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Johnny Depp a big part of ‘Pirates’ success

Actor says he’s pleased that his success came ‘kind of on my terms’
/ Source: The Associated Press

Who knew a good Keith Richards impression could be so lucrative?

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” which earned a record haul of $135.6 million in its opening weekend, is a sequel full of special effects, plot twists and pretty heartthrobs.

But it’s Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow — the drunken buccaneer famously modeled on the Rolling Stones’ Richards — who may have propelled “Pirates” to the all-time largest opening box-office gross. It bested 2002’s “Spider-Man,” which took in $114.8 million in its first weekend.

It’s an unusual mainstream success for Depp, whose career has been mostly marked by Tim Burton’s cultish films (“Ed Wood,” “Edward Scissorhands”) and financial disappointments like 2004’s “Finding Neverland” or 2000’s “Chocolat.”

“I’m proud of those films and even though I’ve had a career of basically doing failures, or commercial failures, it never felt that way to me,” Depp told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

In the 2003 original, Depp’s cartoonish pirate was a revelation. Few expected a blatantly commercial movie based on a Disney theme park ride to result in an Oscar nomination for Depp.

“I was never opposed to the idea of commercial success, in terms of a movie or whatever, but if it was gonna happen it had to happen the right way, it had to happen kind of on my terms,” the 43-year-old actor said.

The reviews for “Dead Man’s Chest” have not been what they were for “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” but Depp — who’s displayed his idiosyncratic, unpredictable skills in such movies as “Benny & Joon,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Don Juan DeMarco” — was still clearly a great draw for moviegoers.

Maintaining artistic credibility on a mainstream“He set it apart,” the film’s producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, told the AP. “Disney movies prior to ‘Pirates’ were for young kids. When you put his name on it, people go, ‘Wait a minute, there’s something strange here. We better check this out.”’

The first “Pirates” movie was a surprise hit in 2003, yielding $305 million domestically — easily Depp’s biggest box-office success. His off-kilter portrayal of Willy Wonka in last year’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” also pulled in a respectable $206 million in the U.S.

Since a third “Pirates” movie was filmed at the same time as the sequel, Depp (who stars alongside Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley) will likely continue to add to his newfound clout as not just a well-regarded actor, but a bankable movie star — an increasingly endangered species in today’s Hollywood.

“With this quirky characterization, he still has maintained his complete artistic credibility while appearing in maybe the most commercial movie of all time, given this opening record,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. “So he’s enjoying the best of both worlds.”


Faces of Depp

From the Mad Hatter to Cry-Baby, the sexy star prefers oddballs and outsiders to traditional leading men.

The impact of “Pirates” has already moved Hollywood’s 2006 numbers, which have been much scrutinized after last year’s dramatic downturn. The nearly 20 million moviegoers who flocked to see it over the weekend helped put the year’s total attendance figures at about 3.5 percent better than last year’s. Before “Pirates” came out, that number was closer to just 2 percent.

“Psychologically, for Hollywood, this is very important,” says Dergarabedian. “But we still need to see big hits coming down the pipeline. You can’t just rest on one film, but this is a great place to start.”

The “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise also has attained that hallmark of the big time: pornography spoof. The new adult film “Pirates” (clearly styled after “Pirates of the Caribbean”) claims to be the most expensive adult film ever made.