Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides sails into theatres May 20 with Johnny Depp at the helm as the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow.
Making ‘Pirates’ was a labor of love for Depp, since this film marks the fourth time he’s had an opportunity to step back into Captain Jack Sparrow’s boots, and in chatting up the father of two, it became evident the character and films are close to his heart.
Did you envision reprising your role as Captain Jack Sparrow so many times?
After finishing ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,’ somewhere in the back of my head I was thinking ‘I sure hope that I get the chance to play Jack again…
I kind of expected that somebody would come round a couple of years later and say, ‘Hey, we have this idea…’ and that’s exactly what happened.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer teamed up with writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott to write “On Stranger Tides,” and presented the idea to you.
And this film sees you offer on another adventure, but this time with adversaries – some old, some new – determined to stop you.
The main quest is to find the Fountain of Youth. But Jack’s not the only one interested in finding it; there is King George II, there’s the Spanish and there are other pirates, including Blackbeard.
I think the story is more simplified. Things are a little bit more clear-cut in ‘Pirates 4’ and it really feels like it’s close to the spirit of the first one. We introduce these characters and they get from point A to D to Z without too much meandering or subplot or too many complications.
What is it like to play Captain Jack after so many years?
There’s a great safety and a great comfort in playing Captain Jack, because you have license to be anything you want to be, essentially.
You can be completely irreverent, totally subversive, absolutely abstract in any and all situations, so there’s a real safety net. There’s a real pleasure for me to play Jack and having done it a few times, I know him so well that he just comes so naturally.
The 107 days shoot saw you travel across Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Los Angeles and London. With Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three films, moving on to other projects, was it strange to have Rob Marshall take the reigns?
Certain names were mentioned, and when Rob’s name came up I thought, ‘That’s got to be it. Let’s just hope he’s a nice guy.’
I’ve seen all of his films and he’s got a great sensibility. He’s got a great and unique approach to characters; his aesthetic sense is magnificent and his timing is perfect. So we sat down and talked, and from the first second I knew he was the guy. I just knew it.
I don’t think there’s anyone better who could have come in and followed Gore. Rob’s approach was very respectful of what Gore built in the first three films but at the same time he has his own signature. He gave it a very new angle; he brought a brand-new pair of eyes and a fresh look.
He was incredibly efficient. It was like ‘I don’t think we need this.’ Boom, done. His approach was ‘let’s stay true to the heart of the story and have fun while we’re doing it.’
He has an incredible sense of timing, and his timing, his delivery, comes out of his knowledge of choreography. But boy, if you’re off just the slightest second in terms of delivery, he was on it.
The film opens with a chase through 18th century London, where Captain Jack is perched precariously on the back of a horse-drawn carriage. Did you perform any of your own stunts?
I worked closely with a stunt double but filmed many of the chase scenes myself. It is important because there’s a physical language to the character that I think is important and even though the stunt double has got it down to a fine science, there are still times when you have to see Captain Jack’s head in there now and again.
Do you enjoy physical comedy?
Oh yeah, I do. I love it because all my great heroes were basically silent film guys who didn’t have the luxury of words – it was all body language and stuff.
And the beauty of the specific physical bits in ‘On Stranger Tides’ is that we had Rob on board. Coming from that background of movement and dance he could sense a false note. He was fully and deeply committed to the work and he was magnificent every single moment-he didn’t miss a trick.
“On Stranger Tides” reunited you with some cast from previous “Pirates” films, including Kevin McNally who plays Joshamee Gibbs, and Geoffrey Rush as Captain Jack’s arch enemy, Captain Hector Barbossa.
Kevin is great and Joshamee is Jack’s ever-loyal second in command. And you still have that great dilemma between Jack and Barbossa. They have like a ‘love-hate’ relationship, and it’s almost on the level of like an Abbott and Costello kind of thing. I’ve always felt that Geoffrey and I were put in the ‘Pirates’ films to bicker like a couple of old housewives at a bridge club or something.
We’re just picking each other apart with the tiniest details and he’s definitely a most worthy opponent. In this one Barbossa’s changed quite a bit and not for the better. Everybody is kind of out for their own thing.
