Although Johnny Depp has played a variety of roles throughout his career, he’s now best known for playing Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. His performance has played a big part in the films’ success, but Disney wasn’t fully on board with it at first. Based on the theme park attraction of the same name, Pirates of the Caribbean follows the travels and adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow, who has come across with all types of characters – both heroes and villains – and a couple of curses along the way.
It all began back in 2003 with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which introduced Depp’s Jack Sparrow, Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa, Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swan, and Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner. As the films evolved so did the characters, with most of them leaving the franchise at some point, but Jack Sparrow remained as the lead and connecting link between all films. Jack Sparrow has become the image of the series, to the point where he was added to the theme park attraction that started it all, so it comes as a surprise to learn that Disney initially didn’t like what Depp was doing with the character.
Jack Sparrow was originally envisioned as a supporting character, but the success of the first film made way for a bigger role for Jack in subsequent films. When producers were looking for the right actor to play Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp was looking to do a family film and approached the studio when he heard Pirates of the Caribbean was in development. Depp did some research in order to work on his portrayal of a pirate captain and surprised the cast and crew at the first read-through, though it wasn’t a pleasant surprise to everyone. Depp decided to model his performance on Keith Richards (who went on to play Jack’s father), something that didn’t appeal to some Disney executives.
Depp has been very open about how the people at Disney reacted when they saw his interpretation of Jack Sparrow, sharing that former Disney CEO Michael Eisner said he was “ruining the film”. Depp also recalls that some Disney executives were looking for ways to get rid of him as they didn’t like his character, and asked what was wrong with him, even wondering if Jack was gay. In an interview with GQ, Depp revealed that former Disney executive Nina Jacobson was the one who asked if Jack Sparrow was gay, to which Depp replied that all his characters are gay. In that same interview, Depp shared that the problem with working with big studios like Disney is that “they can get uncomfortable about certain creative decisions you make” and that “if the studio isn’t worried, then I’m not doing my job properly”.
Depp certainly made Disney executives uncomfortable with his interpretation of Jack Sparrow, but that’s what ultimately made the first Pirates of the Caribbean film a hit and made the rest possible. Given the success of the character and with it the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, Disney surely changed its mind about the character and how Johnny Depp decided to play it, and even worked with him again in the Alice in Wonderland films. Depp’s acting and work methods might not be every studio’s cup of tea, but they have worked very well so far, and Jack Sparrow is the best example.