Captain Jack Sparrow and his merry band of misfit pirates are back on the high seas in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth entry in the ongoing franchise. This latest adventure provides a mix of the old and new, with Johnny Depp returning to his iconic role and joined by old favorites and new faces. Geoffrey Rush returns as the pirate Barbosa, and they’re joined by Oscar-winner Javier Bardem as the ghostly pirate Salazar who is out for revenge on Jack Sparrow in the film directed by the duo of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg.
“It’s a dream come true, for sure,” co-director Joachim Rønning said of taking on the massive challenge of Dead Men Tell No Tales. “We grew up together. We’ve been making films together since we were 10 years old. Watching Hollywood adventure family movies and being inspired by those movies – the Spielberg, Zemeckis, Lucas kind of films that made us want to be filmmakers. Also being fans of the franchise, loving the character of Jack Sparrow and Barbosa and all of that. I think going into this it was important for us to analyze why we love it so much and then going back to the first movie in the franchise and trying to analyze what makes it what it is. I think it’s a combination of things. It’s the spectacle and adventure. It’s really funny, great comedy. It’s scary, great scares. Most of all, it’s got heart.”
“With the spectacle, the action, the humor, and the heart, we just had to get that balance right,” Espen Sandberg added to his partner’s point. “It’s quite complex to hit that tone. For us, it was very important to make it really funny and we worked hard on the physical aspect of that. Johnny’s great and all the characters have great lines but we wanted every action piece to be fun and to have a story. To make everything work you need character arcs and an emotional connection. We wanted every character to have an emotional journey.”
Once again producing the latest installment in the Pirates franchise is mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who has been behind countless blockbusters over the course of his illustrious career. When asked why he keeps coming back to these high seas adventures, the producer had a concise response: “Jack Sparrow,” said Bruckheimer. “It’s like a Pirates family. A lot of us have been together for 13, 14 years. It’s nice to have Orlando [Bloom] and Kiera [Knightley] back, Geoffrey is always with us, and adding Javier is a fantastic cast member. Of course, Captain Jack Sparrow is the best. We love making movies with him.”
New to the world of Pirates of the Caribbean are Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario, the latter playing Henry Turner, the son of Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner, and the former playing the Carina Smyth, a young woman searching for answers to her parentage.
“Just that I’m a fan,” Thwaites said enthusiastically of why he boarded the franchise. “I was a fan since I was a young kid and they brought so many colors to the screen that we hadn’t seen in 2003. That were funny, filled with action and adventure, romance, supernatural – in a way right at the cutting edge of CGI technology.”
“For me, personally, I think that she’s the most progressive one we’ve ever seen,” Kaya Scodelario said of her character. “She is just a simple woman in this time who doesn’t want to be put into a box. She isn’t a pirate. She isn’t a superhero. She’s just an intelligent young woman who is determined, has a mission and sticks to it.”
In a way, Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario are there for a passing of the torch in the franchise, with the young duo becoming front and center in this latest installment of the venerable adventure series. “He kind of passes me the torch at the beginning of the film, which is great because when we see him in earlier movie getting the torch passed to him by his dad,” Thwaites said of taking the reins of the Pirates franchise. “And Henry’s trying to do the same thing in number 5, talking to his dad saying there’s this treasure that exists and when I find it can break all curses at sea, including yours, therefore we can spend more time together and get to know each other. I feel like it’s a continued theme right from the first movie, that idea of family and fighting to save family members.”
The villain of Dead Men Tell No Tales is played by Javier Bardem, who was also quite enthusiastic about joining the world of Pirates of the Caribbean. “As a moviegoer, I enjoy the franchise,” the acclaimed actor said. “Also, I think, it has one of the most iconic characters of all time. I mean, Jack Sparrow is up there now in movie history. Johnny has an amazing charisma and a talent that we all know, but what he brought with this character is really something extraordinary. As an actor I wanted see that first hand. I wanted to be there.”
