Screenwriter Caroline Thompson reveals behind the scenes details about 'Edward Scissorhands'

Jacob Sarkisian
·18 min read
Oogie Boogie man, Edward Scissorhands drawing, Tom Cruise
The Oogie Boogie man seems to make an appearance, while Tom Cruise was almost cast as Edward Scissorhands. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution/Tim Burton/John Phillips/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures
  • Screenwriter Caroline Thompson spoke to Insider about her experience making "Edward Scissorhands," which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. 

  • Thompson told Insider that she never actually saw the famous drawing Tim Burton reportedly drew before he made the film, and that Edward was based on her dog, Ariel.

  • Thompson also said that the movie was originally going to be a musical, and that she wrote a song called "I can't handle it."

  • Thompson also originally wanted John Cusack and Laura Dern as Edward and Kim, while Tom Cruise lost the lead role after asking Tim Burton how Edward went to the toilet.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

When Thompson first heard the idea for the movie, she thought it was the 'stupidest idea' she'd ever heard

Edward Scissorhands
Tim Burton directed "Edward Scissorhands." 20th Century Fox

Thompson told Insider that when director and friend Tim Burton first told her about his idea for a movie about a guy with scissors for hands, she thought it was "the stupidest idea [she'd] ever heard in [her] life."

Thompson told Insider: "It's brilliant. There is no struggling for understanding what that means, it's right there on its sleeve. If I can't understand a movie with the sound, it's not worth watching to me. Movies are movies. Not words. What could be more clear than a guy with a set of scissors for hands not being able to fit in?"

Edward Scissorhands was inspired by a drawing Tim Burton did as a teenager

Edward Scissorhands Tim Burton drawing
Tim Burton had Edward Scissorhands in his mind from a young age. Tim Burton

There are reports that Burton had drawn a picture of Edward while he was in high school, and that this was the inspiration for the movie. 

Thompson told Insider: "He told me about the drawing that he had made many years earlier. When he told me about that, for reasons I can't understand, I suddenly knew exactly what the story was. Never has that happened to me before or since, unfortunately. It was like a gift from the heavens."

However, Thompson said she never actually saw the fabled drawing.

"He just told me about it. Later I saw the drawing, but I didn't see it until we were in production. I'm not even sure it was the original drawing, he might have created it and called it that."

Thompson told Insider that Edward was inspired by her dog, Ariel

Johnny Depp Edward Scissorhands 2
Edward was based on Thompson's dog, she said. 20th Century Fox

The mostly-silent Edward was actually based on Ariel, Thompson's beloved dog who died about six years before the movie went into production.

Thompson told Insider: "I could walk her in New York off-leash. She was magic. She was so curious and interested and loving. I always felt she was just short of truly participating because she didn't have the ability to speak, that's how present she was. So that kind of enthusiastic presence is what inspired the character of Edward."

Thompson said that Depp was confused about his character, but once she explained Edward was based on her dog Ariel, Depp got it immediately.

"I've actually heard him in interviews say it was about his dog, and that's such bulls---. It was my dog. But he got it, and luckily he got it."

Edward says less than 150 words in total

Edward Scissorhands dinner scene 169 words
Edward Scissorhands is a largely dialogue-less role. 20th Century Fox

Edward Scissorhands isn't exactly the loquacious type. Throughout the movie, the leading role doesn't have many lines at all.

In fact, as Edward, Johnny Depp says less than 150 words in total.

Thompson told Insider that the character was always going to be non-verbal and that Edward was just "a pair of eyes in terms of emotion."

Thompson said that, thankfully, Depp understood this and "delivered a beautiful, beautiful performance."

Peter Pan and David Lynch were big inspirations to Thompson for the movie

Peter Pan David Lynch
Peter Pan and David Lynch were both inspirations to Thompson. RKO Radio Pictures/Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Aside from the fabled drawing and Ariel the dog, David Lynch was also a big inspiration for Thompson when writing the movie.

Thompson told Insider: "There were a lot of David Lynch moments in 'Edward.' I don't know why this was a David Lynch moment, and they actually shortened it in the movie, but when the old man says to Edward at the barbecue, never let anybody tell you you're a cripple, and it knocks his leg and it sounds hollow. That was a David Lynch inspiration, somehow, from 'Eraserhead.'"

Meanwhile, JM Barrie's seminal "Peter Pan" and the neverending movie adaptations of Neverland also served as a touchstone for Edward and Kim.

Thompson said: "The great sadness of Edward is the same as it is for Peter — he never ages. I was evoking Wendy with Kim at the end when her granddaughter says 'why don't you go see him?' And she says 'I want him to remember me the way I was.' That moment was very important to me."

