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Pirates Of The Caribbean 5: Ten Revelations From Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg

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Ahoy there, mateys! The fifth Pirates Of The Caribbean movie sailed into cinemas last week, bringing the further adventures of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, new foes in the shape of Javier Bardem’s Salazar, and more opportunities for lazy journalists to use piratespeak in their copy. Also: Paul McCartney. As is tradition, the scurvy dogs o’ the Empire Podcast have assembled a Spoiler Special for the occasion (to be published shortly) – here’s ten things we learned from the directing team of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg.

Shiver me timbers! There be massive spoilers from the start, me hearties.


1. The regional-alternative title surprised the filmmakers themselves

Pirates Of The Caribbean

Depending on where you live, Pirates Of The Caribbean 5 either comes with the subtitle Dead Men Tell No Tales or Salazar’s Revenge. The US has the former, while most of Europe take the latter. The filmmakers don’t explain why this change was made – and, in fact, appear to be a little in the dark that it happened at all. “I didn’t even know [it was called] Salazar’s Revenge until I saw the poster!” chuckles director Joachim Rønning, implying that it was a decision taken out of their hands. “Somebody got creative!”

2. Paul McCartney agreed to cameo after Johnny Depp texted him

Pirates Of The Caribbean

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards is an improbable regular in the Pirates series, as Jack’s father, Captain Teague. But the fifth installment features an even more unlikely ageing-rocker cameo: former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, whose character poster revelation nearly broke the internet. According to Rønning and Sandberg, Richards was initially due to star, but had to pull out at the last minute. “We had a scene for Keith,” explains Sandberg. “We were ready to go. And then he couldn’t do it. It was a scheduling thing. So we sat down with Johnny and made a very short list of potential substitutes. At the top of that list, of course, was Sir Paul McCartney.”

For any other movie, hiring the world’s most famous rock star as a day-player might have seemed a tall order. Not on Pirates. “We thought, ‘How do we get hold of him?’”, recounts Sandberg. “Then Johnny went: ‘I have his phone number’.”

3. The production moved to London for a day so Keira Knightley could shoot her scenes

Pirates Of The Caribbean

Another surprise cameo comes in the form of Keira Knightley, the former series headliner, seen reuniting with her on-screen husband Orlando Bloom. Rønning and Sandberg hoped the reunion of Will and Elizabeth would thrill the Pirates fanbase. “We wanted this movie to feel important to the fans,” says Sandberg. “We also wanted this to work as a standalone, but we know that there are millions of fans out there, and this is a moment that they’ve been waiting for.”

Rønning says the idea of an Keira-cameo came fairly late in the day. “The original script didn’t have Keira in it,” he says. “We just realised as we started shooting with Orlando: ‘oh my God, we need to bring them back together!’” Knightley was approached, but the star was filming a different movie in London at the time. So the might of a Disney mega-production moved the mountain to her. “We moved the production to London for a day,” marvels Rønning. “It was one of those magical moments.”

4. Jack Sparrow never learns anything, ever

Pirates Of The Caribbean

We see a bit of Jack backstory in the new film, but as for future story? Nothing’s changed. And that’s as it should be, according to the filmmakers. By the end of the movie, “he’s learned nothing,” asserts Rønning.

“Jack doesn’t really have an arc,” agrees Sandberg. “People love Jack Sparrow. And I think they want Jack Sparrow the way he is. Because he stands for something that we can’t have – that freedom.” Don’t expect Jack to change his ways and clean up his act in any future Pirates instalment, then.

5. Barbossa is definitely (maybe, possibly) dead this time

Pirates Of The Caribbean

Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) dies a noble death at the end of the movie, sacrificing himself to take down Salazar and save his estranged daughter Carina (Kaya Scodelario). For those keeping track, this is technically the second time Barbossa has walked the metaphorical plank, having perished at the hands of Jack at the end of the first film – only to be resurrected in the final scene of Dead Man’s Chest. His death in Salazar’s Revenge is, the filmmakers feel, definitive. But in the fantastical world of Pirates, they can’t rule out his return. “We’ll see...” says Sandberg diplomatically. “We’re not making all the decisions.”

6. Johnny Depp was de-aged by some de-aging specialists

Pirates Of The Caribbean

Johnny Depp is the latest actor to bathe in a digital fountain of youth, appearing in a freakishly realistic flashback. Rønning and Sandberg confirm that they hired the best in the business for the job: Lola VFX, who have earned a reputation as de-aging experts, having knocked the digital years off actors like Robert Downey Jr., Michael Douglas, and most recently Kurt Russell. The team “spent almost a year ‘youthifying’” Depp, according to Rønning, in a painstaking process that used Depp’s early 21 Jump Street TV career as reference. The effect is terrifyingly uncanny. “All the actors can have comebacks now!” chuckles Sandberg.

7. Family is the major theme of the movie

Pirates Of The Caribbean

Like The Godfather, the Fast & Furious series or EastEnders, it all comes down to family. “Family is a strong theme in the movie,” says Rønning. “What we like about it is that a treasure is not always a casket of gold.” That extends to Kaya Scodelario’s character, Carina, who is revealed to be part of the Barbossa lineage. This stems from the filmmaker’s desire to give Captain Barbossa a good send-off. “We love Barbossa,” says Sandberg. “We really wanted to give him a great arc, a great ending. At the beginning of the movie, he’s got everything he wanted, but he’s not happy. There is a treasure he hasn’t really found.”

8. Jack’s compass was a tricky story problem to solve

Pirates Of The Caribbean

There’s a mythical MacGuffin in this movie in the shape of Jack’s compass, which the filmmakers describe as “the hardest nut to crack, from a story point of view.” A key element from the very start of the Pirates series, the compass famously does not point north, instead pointing to “the thing you most want in the world”. But figuring it into the script and how it related to Salazar took some time during development. “We needed some kind of key to unlock Salazar from his hellish prison in the Triangle,” explains Rønning. “That’s where it started. What kind of tools do we have? The compass is one of the most prominent gadgets that Jack had. So we started from there. It took a long time to solve it.”

9. Earlier drafts of the script had more fantastical elements

“Making Pirates Of The Caribbean is a blessing and a curse,” sighs Rønning. “Because there’s such a vast mythology. It’s tricky. It’s choppy waters.” As he and Sandberg put it, the approach is a balancing act between honouring that mythology (“there’s been 10, 11, 12 hours of film made!”) and bringing new mythology along, while keeping it all relatively grounded. But how do you do that in a franchise flooded with a cacophony of supernatural elements?

“We have strong fantasy elements in the movie,” Rønning acknowledges. “But we tried to limit them somehow. It’s always going to be important to ground it, even in Pirates Of The Caribbean. We have lots of fantastical elements – [the script] had even more in the earlier drafts. We shaved them off a bit.”

10. Zombie sharks!

Pirates Of The Caribbean

Finally, the internet became very excitable when an early poster teased the appearance of zombie sharks. Zombie sharks! “We wanted to create a new genre,” laughs Sandberg. There isn’t really much more to add there: zombie sharks speak for themselves. “Zombie sharks! Go and see that!”


Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is in cinemas now. The Empire Podcast Spoiler Special will be published shortly.

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