Out come the freaks... TIM BUR­TON wel­comes Nick Setch­field to Miss Peregrine’s Home For Pe­cu­liar Chil­dren

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tim Bur­ton’s lat­est is as pe­cu­liar as you like.

Tim Bur­ton has just caught scent of the weird.

“What’s Slen­der Man?” he asks, his gaze pinned on SFX.

There’s a gen­uine and ur­gent cu­rios­ity in his eyes. We’ve been dis­cussing the Hol­low­gasts, the skinny mon­strosi­ties that men­ace the he­roes of his lat­est film, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Pe­cu­liar

Chil­dren. There’s a touch of Slen­der Man there, we reckon, a trace of the lean, be­suited ur­ban myth that haunts the twi­light cor­ners of the in­ter­net. Bur­ton’s never heard of this meme from hell. But he pounces upon the name as soon as it leaves our lips.

“A tall man, re­ally?” he nods, savour­ing our ex­pla­na­tion, clearly thrilled to dis­cover an un­ex­plored sidestreet in Freakyville. “Well, that makes sense. Usu­ally in your dreams they’re not sim­ply crea­tures go­ing ‘Raargh, raargh!’ It’s some­thing slightly more folk tale, more fairy­tale. You hear of things in dif­fer­ent cul­tures that sound slightly more hu­man­ised.

“I just didn’t want it to be a crea­ture,” he con­tin­ues. “It was more like a weird per­son. That’s why they’re wear­ing clothes. I was try­ing to go for a slightly more child’s night­mare kind of thing.”

This is the Tim Bur­ton we ex­pected to meet – but he’s also not quite the Tim Bur­ton you imag­ine. His car­toon self pre­cedes him: Hol­ly­wood’s mis­fit king, the pale, shock-haired vi­sion­ary with a car­ni­val fun­house at­tic where his skull should be. He still doesn’t seem to be on speak­ing terms with sun­light – to­day he’s dressed in his trade­mark black – but there’s an en­ergy: a mis­chief, a crackle, an easy laugh that be­lies his rep as a floaty goth wraith. He runs into the room, shakes hands en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. No fewer than three pens are jammed into his jacket pocket, as if arm­ing him against a

You can have suc­cess, you can have kids, but there’s that dark pit inside that just stays with you

fever­ish urge to sketch, to scrib­ble, to nail down his imag­i­na­tion. Per­haps he’ll draw us an im­promptu Slen­der Man…

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Pe­cu­liar Chil­dren feels built for Bur­ton’s brand. Based on the 2011 novel by Ransom Riggs, it’s the tale of a boy, Jake (Asa But­ter­field), who discovers a strange man­sion on a de­serted is­land off the Welsh coast. The house is filled with ex­tra­or­di­nary, su­per­pow­ered or­phans, in­clud­ing Emma (Ella Pur­nell), a girl with the power to con­trol air. They’re un­der the tute­lage of the sternly mys­te­ri­ous Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), a shapeshifter who can rewind and re­live time, pro­tect­ing her charges from the dark forces de­ter­mined to de­stroy them. “She’s Scary Pop­pins!” laughs Bur­ton.

Riggs wrote the book af­ter find­ing a cache of mourn­fully creepy old pho­to­graphs, fash­ion­ing a story around the name­less chil­dren in the pic­tures.

“I wasn’t aware of the book, but when I was sent it I re­ally liked what Ransom did,” says Bur­ton. “I col­lect pho­to­graphs. And a cer­tain kind of pho­to­graph tells you some­thing but doesn’t tell you ev­ery­thing. The way he con­cocted the story around this col­lec­tion was re­ally beau­ti­ful, so po­etic and mys­te­ri­ous. As soon as I saw it I was drawn to it. And also the char­ac­ter of Jake. Once you have those feel­ings as a child of not feel­ing like you fit in, or you feel crazy by the time you’re a teenager…

“He’s not even that dif­fer­ent. He’s just a kid, you know. He’s awk­ward, and by that age I felt the same way. You just don’t feel a part of your world. You feel like you’re crazy. There’s just an awk­ward­ness, and that spoke to me very, very sim­ply and clearly.”

glo­ri­ous lon­ers

Bur­ton smiles as he re­mem­bers his first meet­ing with the film’s young star. “I was look­ing at him, go­ing, ‘You’re the kid from Hugo? Je­sus Christ!’ He’s like six feet tall, right? Film’s a vis­ual medium so all I had to do was look at him. He’s got this sense of in­tel­li­gence and emo­tion but also [a sense of ] awk­ward­ness and not fit­ting in. He’s not this big ac­tion movie thing. It was im­por­tant to me that he was just a per­son. I don’t think I was unique to those feel­ings. I’ve known a lot of peo­ple that feel that way. He was some­body that just vis­ually em­bod­ied that type of per­son.”

