10 Dramatic Behind-The-Scenes Stories That Changed How We Watch The ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ Movies

When the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was announced, audiences rolled their eyes at the notion of a massive summer movie based on a Disneyland ride. Eyes stopped rolling when Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl became a genuine hit, and spawned a franchise of five films that earned over $4.5 billion worldwide. The series ranks fifth on Ranker’s fan-voted list of the Greatest Film Franchises.

Filming on the high seas is notoriously difficult, so naturally, creating this juggernaut of a blockbuster series was eventful, dramatic, funny, and at times even dark. Just watching the films, you’d never know that Johnny Depp held onto his gold teeth even after playing Jack Sparrow, or that Keira Knightley described her sudden fame as “horrific” following the first movie’s runaway success.

So set sail for a journey through stories straight from the making of all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, from Curse of the Black Pearl through Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Jack Sparrow’s Slurry Speech Was Controversial At Disney

Photo: Pirate’s of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest / Buena Vista Pictures

It may be hard to believe, given that he ended up with an Oscar nomination for The Curse of the Black Pearl and immediately became the indispensable character in the franchise, but Johnny Depp’s radical take on the character wasn’t so popular with studio head Michael Eisner at the outset. Particularly his slurry, perpetually soused speech patterns.

According to Depp, he “fully expected to get fired” when he got a call from a Disney executive asking him “What the f*ck are you doing? Is it drunk?” in reference to Sparrow’s outlandish demeanor. Depp even claimed that the studio debated adding subtitles on the screen for Sparrow’s lines. Thankfully, that idea was abandoned, and audiences had no trouble tracking Sparrow’s memorable dialogue.

In Hindsight, Keira Knightley Said Her Sudden Fame Was “Horrific”

Photo: Pirate’s of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest / Buena Vista Pictures

Though she briefly appeared in Star Wars: Episode I and starred in the indie film Bend It Like Beckham, the initial Pirates of the Caribbean was Keira Knightley’s first starring role in a major blockbuster, and she was 17 years old at the time of production. The film’s massive and immediate success led Knightley to share later, “it took many years of therapy” to overcome the trauma of becoming wildly famous overnight at such a young age. “I found it pretty horrific,” she told Variety. “I’m not an extrovert, so I found that level of scrutiny and that level of fame really hard.”

In 2023, Knightley reflected on that sudden rise to fame, and admitted that she felt “constrained” by the role of Elizabeth Swann. In the series, that character “was the object of everybody’s lust,” Knightley explained. “Not that she doesn’t have a lot of fight in her. But it was interesting coming from being really tomboyish to getting projected as quite the opposite.”

Knightley says she felt “stuck” in that mode, and made a conscious effort to choose roles in the future that departed from a sexy damsel in distress. “It very much felt like I was caged in a thing I didn’t understand,” she said.

The Role Of Jack Sparrow Was Named And Intended For Hugh Jackman

Photo: X2/20th Century Studios

Imagining anyone besides Johnny Depp in the role of Jack Sparrow is surreal at best, since he’s so synonymous with the character. Somewhat surprising, then, is the fact that Depp wasn’t the first choice for what would become a major role.

Australian screenwriter Stuart Beattie revealed that Jack Sparrow was named after – and imagined for – actor Hugh Jackman, with the “Jack” in his last name teeing up the memorable full name. Jackman was a well-known actor in his home country of Australia at the time, and had broken out globally with 2000’s X-Men and the 2002 follow-up X2, but Depp still had a larger international fanbase and greater recognition.

Sparrow Was Inspired By Keith Richards and Pepé Le Pew

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Warner Bros.

The Rolling Stones aren’t necessarily the most obvious cues for an 18th century pirate, but Depp seemed to think one Stone in particular was just right when he sought out inspiration for crafting Jack Sparrow. He imagined pirates to be the rock legends of the 18th century and Keith Richards to be “the coolest rock-and-roll star of all time… Hands down.” Richards even made a cameo as Captain Teague in the third installment, At World’s End.

Another inspiration for Depp’s character came from Looney Tunes‘s infamous skunk, Pepé Le Pew, who has “blinders no matter what the actual reality is” and who is “the kind of character who always was able to run between the raindrops. He’d just always make it through.”

Those Gold Teeth Stuck Around For A While

Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest / Buena Vista Pictures

The gold teeth Depp donned for his role as Jack Sparrow stayed on after filming – multiple times.

After principal photography on The Curse of the Black Pearl wrapped up, Depp continued wearing Sparrow’s array of gold teeth for weeks, going about his life in Sparrow mode. He explained in a 2003 interview, saying:

I remember saying, ‘I’m going to keep them for three more weeks and that’s it. You’ve got to let me know in three weeks if we’re going to be doing reshoots.’ Three weeks passed, they said, ‘No, we’re not doing reshoots.’ I was over in Europe, and I realized I was 5,000 miles away from the dentist who put these things on.

He pulled the same move in 2006, still flashing his gold-capped smile after Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End finished production.

An Earpiece Reportedly Fed Depp Dialogue On The Fifth Film

Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales / Buena Vista Pictures

Depp sued his managers in 2017, claiming they swindled him of millions of dollars, while the Mandels claimed Depp demanded they fund his expensive lifestyle.

His managers accused Depp of employing a sound engineer on yearly retainer to feed him movie lines in an earpiece, including during the filming of the fifth Pirates film, Dead Men Tell No Tales.

While Depp admitted to using an earpiece, he claimed it was only to provide him with ambient background sounds so he could better emote on screen.

Zoe Saldana Was “Bitter” About The “Elitist” Set Of The First Film

Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl / Buena Vista Pictures

Long before she starred in the Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avatar films, Zoe Saldana played pirate Anamaria in The Curse of the Black Pearl. Later, she said that she largely loved the film’s crew, but that she worked with “a lot of people who were great and a lot of people who were not so great.” The politics behind the scenes  were arduous. “I left that experience feeling a little bitter,” she said. In fact, she nearly left acting altogether, saying:

It was a lot of above-the-line versus below-the-line, extras versus actors, producers versus PAs. It was very elitist. I almost quit the business.

Penelope Cruz’s Sister Filled In As Her Stunt Double

Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides / Buena Vista Pictures

While filming of the franchise’s fourth film, On Stranger Tides, Penelope Cruz was newly wed to actor Javier Bardem, who later took a role as terrifying Captain Salazar in the fifth movie.

Cruz was, in fact, pregnant during the production but fortunately, her younger sister, Mónica, closely resembles the star. Mónica stepped in as Cruz’s stunt double during sword-fighting scenes and may have even doubled for her in other shots to hide her pregnancy.

Depp And Orlando Bloom Were Trained By A Lightsaber Legend

Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl / Buena Vista Pictures

Remember the heart-stopping lightsaber scenes in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi? Those were fought by legendary fencer Bob Anderson. Anderson also brought his talents to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Thanks to Anderson’s training, viewers will forever remember that heart-stopping barn sword fight between Will Turner and Jack Sparrow. Stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge called Anderson a “legendary sword master,” noting that his expertise was invaluable to lending authenticity to the fight scenes. Anderson passed in 2012 at the age of 89.

Geoffrey Rush Liked To Be The First Person Viewers Saw In Any Shot

Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl / Buena Vista Pictures

Just as you read a book from left to right, you process images on a screen the same way – at least, that’s what one source claims Captain Barbossa’s actor, Geoffrey Rush, said.

For that reason, Rush is seen on the left side of the screen in many of his scenes. Jack the monkey is to his left, and the rest of the crew tends to “follow” on the other side.