The movie was originally going to be a musical, and Thompson even wrote a song for it titled 'I Can't Handle It'

Edward Scissorhands Matthew Bourne Ballet
While the movie was never a musical, Matthew Bourne did make a ballet of the movie in 2005. Photoshot/Getty Images

Burton has done a few musicals, including "Sweeney Todd," "Corpse Bride," and, to a certain extent "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

"Edward Scissorhands" could have joined that roster, too.

Thompson told Insider: "Tim thought it should be a musical because he thought surreality was more acceptable if you were doing a musical. So I wrote lyrics for a song. One song I remember was called 'I Can't Handle It.'"

However, the idea of the movie being a musical didn't get that far.

"Tim read the lyrics and said 'I don't think we need to do a musical,'" Thompson said. "He read the story and thought it had enough presence to handle not being a musical."

Robert Downey Jr, Tom Hanks, and Jim Carrey were considered, while Michael Jackson pursued Burton for the role

Robert Downey Jr, Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey
All three actors were considered to play Edward. Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC/Kurt Krieger/Corbis via Getty Images/Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Edward Scissorhands seems to have been the sort of role that was touted for every young actor at the time it was in production.

Along with Tom Cruise and Gart Oldman, Robert Downey J.r, Tom Hanks, and Jim Carrey were all considered for the part.

Thompson told Insider: "There was a party somewhere where Robert Downey was feted as Edward. I'm not sure why that happened."

It didn't work out for any of them, but the latter three actors would later go on to play their own iconic characters, including Iron Man, Woody, and the Grinch, respectively.

Thompson also said that Jackson was snooping around for the role: "I imagine Michael Jackson wanted to do it. I imagine he pursued Tim. Tim didn't pursue him."

 

Gary Oldman turned down the role of Edward because he didn't understand the film

Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman later starred in his own gothic 1990s movie — "Bram Stoker's Dracula." Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

One of the actors considered was Gary Oldman, who actually turned down the role. In a 2016 interview with Larry King, Oldman said: "I read the script and I went, 'It's ridiculous. A castle at the end of this road and then an Avon lady comes round selling makeup and this kid's got scissors hands? This is nuts. I don't get this at all.'"

However, Oldman also stated that once he saw the finished movie, he immediately understood it: "The camera pans over these multi-colored houses in this very sort of suburban neighborhood and then you see the sort of Dracula castle on the hill. Literally, two minutes in and I went, 'Yeah, I get it.'"

Tom Cruise lost the role after asking Burton how Edward went to the toilet

Tom Cruise
Tim Burton wasn't keen on casting Tom Cruise. John Phillips/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

That's right, Tom Cruise could have played Edward Scissorhands.

In an almost unimaginable move, 20th Century Fox, the movie studio behind the film, wanted Cruise, who was a better know actor at the time, over Depp. However, Cruise blew any chances he had of landing the role by asking too many questions.

Thompson said: "In his interview with Tim, he asked how Edward went to the bathroom. If you start asking those questions, the whole thing falls apart. You can't ask questions like that. If you ask questions like that, you're fucked. You've missed the metaphor, you've missed the point."

Director Burton also wasn't keen on the "Top Gun" actor.

In the book "Burton on Burton," the director said: "He certainly wasn't my ideal, but I talked to him. He was interesting, but I think that it worked out for the best. A lot of questions came up."

Thompson's original choices for Edward and Kim were John Cusack and Laura Dern

John Cusack Laura Dern
John Cusack and Laura Dern would have been Thompson's choices. Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images/Toni Anne Barson/WireImage

Thompson said that while she never wrote with any particular actor in mind, she did think of John Cusack and Laura Dern for the roles of Edward and Kim, respectively.

Thompson told Insider: "John Cusack was the actor I proposed. I didn't write with him in my head, but if somehow they said who do you want, I was like, 'I have a crush on him.' I also thought Laura Dern would have been a great Kim to his Edward. That was when she was in those David Lynch movies ["Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart"]. She was brill'."

Eventually, of course, the role of Kim went to Winona Ryder, while the role of Edward went to Depp.

It was Winona Ryder who pushed for her then-boyfriend Johnny Depp to be cast

Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp Edward Scissorhands premiere
Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp were dating while filming "Edward Scissorhands." Barry King/WireImage

Thompson said that Ryder was Burton's sole choice for the movie, and was "on board" from the very moment "the project was a go."

Ryder happened to be going out with Depp at that time, whose biggest movie was "Cry Baby" back then. But his relationship with Ryder helped to win him the part.

Thompson told Insider: "Winona pushed for Johnny. I didn't know who he was. I didn't watch television, he was cut out of 'Platoon.' 'Cry Baby' was hard to get a beat on him with. He was a teen idol, and seemed like a dopey kid. But I met him and he carried a gravitas and a sorrow and a whimsy. He really did turn out to be a fantastic choice."

