Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow may have led Disney’s billion-dollar franchise Pirates of the Caribbean across five blockbusters, but his take on the character was a far cry from the studio’s original concept of the swashbuckler. They had wanted him to be somewhat like Burt Lancaster in 1952’s The Crimson Pirate with stars like Matthew McConaughey, Jim Carrey and Michael Keaton having been considered prior. So were older actors like Christopher Walken and Robert De Niro, but with the last pirates genre movie, Cutthroat Island, having been such a big flop that it put Carolco Pictures out of business, it was difficult to find someone to take on the part.
In the end, Disney cast indie actor Depp, who had previously said he wouldn’t be “blockbuster boy”. The star ignored the Lancaster inspiration and went for a mixture of Rolling Stones rocker Keith Richards and Looney Tunes womaniser Pepé Le Pew instead, which really freaked out the studio even though their leading man would go on to be Oscar-nominated for the role.
Speaking with Michael Gandolfini on Literally! With Rob Lowe, the latter praised Depp’s balls for his unequivocal courage in resisting changes to his vision.
The West Wing star said on his podcast: “People ask what is the greatest performance ever and I say I don’t know what the greatest performance ever is but I will tell you the bravest performance ever. And I’m sorry I don’t give a…you cannot convince me that anyone else comes close. So, you’re Johnny Depp, they offer you Pirates of the Caribbean. You have to remember that it’s become such a thing that you have to go back in time and remember it was an amusement park ride. Not a movie based on a book, not based on a play, not based on someone has this great idea for a script. Nope. Based on a ride. And you give it to Johnny Depp, who holds his nose and says, ‘Yes’, because he’s been doing those weird movies that work, don’t work, whatever and it’s kind of put up or shut up time for him. We’ve all faced that in our careers. And you know the studio’s like, ‘We’ve got Johnny Depp, f*** yeah this is going to be amazing.’”
Lowe continued: “What they were hoping to get was Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia. But what they got was Jack Sparrow. Can you imagine making that choice? We all just think it was baked in and naturally happened. Hell, no! There’s a version of the movie and it’s the version the studio wanted of a handsome, straight, leading man. Macho, boring, doing his thing. And Johnny’s like, ‘Y’know, I won’t be doing that?’ It’s the bravest acting choice in the history of the business. Period. And then y’know they’re like…wanna fire him and there’s a moment where the guy comes to you and you go, ‘Do I want to get fired off of the last train leaving Clarkston for me? And maybe I’ll just dial it back.’ And he didn’t. It’s amazing.”
In 2018, Depp told GQ: “Disney hated me. [They were] thinking of every way they could to get rid of me, to fire me.Oh, we’re going to have to subtitle him.’ ‘We don’t understand Captain Jack Sparrow. What’s wrong with him?’ ‘What’s wrong with his arms?’ ‘Is he drunk?’ ‘Is he mentally f***ing stupefied?’ ‘Is he gay?’”
Express.co.uk caught up with his Mr Gibbs co-star Kevin McNally and asked his memories of Depp’s clashes over his take on Sparrow.
Johnny Depp Pirates co-star ‘congratulated’ on being ‘new Doctor Who’ [PIRATES]
Johnny Depp: New Jack Sparrow Pirates project ‘in the works’ [JACK SPARROW]
Johnny Depp’s lavish generosity to Pirates of the Caribbean crew [EXCLUSIVE]
McNally told us late last year of the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl set: “Oh yes definitely yeah. A lot of suits visiting asking what the hell was going on. But I think once we got our budget back within about a week, all their worries seemed to fade! And he got an Oscar nomination. I wish he’d got it actually.”
Although his character escaped being toned down, his costume didn’t. Originally Sparrow had all gold teeth and Depp would purposefully over dress during the fitting to avoid having too much of his clothes and accessories removed.
Pirates of the Caribbean producer Jerry Bruckheimer told Lowe on his podcast in 2020 that the studio executives were “never really comfortable with the performance; it scared them half to death. There was no merchandising done…they had very little faith in the movie.” Of course, The Curse of the Black Pearl was a hit and the rest was history.
Pirates of the Caribbean movies are streaming on Disney+ now.