Johnny Depp scored a double hat trick with Captain Jack Sparrow.
First, thanks to the success of 2003’s “The Curse of the Black Pearl” — for which Depp earned an Oscar nomination — “Pirates of the Caribbean” became a trilogy.
Depp also achieved a three-part personal coup with the role: unbridled creative expression in a spectacular commercial success with a film he can happily share with his kids.
But with the second “Pirates” picture, “Dead Man’s Chest,” in theaters July 7 and filming nearly wrapped on the third, the 43-year-old actor is reluctantly preparing to put aside the roguish pirate he describes as “part rock-star, Keith Richards-kind-of-guy and part Pepe Le Pew.”
“It’s always hard to say goodbye to a character at the end of a shoot, but with Captain Jack especially,” says Depp, who exudes the same magnetic charm in person as he does on screen. “I’ve really come to enjoy spending time with him, or as him, whatever it is. He’s definitely a big part of me.”
Depp even wears Sparrow’s gold and silver teeth off screen: they’re bonded to his own.
It took 20 years in the movie business — and having two children — to bring the actor to the place where Captain Jack Sparrow could be born. The flamboyant character, who remains lovable despite lying, cheating and drunken-staggering, was inspired by the whimsy of cartoons, Depp says. Like Bugs Bunny, Jack Sparrow has an appeal that transcends age and gender.
Cartoon characters “are not bound by the same laws as regular human-being actors,” Depp says, his brown eyes and shaggy hair peeking out from under a gray fedora. “So I thought that would be a fun way to approach a (movie) character, to push the boundaries. That’s where I was coming from when the ‘Pirates’ thing cropped up, so it was kismet in a way.”
“They said, ‘He’s gay, he’s drunk. Oh my God, what are you guys doing?’ But once we cut a scene together, they saw the fun of it,” he says.
That fun was tripled when Depp agreed to reprise the role — twice.
“None of us would be back if Johnny had not wanted to play this character again,” Bruckheimer says.
‘He’s a brilliant guy’
In “Dead Man’s Chest,” crafty Jack Sparrow seeks to avoid paying the debt he owes to undersea overlord Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). Sparrow tricks young lovebirds Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley) into helping him, and the three take off on an adventurous escapade that includes fighting sea monsters, infiltrating an island community and searching the watery underworld for the legendary “dead man’s chest.”
The film has heart, Nighy says, attributing the appeal of the first “Pirates” movie to Depp’s depiction of Sparrow.
Depp has tried to pour his soul into all his performances, he says, whether they were in a tiny independent film or a big-budget blockbuster. Commercial success, while appealing, was not crucial, he says.
“It didn’t make sense to me that you go into work and put as much of yourself and your heart into something, and in the end, all it’s about is how much money it makes at the box office. Eeew,” he says with disgust. “I can’t think that way.”
His movies were “box-office poison,” he says, but “it never felt that way to me.”
“I’m not comfortable saying movies are art,” Depp says. “I don’t know that they can be because there’s so much money involved.”
Is ‘Hamlet’ in his future?
So it is, he says, he approaches his work from an artistic, not financial, perspective. Box-office receipts “are kind of none of my business,” he says.
“You have to have some sort of legacy in truth and honesty that you leave to your kiddies and the people you love.”
Depp’s two children, with partner Vanessa Paradis, help the actor feel grounded and give him a stable launching point from which to explore his craft.
Being a parent, he says, has “given me real foundation, a real strong place to stand — in life, in work, in everything.”
As he looks ahead, Depp says he still hopes to one day take Marlon Brando’s advice, which he relays in a “Godfather” voice: “You ought to play Hamlet while you’re still young enough to do it.”
“The clock’s ticking on that,” Depp says. “There’s only a couple more years that I’ve got, otherwise I’ll be playing Hamlet’s father.”
If he takes on the role, it would be in a “tiny, tiny little theater,” he says.
“As careers go, you’ve got your ups, you’ve got your downs, peaks and valleys and all that,” he says. “I may end up doing special appearances at shopping malls as Jack Sparrow. You never know.”