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Nobody knew quite what to expect when the first movie based on a Disneyland theme park ride hit in 2003. Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow became an immediate hit with movie fans, though, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl went on to spawn three more films (with a fourth sequel on the way) and over $1 billion dollars for Disney. However, there was a time when nobody believed it less than Depp, himself. There was a time he believed his portrayal of the character was going to get him fired.
Depp was a recent guest at AFI Fest in Los Angeles, where he spoke about some of the difficulties he has had in his career. Vanity Fair has Depp’s comments about how Disney didn’t seem to understand what the actor was trying to accomplish with his Keith Richards-inspired portrayal of Captain Jack, and they were afraid he was going to sink the movie.
It trickled back to me that Michael Eisner went on some sort of bent about how ‘Goddamnit, Johnny Depp’s ruining the film! Is it drunk? Is it gay?’ And so I fully expected to be fired, and I got a call from the upper echelon at Disney who were courageous enough to ask me, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’...They were actually gonna put subtitles under my character, they couldn’t understand Captain Jack.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that the former Chairman of The Walt Disney Company was not a fan of Johnny Depp’s Pirates performance... at least until, we assume, the box office receipts started rolling in. The subtitle revelation is something a bit new, however. Of course, the fact that you can barely understand the guy, and at some point legitimately can’t, is part of the character’s charm. He doesn’t come across as permanently drunk so much as a pirate who’s maybe been out in the sun a little too long. As far as being gay, hey, Disney’s actually a pretty inclusive company when it comes to that, so it really shouldn’t have mattered, even if he was.
Still one can only imagine what was going through the minds of the execs. $150 million on the line for a pirate movie, a genre that, prior to Black Pearl was famous for bombing in attempt after attempt. If you remember Cutthroat Island, you know what I’m talking about. Oh, yeah, and it was based on a theme park ride. Still not a proven medium for adaptations beyond the Pirates franchise itself. The deck was about as stacked against the first Pirates movie as it could possibly be. Ironically, it was one of the things that they were afraid was a strike against the film that ended up being its saving grace.
Johnny Depp’s character has become so popular that he’s become the focus of the most recent films, a move which may not have been the best choice. Still, he’s the worst pirate you’ve ever heard of, but you have heard of him.