Geoffrey’s a fantastic actor who is constantly investigating the possibilities of a scene, the possibilities of moments. It’s always fresh, always new and it’s always interesting with Geoffrey.
Another “Pirates” veteran is rock-and-roll legend Keith Richards. The Rolling Stones guitarist first made an appearance as Captain Teague – Jack’s wayward father-in the third film and is back for number four.
Keith was more than ready to come back as long as it made sense in the context of the story. And I thought the way that Terry [Rossio, writer] handled bringing him back was wonderful. He comes in at just the right moment and kind of takes care of his boy – he takes care of Jack.
I first met Keith back in about 1994 or 1995 and we became friendly back then and we’ve hung out together over the years. And it was great to have him back for ‘On Stranger Tides’ because he was wonderful and he was so much fun.
He’s a fascinating man, you know. I’ve known him for a long time and to get periods like that where it’s just him and me hanging out, sitting around in the trailer yakking about music, movies, whatever, was a real pleasure.
Penélope Cruz makes quite an impression as Angelica. You last worked with her on “Blow” – what was it like to work together again?
Penélope is a serious force to be reckoned with. We did a film together years ago, and it was wonderful to work with her then and wonderful to see her on ‘Pirates.’ She really is a treat.
She is a heavy hitter; you can throw all kinds of stuff out there into the atmosphere and she’ll snatch up something and just throw a curve ball back at you, so she is very stimulating. She is someone I adore – one of my best friends and it’s been great having her here.
Another new character is Blackbeard, one of the most feared pirates who ever lived. What was it like to work with Ian McShane?
The beauty of the character of Blackbeard is that on the surface he seems to be a rational man, but then the more you get to know him the more you realize that he’s a stone-cold killer without an ounce of heart. He would double-cross anyone to achieve his objective.
Historically, Blackbeard was the fiercest of them all-he was the guy who would stop at nothing and he was totally unpredictable. And I don’t think there was a better actor to play him than Ian McShane.
Ian was a gas and an absolute blast to be around. I think ‘seasoned’ is the right word to use to describe him because he’s done the work and he’s been there for a long time. He still enjoys the process and he loves what he does and he does it really, well-flawlessly, effortlessly, and seamlessly.
The production filmed at some historic landmarks in London, including the Royal Naval College. What was it like to have Jack doing some landlubbing?
I think it’s interesting to see Jack wandering the streets of London. It’s interesting to see him in a London pub or for that matter, in great proximity to the King of England.
I thought it was a great idea to shoot there, and to film at the Royal Naval College was really, really magnificent – it was like time-traveling as far as I was concerned. It just looked so perfect.
During the shoot in Greenwich you turned up at a London grade school dressed as Captain Jack. Beatrice Delap, 9, heard you were filming nearby and wrote asking Captain Jack for some help in mutinying against the teachers.
“That was nice, and it happened so innocently and that was the beauty of it. This little letter came from the school and went to the production; the production passed it on to one of the guys I work with and I read it and thought ‘we have to do this.’ And the school was about 300 yards away. It was just me and a bunch of pals dressed as pirates and we gave them 15 to 20 minutes of improv. It was great and those kids were so sweet.
A first for you this time - filming entirely in 3D. How did it affect your process?
It was my first time shooting in 3D, although ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was rendered in 3D. It’s different; it’s an interesting process.
For the last 25 years when they re-loaded the camera it was this giant magazine that they clipped on to the back. And now it’s re-loaded with a computer chip. It’s interesting and fascinating because your relationship to the lens becomes different.
Would you play Captain Jack again in the future?
When you’re done playing Jack there’s a real decompression. To an extent there is with all the characters that you play, but with Jack, especially, it’s like getting out of that skin and it’s semi-unpleasant because I like being in that skin. I really enjoyed it.
I don’t mind the idea of stepping back into Jack’s boots again. I love the character and I don’t feel like there’s any possibility of running out of new situations, new stories to tell. So depending on the scenario, depending on what we can come up with, I would most definitely consider it.
Looking for a piratical primer? This two-minute vid condenses flicks 1-4:
The official trailer: