Geoff Boucher caught up with director Rob Marshall on Monday and the result is the most revealing interview to date about the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” film. But beware, there be spoilers ahead…
When one of the pirate performers at Disneyland fired off a cannon early Monday morning, many of the tourists and toddlers in the park’s New Orleans Square jumped or shrieked — but filmmaker Rob Marshall never flinched. As the new master and commander of the massive “Pirates of the Caribbean” film franchise, Marshall is getting quite accustomed to loud noises, big-time firepower and unexpected hazards. “Isn’t this cool?” Marshall said with a faraway smile as he watched pretend pirates shimmy to the top of the theme park’s 84-foot-tall sailing ship. “What a great place to be.”
And what a surprising place, too, for a six-time Tony nominee whose Broadway choreography expertise led to splashy Hollywood success — the 2002 film “Chicago,” his feature directorial debut, which won six Academy Awards including best picture. The 50-year-old was nominated for an Oscar for director as well and that gave him plenty of latitude to pick his follow-up projects. In 2005, it was the drama “Memoirs of a Geisha” and in 2009 it was “Nine,” the musical starring Daniel Day-Lewis, films that earned decidedly mixed reviews but also combined for 10 Oscar nominations. And now, in an unlikely twist, he’s taking over “Pirates,” which has pulled in $2.7 billion in worldwide box office but has worn out its welcome with movie critics and perhaps even moviegoers.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush and Penelope Cruz) doesn’t hit theaters until May 20, but Disney is mightily focused on the film, especially after “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” failed to mint a live-action hero that could rival — much less replace — Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow. On Monday, Disney staged an elaborate premiere for the trailer for “Pirates” by inviting several hundred contest winners to see it in 3-D at Anaheim’s Downtown Disney and then stick around for rides, prizes and an after-party in the theme park. Television crews did live remotes, bloggers riffed on the new characters and KIIS-FM (102.7) was a partner in the event. Marshall, who wrapped principal photography just a few weeks ago, took in the whole scene with an expression of relaxed amazement. Afterward, we chatted a bit…
SPOILER ALERT: THERE ARE NUMEROUS PLOT POINTS REVEALED IN THE Q&A BELOW
GB: The trailer has a great spirit of fun to it and some new wrinkles — mermaids, zombies and Blackbeard, “the pirate that pirates fear most” — but it was also interesting to see the action moved into an urban environment with Jack Sparrow on the move in old London instead of tropical climes.
RM: I was excited when Terry Rossio, who wrote the script, presented the script to me and answered that question, “Where do you go next?” It doesn’t start on a ship, it doesn’t start in the Caribbean. The first act is in London and Jack has all his adventures escaping the king and being captured, so forth and so on. There’s a big carriage chase — you saw some of that in the trailer, he jumps from carriage to carriage — and then he gets kidnapped. Prior to that he meets Penelope Cruz’s character and they have a love-hate thing and, we find out, that it goes back years. The second act is on the ships. We go on to Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and it’s a new ship and a pretty brutal ship. He’s incredibly evil and the scariest villain in the movies so far. Then we’re on Barbossa’s ship, and he’s changed sides now, he’s working for the crown, so it’s a British navy ship. The third act is in the jungles because it’s the search for the Fountain of Youth. We shot in Hawaii but it’s meant to be in the Caribbean off of Florida. It’s not in Florida where people think it is. What’s fun is it’s a real adventure in the end and you go through jungles, cliffs, caves to find this Fountain of Youth. It’s nice to have that variety of imagery, it’s not all the same.
GB: This project wasn’t necessarily the most obvious choice for you. It’s an intriguing path. What do you see as the career challenges and the creative opportunities for you as you step into the director’s job vacated by Gore Verbinski?
RM: The reason I did this movie was to work with Johnny. That’s the real reason and there’s all these wonderful rewards along the way. But that was the main reason. I think he’s a brilliant actor and I came to find what an extraordinary person he is — a genuine, kind, elegant gentlemen; he’s funny and just fantastic. Also, for me, I always wanted to make an adventure. I was a fan of the “Pirates” series as well. I was always in line for them. Maybe because I come from choreography, I’ve always felt that there’s something about action films that made it very natural for me to go that way. It’s story through movement. I felt very at home doing action. So it was thrilling to step into that world. And also it was great to learn how to work in 3-D. We’re pioneers in a way, I have to say, we brought these camera into real places. They’re big rigs and we took them to really remote places — we were shooting on high cliffs and in caves. We brought these cameras in there and they are sensitive equipment. When you make a movie like this, you feel like an adventurer yourself.
GB: Some people are poets, some people are poems. Johnny Depp seems like a poem. Can you give me a sense of your emotional memory of working with him?
RM: He laughs a lot. When I think about Johnny, I think about laughing with him. He likes to laugh and to enjoy life. We’d start the day and I’d ask him to do some insane thing — “You’re going to swing off some rope, dive off of this, give a speech, then fight” — and every day he just met it with such joy. It was crazy some of things we asked him to do. There was never a scene where he was just sitting there talking. He’s incredibly fast. He learns the sword work very quickly and all of the stunt work. He likes to do all of that. He’s a real dancer in that way. He just makes everything work.
GB: There’s talk of this film launching a second trilogy. Is that something you’d sign up for? Or is it a subject that makes you uncomfortable to even consider at this juncture?
RM: Oh gosh, I know, they always talk about those kind of things. I feel the same way as Johnny. It’s all about story. What stories can be told? What was nice with this is that by having new characters — like Penelope Cruz as the first female pirate in the series — that brings a whole new energy, a new set of circumstances and story. Blackbeard is a new villain. And having the mermaids — they actually capture one and that brings a whole new world to the story. If you can find something to tell, a new story, then you go on. But if it feels like a retread, then there’s no reason to do it. Johnny loves this character and it’s become iconic.
GB: The mermaids are pretty fascinating on, uh, several levels. Coming into the project, what was the vision as far what they could be and should be?
RM: They’re two things in a way, which is interesting. We found that they are incredibly beautiful women — incredibly seductive women — that lure men to their deaths, like the sirens. They are women but they are also animal. With our mermaids, the water line defines where they’re women and where they’re creatures. Under the water, they are creatures. They feed on pirates, the men, and that’s how they see men, as something that sustains them. In the story, a mermaid is captured because they need, specifically, a mermaid’s tear. That’s one of the things needed to make the Fountain of Youth work. There’s a series of things. It’s not easy for them, believe me, we’re making it tough.
— Geoff Boucher
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