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After Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, audiences demanded more adventures from Jack Sparrow and his crew. Disney happily obliged, mounting two back to back sequels. At the outset, the filmmakers perhaps underestimated the commitment.
"It was exhausting, but I think it's a bit more of a duration issue," says director Gore Verbinski. "It's a bit mad to take on two movies at once [but] there are still a lot of stories to be told with these characters. I didn't feel that way with The Ring. I didn't know where to go with it when they talked to me about doing that. And Pirates, there was no plan on making a 2nd or 3rd movie when we filmed the first one and then the studio said, 'Could you do two more?' And that was sort of challenging to construct a trilogy in reverse so to speak. That was exciting"ï¿½
Shooting the two sequels back to back required a commitment that is not yet completed, with 70 more days of shooting left on Pirates 3. Lord of the Rings veteran Orlando Bloom is used to it by now.
"It's a real ensemble movie so it's not like I'm on the whole time," Bloom says. "But it was a challenge because you've got the arc of two movies to cover. You can shoot a scene from the second movie in the morning and the third movie in the afternoon and trying to remember where your character is emotionally or whatever at that point in the movie can be a bit more challenging. You just have to play the truth of the moment and thankfully we got great writers to create great stories and characters and develop it so it's not just one note."
It also keeps the cast locked together. "You're never going to get this cast and the writers and everybody back together again," said Verbinski. "Once you have had to negotiate everyone's deal and get everybody to commit, it's much better to make two. If we'd just made the second movie and then three years down the road tried to get everyone back together I think it would have been a different thing."
Johnny Depp returns as Jack Sparrow without the controversy he faced on the first film. Studio executives debated him on the very number of gold teeth he would wear. With the character an established icon, Depp had total freedom on Dead Man's Chest, though he can't say if he took advantage of that.
"I was just sort of doing what I do," Depp says. "All the sort of things that are happening in the world or in your world, immediately sort of affect the way that you approach your day and all of that, and that can't help but sort of seep into the work, I guess. It probably made it a little easier that I wasn't getting the phone calls, the panicked, worried phone calls like, 'What the hell are you doing? You're ruining the movie!' I didn't get those this time. That might have helped to add a little bit of spring, but I don't know because I haven't seen the spring. I haven't seen the film so I don't know. I'm scared to see it."
Don't worry, it's not free for all acting. Verbinski helps Depp keep Captain Jack within some boundaries. "We have lots of discussions about when is too much too much," says the director. "We go for it and then in the edit room, we kind of go, 'O.K., that's one tooâ€¦ We're getting ridiculous here.' We like to go back to ridiculous, but we like to keep it absurd and always have a little bit of tension. The thing about Jack's character is that there is an honest streak. And I think that's what we always keep coming back to. Jack thinks he's a bad boy, but he would love to not be as kind of good as he really is. So, the myth is out in front of him, but the truth is he's a pretty honest guy. He just hates that about himself."
He's also the source of comedy in the Pirates films. "Oh boy, that's the key," said Depp. "How do you keep it fresh? How do you keep it working? For me, there's a real fine art to the timing that I'm still working on because you go back and watch guys like Chaplin and Keaton or even in the dramatic roles, Lon Chaney, the timing, especially in those silent films is just astonishing. But also in today's cinema, timing can be helped or hindered by editing. So I don't know. I just sort of do my best."
On the fringes of Captain Jack's adventure, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan are back trying to consummate their relationship. With their wedding interrupted because of their dealings with Jack, they are on a far more personal quest to catch up with him again.
"Elizabeth and Will, their love was sort of infantile in the first movie," says Verbinski. "It was very cute and pure and they are growing up. In looking at where we are going to end up in the third movie, I think the second movie is where they have to deal with real issues of love. I think in the first movie it was more storybook love. It was sort of, 'Oh, isn't that cute.' It hits all the traditional buttons, but it doesn't take you anywhere, because it's not that complicated. In the second movie, we are dealing with real life. You deal with jealousy, you deal with how they are going to end up. For them to survive, it's an interesting parallel which gets more elaborated in the third film which is the love story of Davey Jones and why did he pull out his heart? And how that relates to the love story of Elizabeth and Will. I mean, are they same path and are they going to pull out of that nosedive and what's going to happen? It's just important that the love story became more complicated. A marriage has to survive. It doesn't exist in that storybook world."
It requires Will to be more of a man of action. "He goes from being a straight-laced kind of upright stick in the mud to becoming more of a bit of a pirate in this one, thankfully," said Bloom. "It was kind of like discovering my inner pirate for the first time in a way."
Despite the additional peril this journey puts his character in, Bloom never felt unsafe. "Danger isn't the right word because it's a set. It's a controlled environment. It's fun. It's hard. Running backwards on top of a wheel was really difficult as it's rolling down a hill, but no danger."
Captain Jack actually changes the least. Perhaps he's the anchor to the story, pun intended. "It's a really tricky one with Captain Jack, because I don't think he's the kind of character that you want to give a tremendous arc to," say Verbinski. "He succeeds. He's such a piece of garlic in the soup that you need seven straight men against him. He can't just rub against one. He needs to rub against a series of archetypes and a series of plot constructs. You have to somewhat make the movie without him and then put him in. Because if you just made the Johnny Depp movie it's just too much of one flavor. You need some kind of broth to put it into."
For Depp though, there was a slight growth. "Basically he's the same guy," Depp says. "There's a purity to the character. We've seen him panic, we've seen him on the run but this is the first time we've really seen him in mortal fear, really afraid for his life. Once Davy Jones says, 'Time's up, you've got to pay up,' there's real panic there and he knows the clock is ticking so that's what I was trying to do.'
Ultimately, the success of the original Pirates of the Caribbean set up impossible expectations for the sequel. "I think they are just impossible to manage," says Verbinski. "I think we have a lot of fun on this film and I think we are going to approach it as a fantastic ride and the characters are evolving and the story is evolving. I think hyped films always get blown way bigger, so at some point expectations are always going to be hard to deal with. I just think I'm not going to try to live up to those expectations, I'm going to try to live up to mine as I make the movie. And these are the films that I would like and these are the films I enjoy and these are the films that surprise me, because expectations are expectations. I don't think audiences want what they want; I think they want what they haven't imagined yet. I don't make shoes. I'm not trying to make something comfortable. I'm trying to make something that takes you to a different place, that isn't what you'd expect. I don't think people will be disappointed."
From the actors' perspective, topping the original is no cause for concern. "What's great about this film is that they did top it," says Bloom. "How do you top pirates going skeletal in the moonlight and coming out. That's a hard thing to do. But I think the mythology of Davy Jones and the ocean, that tops it. Johnny Depp's entrance, how do you top a ship that sinks down and then he steps onto the dock? How do you top that? It's really hilarious the way he enters this movie. It's brilliant. It tops it in a different way. You can expect more as well."
Some of those comic situations end up pretty messy. Depp had to give his first slime covered performance in the film's climactic gag. "You can still focus, but when they dump kind of a large amount of an incredibly foreign substance in your face, and you don't know what to expect until it hits you, you don't really rehearse that kind of thing," says Depp. "So there is a part of you going, 'God, I hope that this doesn't shoot up my nostrils or down my throat or you just inhale the stuff and drown in slime on film.' So that was little bit of a concern."
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest opens July 7.