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V.A. Vandevere is the main antagonist of the 2019 live-action remake of Dumbo portrayed by Michael Keaton. As a persuasive entrepreneur who sets his sights on Max Medici’s circus and its newest, miraculous member — a flying elephant, all Vandevere can see are dollar signs. He plans to make Dumbo a big star in his state-of-the-art amusement utopia, Dreamland, by pairing him with a stunning aerial artist named Colette Marchant. With Vandevere’s eye on the prize — nothing and nobody can stop him.
“V.A. Vandevere is a guy who’s coming in to buy the circus,” says producer Justin Springer. “He’s making a great offer, and what he’s selling sounds great. ‘I can take you to a better, brighter place,’ he says. He makes a really convincing argument and he plays into Medici’s desire to take care of his circus family.”
“One reason Vandevere, my character, behaves the way he behaves, which is not too nice, is he never really had a family, and deep inside, that ate him up—although he would never let you know that. And there’s this little circus family that’s not a mom-dad-and-two-kids situation. The father, played by Colin Farrell, is trying to hold this little family together. Enter this really cute little flying elephant. You’ve got forces who want to grow that and enjoy that and make that a wonderful thing. Then there are some people who want to exploit it for their own personal profit. Unfortunately, I’m that guy.”
Burton had, of course, worked with Keaton before. “I hadn’t seen him for many years,” says the director. “Vandevere reminded me of his energy from ‘Beetlejuice’—that intensity that he has. You don’t know whether he’s being friendly or wants to kill you. It’s really a lot of fun to work with him, and having him and Danny together again — that was great.”
Hair and makeup designer Paul Gooch first met with Keaton in New York where he shared his thoughts on Vandevere’s hairstyle.
“We’d decided to try a full white wig — an evangelist, presidential-type thing with that iconic little flip. But Michael said he wanted it to look like he was wearing a toupee. So, we can see his own hair, and there are moments when he adjusts it himself.”
Costume designer Colleen Atwood turned to their reference to dress Vandevere.
“These entertainment guys that created circuses at that time were entrepreneurs, they were showmen with big personalities,” she says.
“We wanted to go for that without it being too ‘in your face.’ The clothes are pretty classic clothes from the time. He wears a cravat. We had a lot of fun with the character.”