I'm still too dumb to make choices just because it's going to be successful. In terms of this being a giant production, I still chose the same way I choose other films. I really saw something in the character I could do something with.
- Johnny Depp on taking the role of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Is there anyone out there who hasn't heard of or seen this movie?
For those of you who haven't seen Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, here's the scoop: The drive to make this movie was described as Disney's effort to revitalize a 40-year-old theme park ride called Pirates of the Caribbean. But the film isn't really based on the ride, which doesn't have a story to it. Apparently, the writers somehow incorporated a few of the ride's characteristics and minor characters for familiar audience members to wink at as they watched the movie, but they created an original story that could stand on its own. I believe it because there's no way a theme park ride could have such an intricate backstory. At the end of the audio commentary on the DVD, co-writer Ted Elliott actually lists out the plot points one-by-one, ending with, "See? It makes sense, right?!" It does, I swear!
Having several simultaneous stories going on is part of what makes this movie so good! The story begins in the late 1700s or so on a sailing ship with the governing body of England's Port Royal, including Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) and his 8-year-old daughter Elizabeth, aboard. Peering in the distance, Elizabeth discovers a boy drifting in the ocean and rescues him. She learns that his name is Will Turner and steals the medallion around his neck to hide it from the others for fear that it marks him as a pirate. Ten years later, Elizabeth (Kiera Knightly) and Will (Orlando Bloom) are still friends but have a societal gap between them: She's the Governor's daughter being courted by Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), but she's really in love with Will, who is just a working-class blacksmith. (Isn't that always the case!)
Johnny's gone to the other side!
When word got out that Johnny had signed on to star in a Disney production focused around one of its faded theme-park rides, everyone said he had sold out: He'd given up his indie roots and infiltrated "the enemy camp" for blockbuster success! This idea never occurred to me and hearing it over and over started to irritate me. Do critics really think that signing Johnny Depp to star in a Disney movie about pirates in a story based on an old theme-park ride is a successful recipe? It really didn't sound like one to me. Johnny has never approached his roles thinking about the money he's going to make from it. In fact, he's done the opposite and worked for free just for the experience or as a favor to his friends.
Trusting Johnny's instincts, I wanted this movie to be really great--mainly just to disprove all the speculation and skepticism around it. Though wild with anticipation, a part of me feared that it could go horribly wrong. This was a new experience and a risk but no more or less exciting to me than any of Johnny's other movies were when they premiered: I didn't see what the big deal or difference was about this one. Good or bad, I knew Johnny would do something different to keep things interesting, which is good enough for me.
I have a date with Captain Jack Sparrow!
Johnny's in his element.
You have to think back to a time before you ever saw or knew Captain Jack Sparrow. I know it's difficult because he may be in everyone's psyche at this point, whether you're a fan or not. If you think back to before you first saw him, you'll realize what an amazing transformation Johnny made into this one-of-a-kind pirate. He disappeared into this role with the costume, the walk, the voice--every movement and every joke. Granted, I'm biased, but I gasped during Johnny's first scene when he started interacting with people. I really couldn't believe that it was the same person.
As always, Johnny did a ton of research for this role. After reading a bunch of books about pirates during that time period, he considered them the rock stars of their day. So, most noticeably, the captain is based on Kieth Richards, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, who Johnny considers the greatest of all rock stars. Johnny also spent a lot of time in saunas thinking about the character and what it'd be like to be on the ocean fighting the elements for hours on end. Captain Jack, he assumed, would be a little off due to the intense heat on the high seas. "With Jack, it was more that I liked the idea of being ambiguous, of taking the character and making everything a little bit....questionable." Also in the mix are bits of Lee Marvin's character from Cat Ballou and the great Pepe Le Pew. (I love it!)
|It's about time! At the Oscars with mom Betty Sue|
and partner Vanessa Paradis in 2004
Up to this point, Johnny performances generally received critical acclaim, but his characters were always labeled "outsiders" or "oddballs." Hiring Johnny was considered a risk because "he can't open a weekend" or "he's too weird." He's always described his career as one built on a bunch of box office failures. Johnny's movies were not mainstream, and many people didn't see them unless they were in the know and made the effort.
Imagine the shock of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl becoming a gazillion-dollar blockbuster overnight, Captain Jack and all the characters going down in Disney history, and talk of sequels already buzzing! Did I fully express the inexplicable magnitude of my joy about this? Really, I felt this couldn't have happened to a better person after all the equally stellar work before this crazy pirate movie. Making this movie didn't mean that Johnny sold out: No one could plan for or predict the ridiculous meteoric success of The Pirates of the Caribbean.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was nominated for four other technical Oscars and at a bunch of different award shows that season. It earned quite a few awards. Most exciting to me was that Johnny won the Best Actor award that year from the Screen Actor's Guild, an honor voted by other actors. Ah, the love gave me a warm fuzzy feeling (even if he couldn't attend to accept it in person).
The Kitties have already heard of Captain Jack Sparrow.
I've actually submitted a couple Illustration Friday drawings inspired by Captain Jack already. Illustration Friday's word of the week, "skyline," stumped me for a few days in 2006. But, eventually, my brain made its way to the last line of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, in which Johnny mentions the horizon. (It counts, right? They're synonyms, aren't they? Well, even if I tried, I couldn't think of anything else once the seed was planted.) Everyone was stumped on how to end this movie, but Johnny had a eureka moment and ran to the writers like a little kid, yelling, "I've got it! I've got it!"
|"Now, bring me that horizon..." -- Captain Jack Sparrow|
(Illustration Friday: July 7, 2006)
By 2007, the word "captain" instantly and only made me think of the captain on his ship, The Black Pearl. (It still does.)
|"It's Captain! Captain Jack Sparrow."|
(Illustration Friday: August 17, 2007)
But drawing a specific tribute to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl for Johnny Kitties was daunting! At first, I thought I'd have to draw several illustrations to cover the entire cast of beloved characters. Then, I figured I'd have a few more chances to capture them later. So, I went with my original idea, which flashed in my head when I first thought up the Johnny Kitties project. It's true that Johnny's character shines best when all those "normal" people are reacting around him, but ultimately the greatest thing this movie does is introduce audiences to Johnny's Captain Jack Sparrow.
Not only should his entrance go down in film history as one of the best ever, but--once introduced--there's no turning back. As soon as he sets foot in Port Royal, you know you're in for something special. And, he's here to stay. Savvy?
And now for something completely different: Johnny represents the CIA in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and I'm guessing they wish he didn't.
All film images © Walt Disney Pictures; illustrations © Melissa Connolly; candid photo © unknown