Edward. “He’s never going to cast me when everyone in Hollywood is after the part,” Depp recalls thinking. 

“Tim’s really juggling because he’s getting hit by his agent, the studio, everybody. So I called my agent after reading the script and said, ‘Please cancel the meeting, I’m not going.’ She said, ‘Are you f—ing nuts?’ ”

Of the moment of self-sabotage, Depp continues, “It was weird because there’s always that bastard in your skull that goes ‘Come on, man. You’re a TV actor guy.’ Because at that time it was almost either-or.”

Alan Arkin and Johnny Depp in ‘Edward Scissorhands’.

 Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock 

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But Depp “finally gave in,” agreeing to meet Burton — and becoming one of the visionary director’s go-to screen muses for decades, starring in 1994’s Ed Wood, 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and more. 

Also among Burton’s regular movie actors are Helena Bonham Carter, Christopher Lee and Edward Scisssorhands costar Winona Ryder. Burton and Ryder are reuniting for the upcoming Beetlejuice Beetlejuice (in theaters Sept. 6).

The Tim Burton docuseries is premiering at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on Monday, June 10.

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