15 Fun Facts About “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Horror musicals are a very specific and fun subgenre that can be appealing to horror fans who love music and theater fans who love things dark and disturbing.  And there is perhaps no more famous horror stage play than that of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”.

For years, there were rumors of a potential film adaptation, which finally came to be in December 2007, when Tim Burton brought the movie to the big screen with his regulars, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.  So in honor of its 15th anniversary today, here are 15 fun facts about Sweeney Todd!

1. The adaptation itself had been “in production” for nearly 25 years, ever since the massive success of the stage play.  Stephen Sondheim was very protective of it and hesitant to allow anyone to make a film of it.

2. Prior to Burton’s adaptation, the closest this movie came to being made was in 2003 with Sam Mendes attached to direct and Russell Crowe attached to star.

Sweeney 2
Given the reception to Russell Crowe’s singing in 2012’s Les Miserables, perhaps it’s best he didn’t star as Sweeney Todd.

3. Sondheim only agreed to allow Tim Burton to adapt his stage play if he could have final say on all casting.  Burton of course used his regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but had to prove to Sondheim that they were best for the parts, which they did.

4. Being very method, Sacha Baron Cohen hired his own personal barber to teach him different shaving techniques and how to use a razor.

5. According to Burton, Sacha Baron Cohen sang the entire score of Fiddler on the Roof for his audition.

Sweeney 4
Coming off of Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen is definitely an actor who gives it his all every time.

6. Anne Hathaway was nearly cast for the role of Sweeney Todd’s daughter Johanna, but Tim Burton decided to go with an unknown for the role.

7. Helena Bonham Carter prepared for the role by learning baking techniques, as well as singing and baking simultaneously like her character does.

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Hopefully the pies she made in real life didn’t have the “secret ingredient” in them…

8. Burton insisted that the movie be very bloody in contrast to the more recent stage productions which had cut back on the blood.  According to him, “Everything is internal with Sweeney that the blood is like his emotional release.”  Initially, the studio was very nervous about this, worrying that it would be too violent for the musical audience and too musical for the horror audience.

9. Helena Bonham Carter was pregnant with her and Tim Burton’s second child during production.  She gave birth to a daughter on December 15, 2007, a mere 6 days before the film was released in theaters.

10. Tim Burton chose to shoot the entire movie at Pinewood Studios in London, stating that he felt very at home there, and really enjoyed his time filming Batman in the same location.

11. Burton cut out “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” from the film, but had already recorded it with Christopher Lee and Anthony Head.  When the scene was cut, Lee was removed from the film completely, but Anthony Head remains in one brief scene and delivers a single line.

Upon first viewing, it does seem strange that an actor as prominent and musically talented as Anthony Head is reduced to a cameo. But it makes more sense upon realizing an entire song was cut that featured him.

12. During production, Johnny Depp had to leave for 10 days when his daughter Lily-Rose took ill and had to go to the hospital.  During this time, Burton had to film around Depp’s absence and completed several scenes that Sweeney doesn’t appear in.

13. The film’s marketing was heavily criticized for not being up front that the movie was a musical.  This resulted in many moviegoers being upset.

14. Opened at #5 at the box office against very heavy competition from other new releases like National Treasure: Book of Secrets and Charlie Wilson’s War, along with previous releases like I Am Legend and Alvin and the Chipmunks.  Sweeney Todd would eventually go on to gross $153.4 million on a $50 million budget, so it was still a success, just not a smash hit, which was understandable given it was a gory, R-rated musical.

15. Sweeney Todd won the Oscar for Best Art Direction and was nominated for Best Costume Design (but lost to Elizabeth: The Golden Age).  Johnny Depp was also up for Best Lead Actor, but lost to Daniel Day Lewis for There Will Be Blood.

Which of these did you already know?  Which ones surprised you?  Let us know in the comments!

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