Swashbuckling Sequels

Johnny Depp & Company Return to Caribbean For Two More Comedy-Adventures

"Avast ye hearties! 'Ere we go again!"

There are only so many overripe ways to read that line, which explains why Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power and Robert Newton went through their whole screen careers with nary an Oscar nomination among them. In fact, no performance of a pirate was deemed worthy of Academy consideration until Johnny Depp leapt spectacularly onto the galley, three years into the new millennium, with his over-the-moon, warts-and-all-and-then-some caricature of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Despite its unpromising source ("inspired by" if not directly "based upon" the long-running Disney theme-park ride), the Disney flick became the surprise summer blockbuster hit of 2003, making out like a true seafaring bandit with a domestic U.S. booty of $305.4 million and a worldwide take of $653.9 million. Sequels, anyone?

Yes-two, as it hectically turns out. Captain Jack's back-back-to-back, in fact-with a pair of elaborate, lavish cinematic postscripts. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest sails-or, given its money-earning backstory, swaggers-confidently into theatres July 7, two days shy of the third anniversary of the release of the original Pirates picture.

Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (subtitle to come) is now in post-production, being prepped for release on Memorial Day weekend in 2007.

Both sequels were shot simultaneously in the Caribbean by the skippers of the first Pirates-director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer-who shrewdly rehired all available technical hands for the return voyages (photographer Dariusz Wolski, film editors Craig Wood and Stephen Rivkin, costume designer Penny Rose, visual-effects supervisor John Knoll, stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge, makeup artist Ve Neill, hair stylist Martin Samuel and composer Hans Zimmer). Filming began in February '05, took a hiatus in June, then resumed in August to finish installment two and start number three.

Joining Depp in his seagoing three-ring circus are Orlando Bloom, a veteran of the Lord of the Rings/Troy wars, and Keira Knightley, an Oscar contender for Pride & Prejudice. Both are reprising their parts of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, the young lovers who discover they have piracy in their blood and hearts; now altar-bound, they must duck and dodge a ridiculous amount of swashbuckling derring-do in order to become man and wife.

Also on board, from before, are Jonathan Pryce as Elizabeth's aristocratic father, Gov. Weatherby Swann; Jack Davenport as disgraced British Commodore James Norrington; Kevin R. McNally as soused sailor Joshamee Gibbs; Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook as the bickering/philosophizing Pintel and Ragetti; David Bailie as the mute Cotton whose parrot does the talking; and Martin Klebba as the short, short-fused Marty.

The raison d'être for the whole reunion enterprise is, of course, an excuse for more Depp in unbridled form in a genre that's never been award-fodder. His deliriously overboard portrayal of the good/bad captain-a bizarre, from-the-ground-up original creation that audiences had never seen before-proved it's possible to give a good performance while munching on a masthead. It not only pulled Depp up by his bootstraps into the Oscar running, it also got him a Golden Globe nomination and actually won him the prestigious Screen Actors Guild Award. Last May, Premiere magazine listed this portrayal among the 100 greatest performances of all time.

"None of us would be back if Johnny had not wanted to play this character again," producer Bruckheimer is quick to point out. "He invented Jack Sparrow in the first movie, and he's not somebody who wants to rest on his laurels for the second and third. He loved making the first movie, and audiences love him right back."
The incredible impact the part has had on the public startles even the actor. "It is beyond me how such a character has sort of taken root in some people's hearts-it's still shocking to me," Depp admits. "I was handed this opportunity to make something of this character, and I had pretty solid ideas about who he was and what he should be like. There were a number of people who thought I was nuts. But I was committed to the guy, and I think that's what happened to me in terms of finding the character. What I set out to do was to try and make Captain Jack appeal to little kids as well as the most hardened intellectuals."

One person who will not be back for seconds-or, in this case, thirds-is Geoffrey Rush (he of the Oscar-winning Shine). His villainous Captain Barbossa was summarily and in no uncertain terms dispatched to the underworld by Captain Jack in Curse of the Black Pearl, leaving a Carlsbad Cavern kind of hole to be filled in Chapters 2 and 3.

Bill Nighy is the actor tapped to fill that enormous bill. You may not know the name, but you would know the face and the long, lanky frame. He is in high tide in films these days (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Girl in the Café, The Constant Gardener) and even comes with a telltale award glow himself, having won the British Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor of 2004 for his wry, wildly uncharted depiction of a mangy old rocker in Love, Actually. Fortifying the forces of darkness is, arguably, the second most prolific British actor going: the diminutive Tom Hollander, playing ruthless pirate hunter Lord Cutler Beckett of the East India Trading Company.

Nighy's villain is, literally, the stuff of legend-namely, Davy Jones (the guy with the locker, you will recall). There's a fleeting reference to him in the first film, according to Ted Elliott, who co-authored the trilogy with Terry Rossio. "There's a line of dialogue in which Will talks about sending himself down to Davy Jones' Locker," Elliott recalls, "so, in Dead Man's Chest, we decided to explore who Davy Jones is, and then we brought in another well-known legend of the seas, the Flying Dutchman, and combined them."

Voila! Meet Davy Jones, Ruler of the Ocean Depths and Captain of the ghostly Flying Dutchman. As Nighy sees the character, license to kill is the least of it-practically, the good news. "My job in the movie is to spread fear and suffering," he says. "Davy Jones himself has been damaged-majorly-in the past and has been transformed into a sea creature, which resembles sort of a half-octopus/half-crab man. His only form of relief, or recreation, is to make others suffer, and he brings them a world of pain. He makes a deal with you, basically, at the point of death. It's a lousy deal, but it's the only deal in town."

The film's premise is that Jack owes a blood debt to Davy Jones, who has come to collect. Unless our crafty Jack can figure a cunning way out of this Faustian pact, he will be cursed to an afterlife of eternal servitude and damnation in the service of Jones.

That weighty threat keeps the picture popping with set-pieces of extravagant special effects, says Nighy. "The finale on this is just incredible. Even reading it makes you tired. It took months to shoot. They'd take tiny bits at a time. It's a long, extended sequence which is funny and terrifying. There are some effects which will, hopefully, take your breath away. You will see some sights that are not repeated elsewhere in any movie. There are creatures you have never seen before and events that will stagger you."

This is the first time Nighy has been involved in a simultaneous two-movie shoot, and he figures he got a pretty light sentence, all things considered. "It was kinda okay for me. I was engaged for a year or something, but, in terms of actual shooting, I did three or four months. I came back and forth to Los Angeles for the early part of the year, and then, for the last part of the year, I was pretty much continually ensconced in the Bahamas. The bulk of my stuff was in the Bahamas, on two different islands. Most of it was done on an island called Grand Bahama, and we also visited another beautiful island called Exuma."

Juggling two movies at once, he allows, "was a terrific achievement-particularly for the director." (Verbinski is a relatively new, but startlingly successful, high-roller: His five films-The Ring, Pirates of the Caribbean 1, Mouse Hunt, The Mexican and The Weather Man-have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, pretty good for a new kid on the block.)

Nigby says he's in total awe of the trio he spews fire and brimstone on. "Johnny and Orlando and Keira had longer parts than me and had to keep everything in their heads. There were odd days where you would do a movie at two in the morning and a movie at three in the afternoon. I think that's probably unique in most actors' experience."

Since he shows such a spectacular flair for it, does he enjoy playing villains more than heroes? "I don't really have a preference," he confesses. "There are good parts of all kinds, but villains are quite good fun-because you get to do things that you can't very well repeat anywhere else in your life. You get to behave in a really ugly manner, be as unpleasant and scary as you can possibly be. If you have anger issues, it's great therapy."