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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Director Rob Marshall on how ‘action’ is a kind of choreography

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Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Johnny Depp, Director Rob Marshall, Terry Rossio and Kevin R McNall
Johnny Depp chats with Director Rob Marshall, screenwriter Terry Rossio and Kevin R McNally, who portrays Joshamee Gibbs, on the Ke’e Beach location in Kauai © 2011 Disney Enterprises

Rob Marshall’s first three movies, Memoirs of a Geisha and the musicals Chicago and Nine, have garnered a total of 23 Oscar nominations. The acclaimed director now is taking on a new genre with gusto, helming the fourth in a phenomenally successful franchise – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

In this sequel, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is in search of the Fountain of Youth. Also in pursuit of the Fountain is Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Jack’s old flame, Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and her father, the legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

At the press junket for the movie Rob spoke about taking on an iconic series and making it his own.

What was it about this franchise that made you say yes to this movie?

Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Director Rob Marshall and Johnny Depp
Director Rob Marshall and Johnny Depp between scenes at Pinewood Studios © 2011 Disney Enterprises

I’ve always wanted to do a classic adventure film. I think some initially thought that it’s a departure from what I do, but for me it’s not really; it’s more of an extension, specifically because ‘action’ in general is a kind of choreography.

The action in Pirates, like a dance, is choreographed within an inch of its life. To make action sequences work, they are put together carefully like a detailed mosaic and that’s very similar with dance. The action must contain story and develop character.

What was it like to work with Johnny Depp?

Many people have said to me over the years, ‘You guys would be a great fit, a great match and you would love working with him and he would love working with you.’

Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Johnny Deep
Director Rob Marshall works out a scene with Johnny Depp filmed on the spectacular St James Palace set at Pinewood Studios in England © 2011 Disney Enterprises

So when I was asked about Pirates, the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘What a great opportunity it would be to be able to work with Johnny.’ Johnny is this extraordinary person because not only is he a genius and a creative force, but he is also such a kind, thoughtful and elegant man.

I really feel that he’s a throwback to another time. The man comes on set and shakes hands with everyone. He takes the time to make sure that everybody on set is happy.

I could talk for seven hours about Johnny Depp, there’s no one like him. He has this amazing ability to watch something and then pick it up and do it within seconds. He’ll hate me for saying this, but I don’t care. I’m going to say it anyway. He’s Fred Astaire. He’s this genius dancer. For me he is. He says that he can’t dance, but he can.

He’s extraordinary physically, as the entire cast was. I mean, Ian [McShane] was extraordinarily fit. And Geoffrey Rush, that’s all him fighting. It’s extraordinary. This is an incredibly physical group. I was very lucky.

How did you choose Ian McShane for the role of Blackbeard?

Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Director Rob Marshall
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Director Rob Marshall presents 20 minutes of 3D footage at CinemaCon on March 29, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada © 2011 Disney Enterprises

Johnny Depp, (producer) Jerry Bruckheimer and I sat down with a large list of actors, and when we went through the list and we got to Ian McShane, it was immediately clear what he was Blackbeard. He can play something evil, but there’s always humor behind it as well. He just has his own fresh take on things.

Can you talk about casting Penelope Cruz in this?

I saw Penelope in that role immediately. I couldn’t think of anybody else. It had to be an actress who could go toe-to-toe with Johnny and match him on every level. There had to be a sensuality to the character; there had to be humor, strength – a female pirate who is as smart, crafty and as clever as Jack Sparrow. Angelica needed to be all those things and, honestly, Penelope was the only choice.

You see this with great actors; they want variety in their careers and they don’t want to play the same thing over and over. [Penelope] was so thrilled, as I was, at the idea of doing a classic pirate adventure, a film that’s for families as well as everyone else. This was something completely different for her, and she embraced it. She can do everything. She’s extraordinary.

You worked with her in Nine, was it fun to work with her again?

Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Director Rob Marshall
Director Rob Marshall sets up a shot in thick jungle in Kauai © 2011 Disney Enterprises

Working with Penelope again was a huge, beautiful highlight for me. It’s interesting, this is a very different genre for me, but actually, when I began working on it, it felt very akin in a way to things that I’ve done before because of the rhythm.

How important was it for you as a director to have authentic Spanish people in the cast and the extras?

It was so lovely. Actually, it was also Johnny’s idea to bring the Spanish element into the film. He is an amazing writer as well and he is an incredible collaborator. We felt we needed a whole other faction racing to the Fountain of Youth to really help the urgency of the journey for everybody. And with the help of Penelope by the way, we found these incredible Spanish actors for our film, which is spectacular.

How would you sum up this experience for you?

It was a grand adventure on-screen and off. Each moment as we were making this film, whether it was in Hawaii or London or wherever we were, I believe everyone felt part of this unique experience.