Interview with Johnny Depp

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Despite a screen career dedicated to creating such unique characters as Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Ichabod Crane and Willy Wonka, Johnny Depp clearly outdid himself with Captain Jack Sparrow, the unlikely hero of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. An unselfconscious, mumbling rogue with an equal passion for the sea, rum and heavy eyeliner, Captain Jack became Hollywood’s first iconic character of the new century, as instantly recognizable as Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny. Naturally Captain Jack is back, front and center, for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the second in what will be a trilogy of Pirates films, and is joined once again by fellow cast members Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, After escaping the curse of the Aztec gold in the last film, Jack is naturally in a new sea of trouble this time when it turns out that he owes a blood debt to the legendary Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), Ruler of the Ocean Depths, who captains the ghostly Flying Dutchman. The scene is set for another roller coaster adventure, this one involving cannibals, a giant squid and a mysterious soothsayer. Shortly before returning to work on the third film in the series Depp talked about his affection for Captain Jack, locking himself in his sauna, and why he loves playing with Barbie dolls.

Did the success of the first film come as a surprise to you?
I’d gotten used to the idea of never being in a successful film — I was pretty comfy in that — so it was a terrific shock to me and I’m still sort of babbling about it. I really appreciate the fact that people accepted the character and really supported me because at a certain point some of the better-dressed people at Disney were having a difficult time with my interpretation of the character. The success of the film was a win-win situation for me.

Did you ever think of playing Jack Sparrow straight?
I toyed with the idea, but I firmly believe that we’re all out of our minds on some level, including Captain Jack. We’re all really weird in our own special ways and we usually try to deny that because nobody wants to be thought of as mad or insane or weird or whatever, so we put on the mask and play the game. But Jack doesn’t bother to even try to play the game, which is why he’s so liberating to play. Also I think there are a lot of actors out there who play the straight guys really well, so I feel like that’s covered and maybe I’ll try and give the audience a little something different, try to make them feel it’s okay to be individual or to be weird.

So what do you make of your own reputation for being weird?
I just think I wear my weirdo badge a little more often and a little more openly than most people, that’s all.

Captain Jack steps off his sinking boat in The Curse of the Black Pearl and is immediately in the thick of the action. There’s very little explanation about his background or history. Did you work you out how he got to be who he is?
I decided he was very probably a guy who had been press-ganged into the navy, made his way into being a cartographer, and so on. It gets pretty elaborate and is probably very boring for everyone apart from me. The other thing that helped me with Captain Jack was playing Barbies with my kids. It’s a great way as an actor to experiment with voices. I’d start to assume the character of Captain Jack with the Barbie and my daughter would go, Um, Papa, could you just do your regular voice? I did the same with Willy Wonka.

You acknowledged basing Captain Jack on Keith Richards. But what about his stumbling walk. Does Keith Richards walk like that?
[Laughs] I suppose Jack’s body language came from extreme heat. I actually locked myself in the sauna for a long period of time – something I don’t recommend by the way — because I thought that out on the open seas for long, long periods of time you would be subjected to the elements, particularly the heat, in a very extreme way. And what I discovered from being in the sauna for so long was that the heat starts to affect the way you move and you get very, very uncomfortable. That’s sort of how Jack’s movement was born.

Does Captain Jack have an even bigger role to play in Dead Man’s Chest and the third film?
One of the things early on when we discussed doing the sequels was that I felt it was very important, and Gore agreed, not to make it the Captain Jack Sparrow show. I thought there had to be a balance between Captain Jack and Will Turner and Elizabeth, to thread him through the story and not let the audience get sick of him.

Jack Sparrow has just been added to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Did you like the idea?
It was Disney’s idea to incorporate some of the characters in the film into the ride and by the time they came to me they apparently had a very limited time frame. I could see beads of sweat forming on their foreheads when I started to give them my thoughts. But yeah, it’s a gas; it’s a real honor. My kids can take their kids and their kids can take their kids to go see me still in that condition. I imagine I’ll look quite different later on.

Now you have children, do you choose films with them in mind?
With Finding Neverland, I loved the idea that it was about the guy that created Peter Pan, but it also just happened to be the story that I was interested in at that point. Other than that, the only other two films that children could see have been Pirates of the Caribbean and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and it just so happened that they came one right after the other. But I also recently did a film called The Libertine and kiddies will have to wait about 50 years before they check that one out.

Do you still enjoy acting as much as you did when you started out?
More because now I choose the characters I want. Don’t say this in front of Disney but I’m surprised they actually pay me for Pirates of the Caribbean. Captain Jack gives me the opportunity to be as irreverent as possible and not get in trouble for it. I have a ball and the most fun is being in a scene when something unexpected happens — pure chance, a mistake where somebody forgets a line or you say a different line and it throws the whole balance out of whack. Suddenly the floor is gone beneath you and everybody is winging it for a second, and that’s pure magic for me.

After Dead Man’s Chest, there’s another Pirates film on the way which will be the last of the trilogy. Will you be sorry to say goodbye to Captain Jack?
Absolutely. Every time out of the gate, when you get to spend time with these guys, with these characters, there’s always that certain point that arrives when the clock starts ticking and you know you’re going to have to say goodbye. And though it sounds horribly silly for a middle-aged man to admit, I do go through a kind of bizarre decompression where you miss these guys because you know you’re never going to see them again in that capacity. They may rear their ugly heads with me every now and again, when I go into one of my Barbie jags for example, but you don’t get to play them again. So I miss them. I’m not looking forward to saying goodbye to Jack Sparrow at all. And maybe I won’t have to. Maybe Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer will think of doing a fourth film, hint hint.