How Cartoons Inspired Johnny Depp As He Created Captain Jack Sparrow

It’s a well-established fact that much of Johnny Depp’s performance as Captain Jack Sparrow was influenced by Rolling Stone’s guitarist Keith Richards. It turns out that’s not the only place where Depp found inspiration for the character. He recently told an audience that the character owes as much to the Looney Toons as it does to the aging rock and roller.

Johnny Depp recently received the Maltin Modern Master Award at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and sat down for an extended interview with famed critic Leonard Maltin. According to Depp, his decision to take on the role of Captain Jack Sparrow for Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was one of the quickest decisions he ever made. The reason for this, as written in Variety, is because he’d spent much of the previous three years watching cartoons with his new daughter.

It had a strong effect on me, how they could get away with stuff and we buy it, where it’s absolutely OK when Wile E. Coyote walks in with a Band-Aid on his head after having a giant rock fall on him. I don’t know why I said, ‘I’m in,’ but I did. And that really says it all for me.

Depp apparently decided that he wanted to try and translate something about these cartoons into a live action performance. Apparently, the original plan for Captain Jack was a swashbuckling hero, like something out of a classic Errol Flynn movie. Depp called this underestimating the audience, and thought the studio could push the envelope more with the character.

This, he was certainly able to do. It’s been well documented that many of the higher-ups at Disney, including then CEO Michael Eisner, thought Johnny Depp might have lost his mind when they learned what he was doing on the set. Nobody seemed to understand what he was attempting.

We pretty much already knew that Captain Jack Sparrow was a cartoon character, we just didn’t realize how much of that was specifically designed. While the Wile E. Coyote physical punishment is missing -- that would be too cartoonish, even for the Pirates movies -- you can still see a lot of what Johnny Depp is talking about in the performance. His physicality is exaggerated, made even more so by the fact that all the other characters in the films play it completely straight. His dialogue is also very animated. He always has a quick retort at the ready.

So if you love Jack Sparrow as much as I do, you can thank children’s cartoons for the utterly bizarre character. We have at least one more adventure to go on with the pirate. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales will be out the summer of 2017.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian, Dirk began writing for CinemaBlend as a freelancer in 2015 before joining the site full-time in 2018. He has previously held positions as a Staff Writer and Games Editor, but has more recently transformed his true passion into his job as the head of the site's Theme Park section. He has previously done freelance work for various gaming and technology sites. Prior to starting his second career as a writer he worked for 12 years in sales for various companies within the consumer electronics industry. He has a degree in political science from the University of California, Davis.  Is an armchair Imagineer, Epcot Stan, Future Club 33 Member.