After years of making movies that tickled his own fancy, Johnny Depp decided to do one for his kids. He figured his daughter Lily-Rose, now 7, and son Jack, now 4, would get a big kick out of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. So he tied on the bandana and went to work.
The film opened in 2003, wound up grossing $653 million at the box office and earned Depp an Oscar nomination for best actor. The world's quirkiest leading man became, over the course of a single opening weekend, a bankable movie star.
In typical Depp fashion, there was nothing ordinary about the performance that transported him to the A-list. The actor managed to twist a stock character -- veteran pirate captain Jack Sparrow -- into a woozy, gold-toothed dandy. His dual inspiration, he noted famously at the time, was rock icon Keith Richards and cartoon skunk Pepe Le Pew.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest brings back most of the key players from the first film, including Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. So confident was Disney that the film would bring in plenty of box-office booty that another sequel, At Worlds End, has already been shot and is scheduled to set sail next summer.
Depp had no qualms about returning for both sequels, and hints he'd be willing to reprise Sparrow several more times. "Jack's just a really fun character to play," says the actor, 43. "I certainly wasn't ready to say goodbye to him after the first film. I felt like there was a lot more to be done, a lot more fun to be had."
This time around, the action begins with the arrest of Will (Bloom) and Elizabeth (Knightley) on charges of aiding and abetting Capt. Jack. In hopes of clearing his beloved, Will sets out to track down Jack and convince him to turn over a magical compass to power-mad baddie Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander, Gosford Park).
Jack, for his part, is hardly enjoying a day at the beach. As if owing his soul to Capt. Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, Love Actually ) wasn't bad enough, he finds himself on an island of cannibals who have made him their god, which is a mere prelude to turning him into their main course.
Helmed by returning director Gore Verbinski, Pirates 2 boasts some sensational action scenes, including a sword fight staged on a huge mill wheel as it rolls down a hill, and a Sparrow-sliming interlude that features more goo than all of the Ghostbusters movies combined.
"I wasn't worried about it," says Depp matter-of-factly. "But when they dump that large an amount of an incredibly foreign substance on your face, you don't know what to expect until it hits you. You don't really rehearse that kind of thing, so there is a part of you going, 'God, I hope this doesn't shoot up my nostrils or down my throat. I don't want to inhale the stuff and drown in slime on film.' So that was a little bit of a concern."
Having kids, says Depp, has changed his life in a big way. "Being a dad made it easier for me to roll with the punches," he explains. "It just put a lot of things into perspective for me, instant perspective. I think that for a number of years I was frustrated by Hollywood and didn't understand any of it. But as soon as I knew we were going to have a baby, I found out what was important to me really quickly."
A native of Kentucky who dreamed of being a rock god, Depp blames his bad experience on the late-'80s TV drama 21 Jump Street for souring him on conventional stardom.
"The show was great training because I was in front of a camera five days a week, nine months out of the year, learning, learning, learning. But it was also something where they were pushing me in a direction that I didn't want to go," says Depp. "I really hated the idea of being a product on someone else's terms."
When 21 Jump Street's producers balked at releasing Depp from his contract, he went about disrupting the set. In fact, he created so much commotion, he eventually won his freedom.
Some fans were surprised when Depp popped up in Pirates of the Caribbean, a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced flick that was based on, of all things, a Disneyland ride.
"For me, doing Pirates of the Caribbean was totally consistent with everything that I've done since Cry-Baby," says the actor. "There was never a moment when I thought that I'd do the film because it would be a good career move or that I could make a slew of cash and skate for a little while. I haven't changed any of my processes or beliefs."
Since starring in Pirates, nearly everything Depp has touched seems to turn to gold. Subsequent films like Finding Neverland and Corpse Bride have delighted moviegoers and critics alike.
So what, after all is said and done, did Depp's kids think of their daddy's swashbuckling performance?
"They loved it," Depp says proudly. "For a while there, my kiddies were watching Pirates every single day. Then they moved on to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But now my son is into Spider-Man and things like that. They have to branch out, explore other worlds."
FACT VS FICTION
Depp does reality in biopics about an undercover FBI agent, Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie and international cocaine smuggler George Jung, then gets a taste for fantasy as a romantic gypsy and Roald Dahl's sweet factory frontman.