Depp has had and continues to have an almost incomparably brilliant career, but it wouldn't surprise me if the weird, fey, rum-loving rapscallion at the helm of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' franchise turns out to be the role for which he is the most vividly remembered. But the character is so strange, so totally singular, that we have surely all wondered how he came to pass: was he purely Depp's creation?
How did Disney, which had invested upwards of $140 million dollars in the original film, let him get away with all that slurring and shambling and sexually ambiguous mannerisms? They were trying to build a blockbuster franchise, dammit; they needed an action hero pirate, not some sort of strung-out Bohemian fashion model pirate.
In an interview with 'Vanity Fair,' Depp discusses a bit of the motivation for Sparrow by comparing him to a Looney Tune, which makes a lot of sense: "Captain Jack was... an opening up of part of [my]self. There's a little Bugs Bunny in all of us." He also sheds some light on how the studio initially felt about the guy. Disney honchos were apparently displeased:
If you didn't adore Depp already, his blithe reference to "upper-echelon Disney-ites" should do it."They couldn't stand him. They just couldn't stand him ... I think it was Michael Eisner, the head of Disney at the time, who was quoted as saying, 'He's ruining the movie.'... Upper-echelon Disney-ites, going, What's wrong with him? Is he, you know, like some kind of weird simpleton? Is he drunk? By the way, is he gay? And so I actually told this woman who was the Disney-ite... 'But didn't you know that all my characters are gay?' Which really made her nervous."
Disney's initial reaction is not terribly surprising. But the lesson here is that when you hire someone like Johnny Depp to do your movie, don't micromanage him. Artists can know better than the businesspeople what will strike a chord with audiences. There's no doubt that Depp's brilliant interpretation of Jack Sparrow is what made 'Pirates of the Caribbean' such a lasting, three-sequels, repeat-viewings-galore superhit. But if Disney had their way, it seems, they would have wound up with something anodyne and generic: another 'Haunted Mansion.'
The further result of Depp's efforts, 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,' is due next May from director Rob Marshall.