“Well, you guys called that right . . .” Jerry Bruckheimer is congratulating Total Film for our (hardly sagacious) prediction last year that Pirates 2 would rule the summer. One massive box office ker-ching later and we’re going out on a limb again: Pirates 3 could prove the biggest film ever.
“Ah, I don’t know about that . . .” grins the producer on a sunny, breezy January day in Burbank. “I don’t make predictions.” Ah, but we do. Especially with films that cross the $1 billion mark quicker than The Return of the King and a series that now has Titanic in its sights. And, while there are still a couple of months of post-production work ahead (“Filming only finished about a week ago!”), At World’s End is set to be bolder and bigger if Johnny Depp’s revelations (coming up . . .) are any indication.
“I never know what’s going to succeed,” claims Bruckheimer, somewhat unconvincingly (six billion box office dollars on the CV and counting . . .). “I still expect the worst and hope for the best.” Push him, though, and he’ll admit: “It all starts from the screenplay. And a brilliant director and a fantastic cast.” So, with all those elements present again, what can we expect from number three?
“Well, there’s a quest to find Jack. And there are a lot of things to tie up.” These ‘things’ include the rocky relationship between Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), whose deadly kiss sent Captain Jack into the jaws of the kraken and down to Davy Jones’ locker in Dead Man’s Chest. Working with Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to free Jack, the pair also have to face Chinese pirate Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) and the vicious Beckett (Tom Hollander), whose East India Trading Company is controlling Jones and so rule the waves . . . But beyond the plot resolutions, another question remains: is this really the end? Rumors persist of a Pirates 4 . . .
Bruckheimer shifts in his seat. “This is the end of this story.” But there might be other stories to come? “We’re still working it through . . .”
Trying to squeeze anything more definitive from Bruckheimer proves fruitless, although Depp—in good spirits as filming wraps—is open to more outings as Captain Jack. “Who knows?” he grins. “They may go four, they may go five. You know, if that’s the case, we’ll get the family back together again.”
For the present, though, it’s over. Soon, the gold-capped teeth will be removed and the garrulous lead will segue from cutting a dash to cutting throats in Tim Burton’s barbarous musical, Sweeney Todd. Few are questioning his choices now, as studio suits did when viewing early footage of Curse of the Black Pearl. (What’s with the drunken camp act? And the dreadlocks? And those teeth?)
As Bruckheimer yo-ho-hos all the way to the bank and a franchise is reverse-engineered, courtesy of screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (and locked-in-the-edit-suite director Gore Verbinski), Depp is in fine fettle, reflecting on a role he knows will be his most iconic. “As you’re coming up through the ranks, you do these movies and they’d have your name in a magazine and it would say, you know, your name and then it would say the name of the film,” he says. “When I did Scissorhands, for a few years it was ‘Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands).’ And I was thinking to myself the other day, in 15 or 25 or 50 years, is it always going to be Pirates of the Caribbean in parentheses?” He shrugs. “It was good fun while it lasted, anyway . . .”
So, how does it feel, if the end is indeed in sight?
Um, not great, actually. I mean, the possibility of saying goodbye to Captain Jack forever is not something I look forward to. But if that is the case, we had a good run. I enjoyed being him—he’s a lot of fun to play. And the fact is, with all the different characters I play, they’re all still in there and they show up every now and again. So I expect I’ll see him some time.
Why do you think audiences have taken to him so much?
I really have no idea. I mean, I can only say that when I started out with the character, my daughter was very, very young. She was about three or so, and my son was just born. So I’d spent three or four years watching nothing but cartoons. In my initial approach, what I thought would be the greatest challenge was to create a character that a three-year-old would enjoy and an 83-year-old would enjoy. That was my goal. And the main ingredient of why I think he works for me at least is irreverence. Just total irreverence. Silliness. Not caring.
He doesn’t care. And yet, he always has a plan . . .
[Laughs] Oh yes, he’s always got a plan! Even when he doesn’t have a plan, he’s got a plan. Amazingly, he always sort of lands on his feet. He’s kind of feline in that way. He has more than nine lives, that’s for sure.
Even after the success of the first film, no-one was expecting the billion-dollar juggernaut that was Dead Man’s Chest. Was it a surprise to you?
Uh, yeah. It was shocking. Still is. I’m sort of amazed that so many people in so many corners of the globe embraced the films and embraced the character. It’s very moving, you know. Nothing like this has ever happened to me—and what’s happened with Pirates hasn’t happened to many people. It’s very emotional, you know, the idea that people feel this very strong connection with Captain Jack. Seeing little kids dressed up as him and talking like him and stuff—it’s just amazing.
When we last saw Jack he was getting scoffed by a sea monster. So does that mean when we find him in At World’s End he’s dead?
When last seen, Jack was swatting his way into the mouth of the Kraken, and when we pick him up again in Pirates 3 he’s in Davy Jones’ Locker, which is kind of beyond the idea of purgatory. It’s a hell, you know—and he’s surrounded by himself.
By himself? You mean there are going to be different versions of Jack?
Yeah. Which I thought was a really brilliant idea, you know. The idea of taking this guy and—it’s not facing your demons but facing the various sides of your personality. The fear. The extreme aggression . . . the lunatic that you know—just having to meet all of those various exciting personalities that can all exist inside one person.
So you got to play many different aspects of Captain Jack?
Yeah, you recognize him, but it’s like the major ingredients of that person have been separated so you get a really extreme version. The extreme version of rage and aggression, you know. Anger. It’s pretty interesting when you think about it. It was a great challenge.
How did you manage to act against yourself?