Though he’s become familiar to moviegoers as a villain, Javier Bardem has no concerns about being typecast as a villain. “If you think it twice, I’ve only played three: No Country [For Old Men], Skyfall, and this one,” Bardem said of his onscreen villainy. “The thing is the movies are very powerful in different genres, different ways. The characters had some resonance because they belong to those movies. Those characters without those movies would mean nothing. Then I’ve played people that are in the line of evil and good. That’s life. We’re always playing with the good and the bad. Villains, only three. I see them as people. I don’t see them as caricatures. I try to see what’s behind them.”
The decision to sign on for a Pirates adventures was easy for Javier Bardem, since he got to see firsthand how the franchise operated when his wife Penelope Cruz worked on the last Pirates movie, On Stranger Tides. “I was there on Pirates 4 on the set. Back then I saw how good everything worked out. Starting with the fact that she was pregnant when she was shooting and they respected that,” Bardem said. “I saw the quality of the production, the detail. In this movie I will walk around my boat and there was a plate, and I’d life the plate and there was hand carved things on the wood that the art department did that nobody would ever see. And it was there. You have to respect that. You have to be responsible of that. I saw that back then and I knew that it was a great, important value in a production like this. It helped me to say yes, of course.”
Taking to the seas once again is Geoffrey Rush as Barbosa, his fifth turn as the character. “Right from the beginning we always talked about – because pirate movies were dead in the water. Maybe since the ‘50s with Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster or whatever. Certainly as a populist film,” Rush recalled of the series’ origins. “There’s been The Princess Bride and films like that. We were very low down in the summer release. We were down in the small print in the trades going, ‘This is what’s coming out in the summer of 2003.’ Jerry Bruckheimer timed it right. This was pre-Twitter and pre-social media. It really thrillingly caught people’s imaginations. I think part of that was the originality of how Johnny led the company and created a pirate that had none of the traditional tropes.”
Even though Johnny Depp wasn’t present for interviews, everyone on the film was effusive in their praise of the mega movie star. “He does have a tangential, warped, kind of absurd mind, creative mind,” Rush said of his co-star. “He looked at the idea that they all drank rum because the water was off and they were always in the sun. He said, ‘Geoffrey, man, their brains are fried.’ Then he started talking about pop stars from the ‘60s and the identity, the kind of flamboyant clothing. And then he came up with this idea that I thought was really, really clever. He said, ‘In the script, sometimes I’m on boats and sometimes I’m on land. I’m just going to play around with never getting my sea legs or land legs in order.’ I thought that gave him so much scope.”
“He shaped it all on his own,” producer Jerry Bruckheimer said of Depp’s crafting of Jack Sparrow. “I wish I could say I helped him shape it but that’d be a lie. What happened is that he had just had his daughter and his and he daughter were watching a lot of cartoons. He zeroed in on Pepé Le Pew, who he kind of thought was a lot of fun. Then Keith Richards is a friend of his and the combination of the two became Jack Sparrow.”
Bruckheimer continued, “You know the whole thing where you don’t know what he is. What it is is that he’s been on sea so long that he constantly moving like a ship, and that’s how he came up with that. When you hear him describe how he came up with the character it’s really fun to listen.”
While now considered an iconic character, there was some trepidation from the studio over Depp’s portrayal in the first film. “Is he drunk? Is he gay? That was quite an issue on the first one,” Bruckheimer recalled with a laugh.
Depp’s contacts were able to provide Dead Men Tell No Tales with a fantastic cameo in the form of legendary musician Paul McCartney. “As you know, Keith Richards played Jack Sparrow’s dad. He couldn’t do it now,” Joachim Rønning said of getting the legendary Beatle in the movie. “So we sat down and with Johnny and made a very short list of potential substitutes. We wanted it. We wanted a cameo. We’re fans of the franchise, too. We wanted those things that make Jack Sparrow’s family tree even cooler. Sir Paul McCartney was at the top of our list. The next thing is how should we do this? Then Johnny realized that he had his number on his phone, so he texted him. He texted back and it became funny. Over the next couple days they went more and more into the pirate lingo. We knew that we got him and it was fantastic to work with him. Such a pro and so eager, and a great actor. It was fun to transform him into a pirate.”