The third and final entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean saga is out on DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on Monday (that’s 19 November). Here’s a quick chat with the man in the director’s chair.
BEWARE, ME HEARTIES: THERE BE MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD .
The three Pirates of the Caribbean films have introduced so many youngsters to movies. What was the movie that changed your life?
“There are so many films... In this genre I go back to Ray Harryhausen and those films. I think I saw the James Coburn/Rod Steiger Duck You Sucker! when I was very young, probably too young, and being in awe of that style of filmmaking and the music.”
How did the series start for you?
“Jerry [Bruckheimer] had talked about doing a film and he called to see if I would be interested in doing a pirate movie. That was an instant ‘Yes’ because I am a huge fan and when are you going to get a call in this business and be asked something like that? We did not have a story at that point, but I knew this was an opportunity not to pass up.”
When you graduated from UCLA did you envisage that one day you would be making large-scale movies like this?
“Like anybody I was naive. I thought I would get a job directing and I ended up getting a job making coffee. That was at a music video production facility. So I was humbled early on. But I never expected this.”
This is a darker film that even has mass hangings. Did you always plan to be bolder in that respect?
“When you have expectations after the first two movies fulfilling them is impossible, so I liked to go back to what our state of mind was when we made the first movie. Then we had a willingness to experiment and to fail. So we were trying to get that same spirit of being bold and fearless and trying things. The hangings at the beginning take place in a world where Jack Sparrow is not present - what is that world like and why do you have to get him back, and what's at stake? I felt it important that the third film was the end of an era - like in a postmodern Western where the railroad comes and the gunfighter is extinct. It seemed that we had an opportunity to take a look at a world where the legitimate has become corrupt and there is no place for honest thieves in that society, so you have darker issues and a little melancholy. The myths are dying. That seemed a great theme with which to complete the trilogy.”
Was there ever an issue about the boy being hanged?
“I got a call at one point from an executive saying they were concerned about the hanging and I said not to worry it, would be done with us cutting to the thing he was holding falling... you were not seeing anyone's neck breaking. But I also reminded them that when they talked about the Disney brand, when I grew up Disney was Old Yeller and they killed Bambi's mother. Walt understood drama, he understood accessing that part of the brain. It was always a great place to start. Somehow that brand got corrupted and associated with something that was almost too tranquil. If you say we are worried about the brand then my argument is that we are being more true to it.”
What talks did you have about the running time of this movie?
“Those talks were between myself and Ted and Terry, the writers. We were aware of length issues but we had all seen short movies that play long and long movies that play briskly. We picked up so many characters along the way when we were making these movies and we were not going to abandon them. We were taking the threads and continuing to weave the fabric to its conclusion. So we used the complexity as an advantage.”
What was the most challenging scene in the film?
“Probably the maelstrom with the two boats... mechanically, physically and logistically that was the most challenging. We had very little time and had to take a quantum leap. The digital fabrication of the water was very complicated.”
Was there ever any resistance to the surreal scenes where Jack is hallucinating?
“I don't think that anybody knew what we were doing. These movies were made 10 months apart, so we had the luxury that nobody really knew what we were doing. So we didn't have any resistance. Once you have the idea of this personal hell, it’s very liberating - you are not burdened by narrative as you examine the madness of Jack. You can do anything.”
How difficult was it to do the hallucination when there are 30 or 40 versions of Jack Sparrow?
“Well you just break it down, the whole movie is difficult. You do the work, do the math and plot the shots. It is difficult, but we have a great crew and everyone contributed.”
How long did you have Keith Richards with you?
And everything was perfect?
“When you photograph Keith Richards you don't direct, it's like nature photography. He is a species unto himself. When he walks onto the set he is like a pirate and he is born out of time. It is quite apparent that the rest of us are pretending - even Johnny. Johnny does this thing, but he can turn it on and off; Keith has no switch, he is always like that. And he doesn't really stay where you put him, he wobbles. You just have to be very patient and it is like photographing a very strange insect.”
Were you worried you might not get anything that was useable from the two days with Keith?
“I did. I had to re-shoot everything the second day. It came down to making him comfortable. What I needed was Keith being Keith. Then he walked in and saw all these strangers. We have been making these movies for five years, we are a tight family and then a stranger walks in and it's not another actor, it's Keith. Put it this way: every aspect of the legend that you could possibly imagine was true. I don't want to say anything more specific than that, but use your imagination - it's all true!”
Keith Richards' bit of guitar music is listed on the credits as a new song?
“He’s a very wise businessman. I asked him to play ‘Spanish Ladies’ and he just played something kind of like that. We are happy to have an original Keith Richards song in the movie. We put three cameras on him and I asked if he could play; he sat down, we rolled and it was over; he broke a fingernail, got up and walked away.”
Were you offered pop music to include in the film?
“We have been fighting that off from the beginning. I felt that was a marketing ploy.”
What about a fourth film?
“Nobody is talking about a number four. Johnny has mentioned he loves the character so much that he would want to continue to play him. But this trilogy is concluded and, speaking for myself, I need a break.”