The out­sider’s a through­line in Bur­ton’s ca­reer. From Edward Scis­sorhands to Ed Wood, Bruce Wayne to Selina Kyle, his he­roes are the beau­ti­ful freaks, the glo­ri­ous lon­ers, the souls in the mar­gins. You don’t need a psy­chol­ogy de­gree to track this back to Bur­ton’s sense of in­ner ex­ile grow­ing up in sub­ur­ban Bur­bank. What’s gen­uinely sur­pris­ing is that it still res­onates so pro­foundly with him.

“It’s prob­a­bly worse now than ever be­fore,” Bur­ton tells SFX. “You go through waves of it. Once you feel those things, un­for­tu­nately, it doesn’t leave you. You can have suc­cess, you can have kids, but there’s that dark pit inside that just stays with you. It’s not like I want to do the same thing. I don’t think, ‘Oh, I want to make an­other weird, lonely per­son story.’ It just sort of hap­pens. In this par­tic­u­lar case I felt con­nected to that char­ac­ter – not just Jake but the oth­ers, and Miss Peregrine, and the world, and the foun­da­tion that whether it’s past, present or what­ever, you don’t fit into any­thing.” It’s worse now than ever be­fore? “I can’t re­ally go into those rea­sons but you know you just go through times in your life when it’s kind of wave-like. It feels like sea­sonal change. You get bet­ter, you get worse, you get bet­ter, you get worse.” He gives a goofily self-dep­re­cat­ing laugh. “Hope­fully it’s not one of those charts that keeps go­ing down! Like one of those eco­nomic charts…”

Bur­ton found a kin­dred out­sider spirit in the movie’s screen­writer, Jane Gold­man (Star­dust, Kick-Ass, Kings­man: The Se­cret Ser­vice). “There’s a con­nec­tion. You can recog­nise an­other pe­cu­liar per­son. She un­der­stands that. All us pe­cu­liar peo­ple can spot each other, with­out even talk­ing about it. That’s why I love her. She’s very tal­ented. And you know when some­body knows these feel­ings.”

He was also happy to re­unite with Eva Green af­ter work­ing with her on 2012’s Dark Shadows. There’s some­thing deeply Bur­tonesque in her DNA, isn’t there? Some­thing moon­lit and gothic and mis­placed in time?

“I love her be­cause she’s per­fect for me,” Bur­ton agrees. “She had all the el­e­ments. I guess she’s de­scribed as older in the book but I wasn’t look­ing at it from that per­spec­tive. I was look­ing at it from ‘Who’s got that sense of mys­tery? Who’s got that sense of power? Who’s got that mix­ture of weird­ness and con­nec­tion and hu­mour and strength? And also looks like they could turn into a bird?’

“And by the way, yes, I think she ac­tu­ally can [laughs]! She is that type of per­son. I love her ideas. I re­mem­ber when I first met her… I’ve had it a cou­ple of times in my

life, a cer­tain psy­chic con­nec­tion

that I can’t even ex­plain. I just find her quite pow­er­ful. A pow­er­ful per­son, a pow­er­ful ac­tress. In this day and age when ev­ery­body knows ev­ery­thing about ev­ery­body she’s got that old movie star sense of mys­tery about her, which I thank god for, and I’m im­pressed with. It’s a rar­ity.”

home sweet home

There’s an­other star of the movie. This one’s ma­sonry and tim­ber, not flesh and blood. It’s the ti­tle star, Miss Peregrine’s home it­self, and, re­mark­ably, it’s a real building, not some sound­stage con­fec­tion.

“That’s what I loved about it,” Bur­ton says. “I looked in Eng­land. I’ve worked in Eng­land quite a bit and I’ve looked at lots of houses over the years. This one ended up be­ing in Bel­gium. You see a lot of things that look like institutions or cas­tles but this one needed to feel like a strange home. When I saw it I felt like well, it’s not overly dark and gothic, but it has a funny qual­ity to it. It’s like cast­ing an ac­tor.

“I just felt, es­pe­cially work­ing with kids, to not over rely on ef­fects, to do as much as you could real and have a real place, to not make it so ef­fects heavy and do it a lit­tle bit more in­ti­mate – real sets, lo­ca­tions. It just felt more ap­pro­pri­ate.”

For all the kids’ un­earthly pow­ers, don’t look for a movie that chases the cur­rent su­per­hero boom.

“Look, I did Bat­man,” Bur­ton says. “[Those movies are] very pop­u­lar but what I liked about this is it’s not so much about su­per­pow­ers. You might con­sider them more af­flic­tions, to be hon­est. If any­one’s ex­pect­ing X-Men Jnr they may want to wait. I’m sure it’s com­ing to a theatre near you soon!”

And does Bur­ton have a refuge, a re­treat? His own Bat-Cave or Scis­sorhands cas­tle? His own home for pe­cu­liar chil­dren?

The pa­tron saint of out­casts laughs again. “I think it might be more of a home for pe­cu­liar old peo­ple!”

Who doesn’t own a doll’s head on a crab wield­ing a knife, quite frankly? Some­one might need to hire a new gar­dener… Just watch out that she doesn’t fly away.

Are they avoid­ing get­ting too much sun?

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