Johnny, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Hey man, how are you?
Can we start by asking you to tell us a bit about the Second Earl of Rochester?
Oh yeah, John Wilmot. He was a contemporary of King Charles II, part of his court, at that heavy time of the Restoration. A beautiful poet—oft times written off as a satirist or a pornographer or a debauched madman—but a beautiful poet and someone who I think never really got a particularly fair shake through history.
You certainly seem to like playing real–life characters—this is the eighth time you’ve done so. Is that something you specifically look for when considering scripts?
Boy, I don’t know. I have done it a few times. It depends you know on the person, on the character, on the historical figure. The weird thing is it kind of ups the stakes in the terms of your responsibility, because you want to do your best to serve their memory well.
Did you feel a certain connection with the Earl?
Oh yeah, I’ve felt a connection with all the characters I’ve played, but doing the research and reading up and learning about John Wilmot gave me a beautiful opportunity to sort of educate myself. Yes he was to some degree a pornographer, yes he was to some degree debauched, yes he was to some degree a drunk—and yeah, he essentially killed him at the age of 33 by sex and liquor. But he was a very complicated man. He was a hyper–sensitive man who unfortunately self–medicated to a degree that ended up taking him out. And he was a great writer with a lot to offer; he wrote beautiful poems.
The role also gives you the chance to use some pretty industrial language too.
[Laughs] Yeah, industrial. That’s a pretty good term for it.
The movie was filmed all over the UK. You seem to have spent quite a bit of time over here recently and you got to film in some rather historic locations. Was that enjoyable?
Oh, it was incredible. Every day was like an incredible history lesson. You’re in the kitchen at Blenheim Palace and it’s like ‘What?’ It’s unbelievable.
Towards the end of the film you’re pretty much buried beneath a layer of make–up. Do you find this a helpful tool as an actor?
Very helpful, just as every sort of angle—in terms of the work—is helpful. The sets, being surrounded by period sets, and being wrapped up, bound up in period costume all adds to achieving the goal of finding that guy, as does the make–up. And luckily I’ve got to work this amazing make–up girl, Patty York, who I’ve done a great deal of movies with over the years. It was a real challenge in terms of taking Rochester through those various stages of disease and I think she did a beautiful job.
The film certainly illustrates that 17th Century England was a very violent and dirty place. How do you think you would have coped living back then?
Oh man, you go back and you read Pepys Diaries and things like that and it’s unbelievable how people lived. No one drank water; you couldn’t drink water ‘cos it was contaminated, so you drank beer at breakfast! Maybe for a little while I’d have done alright, but it might have gone underneath me a little too much. But I think I would have done better in the Restoration than I would have done under Cromwell.
We can’t pass up the chance to ask you how work is going on the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels . . .
It’s going beautifully. It has all the right sort of elements involved. It’s got all the right levels of action, fun, absurdity, irreverence and humor. I think we’ve taken it to a really nice place. It doesn’t feel like a sequel at all, it feels just like another angle on the movie and those people. So yeah, it’s really going well.
Does the third movie have a name yet?
I don’t know. I don’t even know what the second film’s name is yet, I just call them Pirates 2 and 3.
It’s called Pirates Of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
Ah good, well thanks for telling me!