There was a degree of pre-visual that I got to see, which was helpful, certainly. But what was really, really helpful was on the day when they were able to do this kind of ‘ghost’ mix, like a ghost image where you see the two Jacks interact, and then they add the third, and then the image fades a little bit more, but you get to see the interaction between the three. When you see it’s working, it juices you up.
Cool. Although presumably you get rescued from Davy Jones’ Locker at some point. How does that work?
Well, they realize that this sort of transit, you know, between the worlds, is through the green flash which is that moment when the sun touches the ocean at the end of the day . . . [Pause] I still don’t understand it. I’m going to go back and read the script at some point!
At World’s End takes place more at sea, so were you required to act underwater at any point?
Pretty much, yeah. I mean, you’ve got a bunch of guys under there with cameras and you just do your bit. You do what’s called for. It’s strange, you know. It was definitely weird. But at the same time it became kind of normal. Just because we’ve done so much and there have been so many moments on this film where you go, “God, this is the strangest thing I’ve ever done!” It happens so often that you just stop saying it. They tell you, “You’re gonna do this scene underwater.” And you say, “Okay. Fine.” You know, you just drop down and do your work and come up for air. It doesn’t even faze you any more.
Chow Yun-Fat plays a Singaporean pirate and there’s also this thing called the Pirate Brethren Court in the script . . .
Ah, the Brethren. The Brethren of the Coast. It’s the gathering of all these sort of pirate lords—all of the nine pirate lords. When an important decision has to be made, they summon the Brethren court and they refer to the pirate’s code. And yeah, in At World’s End it’s very, very necessary that the Brethren Court gets together as Beckett and his corporation, the East India Trading Company, is taking over the Caribbean.
So Beckett’s back, then. Part two was pretty tongue-in-cheek, but he’s got a bit of nastiness to him . . .
Oh yeah—he’s a real force to be reckoned with, what he represents, you know, the finance behind what he represents. He’s got big guns, man. He’s got big guns and big ships ready to annihilate anything that gets in their way. So yeah, he’s just evil, isn’t he? I mean, he’s just so foul and nasty, Beckett. Tom Hollander—who’s the sweetest guy in the world—plays him so beautifully.
And how does Jack get on with Elizabeth in part three?
I think Jack wants to keep his distance on that, you know. I think he wants to, well, keep his back to the wall whenever Elizabeth is around. And probably to some degree Will as well. It’s just better for his health, I reckon.
Is it good to have Geoffrey Rush back?
Absolutely. It’s great to have Geoffrey back and it’s great to have Barbossa back in this capacity, because it’s what Geoffrey and I always wanted to do from the start. I mean, in the first one we never had all that much time to bicker between us, we got a bit in. But in this one it’s like The Odd Couple. We’re like a couple of old ladies fighting over their knitting needles or their space at the shuffle board court or something. It’s fantastic.
So we’ll get to see a little of what their relationship was like before Jack was mutinied against, right back at the beginning?
Yeah, exactly. You start to get the flavor of what it might have been like when Barbossa—Hector, as I like to call him—was Captain Jack’s first mate before the mutiny.
How has your relationship with Gore, as director, changed over the series? Have you gotten closer?
Oh yeah. I consider Gore to be one of my best friends. He’s a good man. A real brother. I’ve never seen anything like this guy—I really haven’t. I mean, sometimes you do interviews and stuff and there are times when you have to, you know, be fraudulent in some of your answers. In this case, though, genuinely, it wasn’t like that—it’s shocking what Gore is capable of. It’s mind-boggling.
And now, it’s nearly all over. You must be looking forward to seeing the finished movie . . .
I’m excited. I mean, there were scenes that we shot, a year to a year and a half ago—and sometimes they’ll connect directly to something we’ve just shot. I just can’t wait to see how all of those pieces are going to match up, because you walk in a door a year and half ago and then the day before you’ve shot the entrance to the room. It’s been a long ride, man. It’s been a very long ride . . .
Any way you take him, he’s cool: goatee, glasses, cowboy hat, smoking, non-smoking, dressed up, dressed down, dressed as a woman. Or a pirate. Or a wonky, wacko sweet-seller . . He can do anything. Really well.
Yeah, yeah. Be still our swooning hearts. But is there anyone out there who doesn’t love Johnny Depp? Total Film’s favorite actor of our lifetime was once considered the Marlon Brando of his generation [the pair worked together on Don Juan DeMarco and the Depp-directed The Brave]. But he spent the first half of his career running from the mainstream, preferring to hang out with Hunter S Thompson and Shane MacGowan and ply his peerless skills for mates Burton [six times including the forthcoming Sweeney Todd], Gilliam and Jarmusch, than go all Hollywood [he turned down Interview With the Vampire, Speed and The Matrix].
But when Johnny got the invite from Jerry Bruckheimer to shiver his timbers in Pirates of the Caribbean, he couldn’t resist. Dressing up like his mate Keef scored him a wider audience and he became an A-list icon overnight, finally scooping that long-overdue first Oscar nomination.
Over the years, Total Film has always found him warm, witty and satisfyingly non-moviestar-ish. The best invite saw us bundled into Depp’s Libertine trailer, as he kicked back with a bottle of red wine and, as we remember, a touch of lilting classical music on his stereo.
So, here he is, about to follow up last year’s billion dollar-busting Pirates 2 with this year’s all-time box office-shattering Pirates 3 . . .
So, we called him up. And he wasn’t in. Busy filming Sweeney Todd, apparently.
So, we called again. And again. Eventually, he got back to us . . . World-exclusively. Turn over, quick!