Johnny Depp and Alan Arkin both asked Thompson to explain their characters to them

Alan Arkin and Johnny Depp Edward Scissorhands
Alan Arkin and Johnny Depp both asked Thompson for advice. 20th Century Fox

While shooting the movie, a couple of actors said that they didn't actually get their characters, including Depp.

Thompson said that at the time, Burton wasn't very "proactive" or "articulate" with the actors on set. "He would move his hands around, and no one would have any idea what he was talking about except for me and a few other friends."

This led to both Depp and Alan Arkin, who played Bill, Kim's father, to go to Thompson for advice. Thompson said that she didn't know that "writers aren't supposed to talk to the actors," and said she was supposed to say "go ask the director."

Thompson said: "I didn't know that so I didn't. Johnny came up to me and asked what was what, so I explained. But I'm glad because I don't think Tim would have been able to articulate something so simple."

Thompson continued: "Alan Arkin came up to me and said 'I don't get it at all.' So I explained that my dad had a habit of saying the most irrelevant things as if they were the most important things in the world, and Alan said okay, I get it. His performance may well be my favourite. He was wonderfully dry."

Each scissor-finger is completely different from the next

Edward Scissorhands scissor hands
Stan Winston created the scissorhands. 20th Century Fox

Special make-up effects creator Stan Winston was the person entrusted with making the titular and now-iconic scissorhands. He researched every type of scissors and shears he could find for the character.

The end result is a mismatch of various scissor designs and styles, making each finger unique from the next.

Burton said he originally "didn't think he'd actually have scissors for fingers. I thought they'd just be long sharp pieces of metal that weren't finished – but this is much better!" 

Nick Carter from Backstreet Boys makes a cameo appearance

Edward_Scissorhands_Nick_Carter
Nick Carter was in "Edward Scissorhands" before he was a Backstreet Boy. 20th Century Fox

In one of the strangest cameos in movie history, a member of the Backstreet Boys is actually in the final cut of Burton's gothic movie. 

Nick Carter, appearing before he was famous as a member of the boy band, is seen briefly as the boy who runs across the front lawn and dives onto a slip 'n slide.

Watch the clip below:

 

Tim Burton fainted on set, and Johnny Depp refused cooling agent despite wearing a full leather costume in Southern Florida heat

Edward Scissorhands Suburbia
Tim Burton fainted and Thompson got a rash due to the extreme heat while filming. 20th Century Fox

The heat was so extreme while filming "Edward Scissorhands" that Thompson actually got a rash on set.

"I went back to my room at one point, I took off my clothes and I felt like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. It was hot."

Despite this, Depp refused to use a cooling agent despite wearing an all-black, all-leather costume.

Thompson told Insider: "He was wearing this leather suit, a very hot costume in extreme heat in Southern Florida in springtime. They had some kind of cooling agent they could use inside of Johnny's suit, but I don't think he ever used it. He was really, trooper beyond trooper. Tim fainted, and he wasn't wearing a hot suit."

The filmmakers paid real-life residents to paint their houses bright colors, and put them up in Disney World during filming

Edward Scissorhands neighborhood
"Edward Scissorhands" was filmed in a real neighborhood. 20th Century Fox

In an interview with The Huffington Post, production designer Bo Welch spoke about the difficulties of shooting the movie in a real-life neighborhood.

"We went door-to-door and got them all to agree to allow us to cut out all of their shrubs and paint their houses," Welch said. "The people were paid money for the use of their yard, and if they wanted to be put up in Disney World or something they could do that during the shoot."

Welch also said that one household was being stubborn and wanted more money before agreeing. But the filmmakers decided to film around their house.

Welch said: "We treated all the houses, painted all of them, did the shrubs and the topiary to every house but theirs, and they eventually realized that we're just going to do it regardless, so they caved in, too. Thank God they did because then we would have been hamstrung by that one odd man out in the center of the neighborhood."

The topiaries were all fake

Edward Scissorhands topiary
Production designer Bo Welch designed and manufactured the topiaries with his team. 20th Century Fox

Disappointingly, the topiaries and shrubbery were actually movie magic rather than genuine lawn-keeping genius.

Production designer Bo Welch told The Huffington Post that they designed them in the art department: "They're light-weight steel armatures wrapped with chicken wire and stuffed with artificial greens. They were light enough to move around."

Welch said: "We said, 'OK, how about one is a dinosaur and one is a turtle and whatever?' They tended to be fantastical animals.

But the dog haircuts were actually real

Edward Scissorhands dog hair cuts
"Edward Scissorhands" didn't fake the dog haircuts. 20th Century Fox

Conversely, the dog's getting haircuts by Edward was actually real.

