Pop culture's most famous pirate makes his return later this month, in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The cast and crew told us what's in store for Captain Jack — and whether he might do a fifth movie.
We attended yesterday's press conference, in which returning stars Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were joined by new director Rob Marshall and cast members Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Sam Claflin, and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. Here's a mostly spoiler-free recap of what was discussed, although there are a few vague hints in here about what happens to one of the characters.
Writing On Stranger Tides
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer explained that buying the rights to Tim Powers's 1987 book On Stranger Tides, from which the movie is loosely adapted, gave writer Ted Rossio new ideas and offered a new way to think about the Pirates universe. When asked whether they had learned any lessons from the negative response to the previous sequels Dead Man's Chest and World's End, Bruckheimer went on the defensive, pointing out both films made about a billion dollars worldwide and claiming the the media didn't understand those movies as well as the audience did.
That said, he acknowledged that with the trilogy now complete and its various characters' stories paid off, they were able to start over with a story that wasn't as complicated, focusing just on the core characters of the series. Bruckheimer observed that "screenplays are hard" and that it was important they took the time to get the script right, which is part of the reason for the four-year gap between between World's End and On Stranger Tides.
The cast and crew all credited Johnny Depp for his input during the writing process. Director Rob Marshall said it was Depp's idea to bring the Spanish faction into the movie as a counterpoint to Ponce de Leon's original expedition to the Fountain of Youth. Entire characters were added at Depp's request - Jerry Bruckheimer said Sam Claflin's hunky missionary character was created by Depp, while Geoffrey Rush revealed that it was Depp who insisted Captain Barbossa return as Jack Sparrow's adversary-turned-ally.
Finding a New Director
With the departure of original Pirates director Gore Verbinski, On Stranger Tides marks the debut of Rob Marshall, who is best known for his musical work both on Broadway and in the films Chicago and Nine. Marshall admitted that this is a very different genre from his usual comfort zone, although he said that he quickly found overlaps between his earlier musical and this action adventure romp.
In particular, he explained that action sequences are essentially analogous to musical choreography, and that they have a similar rhythm to them. The artifice and heightened reality of big musical dance numbers served him well in creating the larger-than-life action sequences in On Stranger Tides. He also credited Johnny Depp's ability to see his required movements and learn it all in seconds, comparing him to Fred Astaire in that regard, even if Depp swears that he can't dance.
For his part, Depp observed that some directors shoot the entire movie in their head before filming even begins, but that wasn't Rob Marshall's approach. Instead, he said Marshall hears the rhythms and tempo of the movie and uses that knowledge to inform his direction.
On Stranger Tides adds a bunch of new characters to the series, but none loom larger than Penelope Cruz's Angelica and Ian McShane's Blackbeard. McShane called his character the biggest badass of all pirates, something that was helped by the "leather biker rocker pirate" outfit he wore, as well as his "extraordinary beard", complete with burning candles (which is based on something the actual Blackbeard supposedly did). When his most iconic villain, Deadwood's Al Swearengen, was mentioned, McShane said he didn't miss that character's harder edge, observing, "This is Disney, not HBO."
Jerry Bruckheimer and Rob Marshall were both full of praise for Penelope Cruz. They said that she's a global movie star and they didn't consider anyone else for Angelica for even a second. Johnny Depp said the chemistry that they established as costars in the 2000 movie Blow was instantly rekindled and was firing on all cylinders. Cruz remarked that being able to shoot in costume on location in Hawaii before heading into the studio really helped her get into character, and she explained she did quite a bit of her own fighting in the movie, including the initial swordfight with Johnny Depp.
As for the main returning character, Geoffrey Rush observed that the relationship between Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa is basically that of an old married couple, particularly when one considers their constant bickering. Admittedly, it isn't a perfect metaphor, as Rush himself called their ship The Black Pearl a shared ex-girlfriend, which gave a little extra texture to their conversations in On Stranger Tides that would have been missing if they were just talking about some boat.
Rush said Barbossa's journey as a character is a fascinating one, considering he began as an outright villain spat out of Hell itself in the original Pirates of the Caribbean, while he becomes more of a diplomat in the sequels. By On Stranger Tides, he's a privateer in the employ of King George II, and he said Barbossa is absolutely pompous and arrogant enough to think he actually belong in the royal court.
The Future of Captain Jack
Johnny Depp admitted that he just can't shake Captain Jack, and he joked that the character now shows up at unexpected times, including earlier that morning when he was getting his kids ready for school. He wryly observed that he could see himself playing the character for decades, at least until his dreadlocks start getting tangled in his wheelchair. On a more serious note, Depp did say that he feels the possibilities of the character are limitless, and that he feels like he's never really done playing Captain Jack Sparrow.
It's already known that the fifth film is in some early stage of development, and Jerry Bruckheimer confirmed that they just received the first rough script for the sequel. He said that, if On Stranger Tides is any indication, it will take time to get the script to a good place, but he is hoping for a faster turnaround. He refused to set a concrete number on how successful this movie will have to be to get the go-ahead for a fifth and sixth movie - and yes, the plan is to make two more sequels if this one is successful.
The cast and crew didn't give away too much about what a sequel might entail, although they did point out that there's a post-credits scene at the end of On Stranger Tides that might give some hints as to where they're going next. When asked what she hopes Angelica will get up to next, Penelope Cruz said her character ends up with a voodoo doll of Captain Jack, and she could potentially put that to good use in a sequel.
But perhaps the most interesting idea for a sequel came from Johnny Depp, who closed the press conference by revealing the clever idea being hatched for the fifth and sixth movies: they're going to shoot the entire thing on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, going round and round like something out of Andy Warhol's Sleep.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides will be released in the United States on May 20.