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Depp Perception : Why For did Johnny really want to work for Walt Disney Studios ?

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Depp Perception : Why For did Johnny really want to work for Walt Disney Studios ?

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Kelly T. wrote me yesterday to say:

You didn't forget about that Matt McConaughey story that you started last week, did you? At this point, JHM readers have been waiting for almost a week for you to finally finish that story. Please don't leave us hanging !

Dear Kelly --

Sorry about that. Why don't I try and pick up where I left off last Friday ?

Now you have to remember that -- for a while there, anyway -- that Walt Disney Studios couldn't quite decide if "Pirates of the Caribbean" should be a movie that would be released to theaters or one of those relatively-rare live-action video premieres that Buena Vista Home Entertainment sometimes produces. You know ? Like "George Of The Jungle 2" or "Inspector Gadget 2." 

And if this movie was going to be a theatrical release ... Well, that meant that Disney would then need a name performer to help open this sure-to-be-expensive-to-produce motion picture. And given that (at that time, anyway) Disney execs were somewhat impressed with the work that Matthew McConaughey had just done on Touchstone Pictures' still-then-unreleased Summer 2002 release, "Reign of Fire" ... It was thought that McConaughey might be a good fit for the role of Jack Sparrow.

Matthew McConaughey in Touchstone Pictures "Reign of Fire"
Copyright 2002 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Now keep in mind -- at this point in the project's development, anyway -- that "Pirates of the Caribbean" had a much more conventional screenplay. By that I mean : This version of the script featured no cursed treasure and no undead pirates.

Instead, this version of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" screenplay started off with Will Turner working as a prison guard at the jail where Jack Sparrow is being held. And when the governor's daughter is kidnapped by the notorious Captain Blackheart and then held for ransom ... Well, Will breaks Jack out of prison. You see, Sparrow used to be a member of Blackheart's crew. And Turner is hoping that this newly freed prisoner will now lead him to Blackheart's secret hideout. So that Will will be able to rescue Elizabeth Swann.

So now these two, the ultimate odd couple -- the straight-laced prison guard & the burned-out buccaneer -- head out to rescue the governor's daughter. With the authorities (I.E. Governor Swann as well as the by-the-book Head Jailer) hot on their heels and fearsome pirates directly in front of them. And hilarity (and much adventure) ensues.

You see what I'm saying here ? This version of the story (Which -- surprise, surprise -- was cooked up by a trio of Disney creative executives: Brigham Taylor, Michael Haynes and Josh Harmon) was a bit on the bland & predictable side. And Jack Sparrow was basically envisioned as 2001's answer to Captain Vallo (I.E. The character that The Crimson Pirate." Which was the last successful pirate picture to be produced in Hollywood. Which -- FYI -- was originally released to theaters back in 1952).

Anyway ... Given McConaughey's passing resemblance to a young Burt Lancaster (More importantly, given that "Reign of Fire" director Rob Bowman had some very nice things to say about Matthew. That the actor had had given his all during that film's action sequences, that McConaughey hadn't ever complained while having to wait around on set while that movie's numerous pyro effects were being set up, etc.), it was felt that this actor might then be a smart addition to Disney's "Pirates" project.

Early Captain Jack Sparrow concept drawing 
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Right Reserved

But then again ... Let's remember that -- on the heels of "The Country Bears" not turning out nearly as well as Disney executives had hoped it would -- studio officials were still debating whether "Pirates of the Caribbean" should be a video premiere. And if that were to happen ... Well, obviously that version of "Pirates" wouldn't be able to afford someone like Matthew McConaughey. So that meant Disney had to then find some much more affordable alternatives.

As for the proposed video premiere version "Pirates of the Caribbean," I'll say this much : Mouse House officials certainly had some interesting casting ideas for Jack Sparrow. They ranged from hiring Christopher Walken (Who -- I think -- would have have brought a real edge, added some genuine menace to this character) to Cary Elwes (Who -- I'm imagining -- would have been just as charming as he'd been while playing the Dread Pirate Roberts in "The Princess Bride").

But then Dick Cook managed to get Jerry Bruckheimer interested in producing a motion picture version of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction. And once that happened ... All bets were off. Bruckheimer wanted someone really extraordinary to play Capt. Jack Sparrow. Someone that you'd never ever expect to see in a movie that was based on a theme park ride.

Which brings us to Johnny Depp. Who actually wound up being cast in this film not because Depp was interested in appearing in any live-action projects for Disney. But -- rather -- because Johnny was hoping that he might be able to land a job voicing a character in one of the studio's upcoming animated features.

 Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Strange but true, folks. You see, Depp and his longtime love, French actress-singer Vanessa Paradis have two small children, Lily-Rose and Jack. And when you have kids these days ... Well, you know the drill, right ? You spend hundreds of hours on the couch with your off-spring, watching the same damned Disney movies over & over & over ...

Which might sound like torture for some. But not Johnny ... You see, given how busy he'd been with his own career for the past 20 years, Depp was really unaware of what Disney Feature Animation had been up to during that same period. Which was why it was something of a surprise for Johnny to sit down with Lily-Rose & Jack and then discover how genuinely entertaining "The Little Mermaid (2-Disc Platinum Edition)," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin" and "The Lion King" were.

