The Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise is a billion-dollar success story with five movies and counting to this day. Largely this is down to Johnny Depp’s Oscar-nominated performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, who has been the face of the blockbusters for almost two decades. But when shooting the first movie in 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl, Disney had big concerns over where Depp was taking the character.

In a new interview, Pirates of the Caribbean producer Jerry Bruckheimer said how originally Jack Sparrow was set to be kind of like Burt Lancaster.

The Golden Age Hollywood star, best known for playing tough guys with a tender heart, played dashing gentleman swashbuckler Captain Vallo in 1952’s The Crimson Pirate.

Sold as the Robin Hood of the seas, Lancaster’s pirate was more of an anti-hero Captain America – a far cry from where Depp took the character.

Jerry remembered first hearing the star’s take on Sparrow at a reading for The Curse of the Black Pearl that took place at LA’s The Viper Room.

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Speaking on the Literally! with Rob Lowe podcast, Jerry said Depp started playing this “hilarious, off-the-wall character”.

And when Disney wanted to see Sparrow’s costume, the star had every one of his teeth painted gold.

In the end former Disney Chairmen Dick Cook called up the Pirates producer and said the studio just couldn’t make a movie with Depp like that.

This was even before they’d seen his costume, which the actor purposely overdressed by a third during the fitting as he knew he’d be required to tone down his look.

Jerry added: “There was no merchandising done…they had very little faith in the movie.”

Nevertheless, the producer convinced Disney to make Pirates of the Caribbean their first PG-13 movie for the sake of Depp’s Sparrow performance.

Pirates co-star Greg Ellis, who played Lieutenant Commander Theodore Groves in three of the five Pirates movies and was at that Viper Room reading, told “There was nervousness and low expectation.”

After all, it had been almost a decade since the last Hollywood movie about pirates (other than Muppet Treasure Island) hit cinemas.

Cutthroat Island, starring Geena Davis and Matthew Modine, was a total bomb and led to the closure of Carolco Pictures as a result of its failure.

With this in mind, Ellis said of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie: “Nobody expected it to do as well as it did.”

Of course, in the end, Depp was Oscar-nominated for Sparrow, the movie was a huge hit and spawned four sequels to date.

A sixth Pirates of the Caribbean movie is now in works starring Margot Robbie, however, Depp’s future in the franchise is far from certain.


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