Welch told Buzzfeed: "This was 25 years ago — the things you see in the movie are actual, physical things. There's not the digital green screen, CG element you have that pervades movies today. So, you see a dog getting a haircut, it's a dog getting a haircut."

Watch the scene below:

 

This was Vincent Price's last film

Edward Scissorhands Vincent Price
Vincent Price amassed over 200 movie and TV credits. 20th Century Fox

Vincent Price had a gargantuan career, amassing a huge amount of movie and TV credits — 211 to be exact, according to his IMDB page. Price had a big impact on Burton, who idolized him growing up.

Unsurprisingly then, the role of the Inventor was written with Price in mind. Sadly, this role was his last, but what a fitting part for an actor of Price's status to play in a movie directed by the man he inspired.

Price's role was supposed to be larger, but it had to be reduced as he was seriously ill

Edward Scissorhands Vincent Price love heart
Vincent Price's last appearance was in "Edward Scissorhands." 20th Century Fox

Price's role as the Inventor, who creates Edward, was meant to be significantly larger.

However, Price was reaching the end of his life and was suffering with both emphysema and Parkinson's disease.

This meant that he was unable to carry out an extensive role, so the role was made shorter for Price.

When Peg enters the mansion, the statue behind her looks eerily similar to the Oogie Boogie man from 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'

Edward Scissorhands Oogie Boogie man staircase
"The Nightmare Before Christmas" was directed by Henry Selick. 20th Century Fox/Buena Vista Pictures Distribution[

Burton's visual style and use of imagery is one of the most recognizable in movie history, so it's no surprise that there is some overlap in his gothic films.

Here, the statue at the bottom of the staircase looks remarkably similar to the Ooogie Boogie man in "The Nightmare Before Christmas," which Burton produced.

That Halloween/Christmas movie was released three years after "Edward Scissorhands," but the comparison is clear nonetheless.

When Peg drives up to the castle, one of the clouds is shaped like scissors

Edward_Scissorhanda_scissors_cloud
Tim Burton directed "Edward Scissorhands." 20th Century Fox

The Dracula-like castle at the end of the colorful suburban neighborhood is one of the best images of the movie, as well as in Burton's entire filmography.

But if you look closer, you can see a sneaky little reference to scissors that makes the image even better.

To the right hand side in one scene, there's a cloud shaped exactly like a pair of scissors. Neat.

The waterbed moment was one of the few details that wasn't in Thompson's original script, and was Burton's idea

Edward Scissorhands Waterbed
In one scene, Edward punctures Kim's waterbed with his scissor hands. 20th Century Fox

Thompson said that they practically shot exactly what Thompson wrote, but there was one moment that was added after Thompson's finished script. The water bed. The scene itself, in which Edward scares Kim while in her bed, was in the script, but Burton added the water bed detail.

"When Tim was scouting in Florida, he saw a waterbed. I hadn't thought that it would be a water bed, but when he saw it he thought it was funny. That came from Tim. That was maybe one of the few moments that wasn't in the original script."

Watch the scene below:

 

 

Thompson was insistent that Edward had to kill Jim at the end despite some resistance

Edward Scissorhands Jim
Jim was played by Anthony Michael Hall. 20th Century Fox

There was some resistance to the idea of Edward killing high-school jock Jim at the end of the movie, but Thompson told Insider that this plot point had to happen. 

"Edward had to kill Jim. Jim never would have left him alone. And for the trajectory of the tale, he needed to be left alone at the end," Thompson said.

"Jim was such an asshole, he had to get his comeuppance. And Edward killed him by accident. The way I wrote it, and the way Tim shot it, Jim basically impaled himself on Edward's scissors. It's not that Edward thrust him as much. It was an inevitable part of the story. Denise Di Novi, who was the producer, questioned it. People were worried it would turn audiences off. But I can't imagine the movie without it."

Watch the scene below:

 

Thompson said that she gets a lot of disabled fans thanking her for writing Edward

Edward Scissorhands disability
Edward Scissorhands is an icon for many disabled fans. 20th Century Fox

Thompson told Insider that the fact that so many disabled fans have thanked her for the movie is "one of the great joys of having contributed Edward to culture."

Thompson said: "Recently, I was interviewed as apart of a disability film festival. And this is the 30th anniversary of the ADA [American Disability Act]. I did not realise what an icon Edward is for the disabled community and how much confidence and comfort and clarity about themselves he gave many people."

Thompson continued: "I started to cry. How touching can that be? People who are suffering otherness that is so visual and people are so cruel — to have been a support was a beautiful feeling."

Read the original article on Insider