And given the obvious kick that his kids were getting out of watching these WDFA productions (More importantly, given how few of Depp's own films are really suitable for small children to watch) ... Well, that's why Johnny met with Dick Cook back in 2001. He wasn't there at that studio as Johnny Depp, actor. But -- rather -- as Johnny Depp, father. Johnny was just looking to do a voice for one of Disney's upcoming cartoons. So that he could then sit on the couch with Lily-Rose & Jack and be able to watch that movie with his own family.

 Dick Cook, Chairman of Walt Disney Studios
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

But Dick Cook ... He wasn't going to squander an opportunity like this by having someone of Depp's caliber do voice work for "Meet the Robinsons." As he listened to the names of all of the Disney films that Johnny & his kids had watched, Dick quickly realized that he was dealing with an actor who now had some real affection for the Mouse House and the types of movies that this studio produced.

Which is why Cook then decided to take a chance. Float a trial balloon, if you will. "You know," Dick said. "We're developing a movie that's based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride."

Hearing this, Depp then got all excited. "A real pirate movie ?," the actor asked. "With swords ?"

Cook replied. "Yeah. With swords."

To which Johnny then responded : "I'm in."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Right Reserved

Now keep in mind that -- at this point -- Johnny hadn't even seen a script for this film. Nor did he know what sort of character that Dick was envisioning him playing in this picture. None of that mattered. If Walt Disney Studios really was making a movie based on the "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction, then Depp wanted in. Period.

Of course, when Johnny learned that the production version of the "Pirates" screenplay was being rewritten by Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio (I.E. The two guys who wrote "Aladdin") ... Well, that was just the icing on the cake.

I mean, here was Depp, wanting to work on a Disney animated feature. But -- instead -- he lands a gig on a live-action project for that same studio that's now sure to have some cartoonish qualities. And it's a pirates picture, for God's sake. What's not to love about a job like that ?

After all, as Depp just said in a recent interview : "What little boy doesn't love to play pirates ? "

As for how the motion picture version of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride would eventually turn out ... That part of the story, I'm sure you already know. But isn't it weird to hear how movies like this actually come together ? How performers really get cast in high profile projects like this ? How so much of what happens just seems to come down to coincidence ? The luck of the draw ?

Anywho ... That's it for this week at JHM. You folks have a great Memorial Day weekend, okay ?

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  • I would have to imagine that the pirates movies wouldn't be half as popular without Johnny Dep. He brings a perfect quirkinss to the roll and it wouldn't be the same blockbuster juggernaut without him. I cannot wait to see the new one!

  • I totally agree jazzmoe I mean can you imagine someone like McConaughey playing Jack Sparrow I mean he doesn't strike me as someone who would work in a cult classic like Johnny has done soooo many times...I'm glad someone finally realized that Johnny could fulfill the quirckiness this role would have needed!

  • <<You didn't forget about that Matt McConaughey story that you started last week, did you? At this point, JHM readers have been waiting for almost a week for you to finally finish that story. Please don't leave us hanging !>>

    You haven't been reading this site long enough. Ask anyone about Star Tours, Light Magic, the Muppets, Mary Poppins, Tower of Terror, etc. :-)

  • I am obviously in the minority here, but I think that Depp made the picture unwatchable. I HATED the first one, I didn't see the 2nd one and I will not see the 3rd one.

    The way that Depp interpreted the character was to make him a parody of himself. So the movie is too serious to be a farce and too ridiculous to be a serious action adventure movie. It's like they couldn't decide which kind of movie to be, so they did both and the movie is disjointed at best.

  • Have you seen The Crimson Pirate? You have a mix of straight archetypes and oddballs like Vallo. Depp just ran with it.  

    "Believe only what you see. No, believe half of what you see. "

  • Some silliness is definitely required.  Been trying to make some sense of Mozart's "Magic Flute" recently, and though you've got the deadly serious love story going on, the one character that audiences seem to love the most is the guy dressed like a peacock.

  • haha, my goodness, that does sound like johnny.  he did get to do voice work for corpse bride-  hopefully he'll get his wish to do voices for disney in the years to come, now that WDFA is getting back in gear.

  • Given that it's already boarded and Depp was attached, how about "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote?

  • This is why I have recently come to revere Johnny Depp as one (if not the) greatest actors of our generation. He carefully chooses his parts based on what he likes, and when he does commit himself to a part, he buries himself in that role. He created the Jack Sparrow character all by himself. He is Jack Sparrow. I think it's amazing that he risked acting in a quirky way, one that the Disney execs and even his co-stars didn't think would fly, just to have it become a huge part of American pop culture.

    I was watching the bonus features for Dead Man's Chest DVD, and Depp had such a big part in his own character development, down to even the clothes. He knew what kind of boots, what kind of hat, and what kind of embellishments he wanted, and that's the mark of a great actor. Plus, we all know the story of him deciding to put gold on his teeth.

  • I thought I read in Disney Wars or Keys to the Kingdom...can't remember what book, that while Johnny wanted to do animation he was as keen on pirates until Gore convinced him this was a way to thumb his nose at the institution and Michael Eisner in particular.  

    That was the motivation for him playing Jack as edgy as he did.  Eye make-up, Keith Richards mannerisms etc.

    Just saw Pirates II it was great.

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