Johnny Depp says studio execs were initially baffled at his characterization of Jack Sparrow – which eventually nabbed him an Oscar nomination

By Jodi Guglielmi
November 09, 2015 03:20 PM

There’s no denying that Johnny Depp is one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors, known for his ability to completely disappear into a role. But one of his most famous transformations – as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean – almost didn’t work in his favor.

“They wanted to fire me,” Depp recalled while speaking at AFI Fest 2015, saying that studio executives didn’t quite understand the version of the character he had created. “I remember it trickled back to me that [former Disney CEO] Michael Eisner went on some sort of vent about how, ‘Goddammit, Johnny Depp’s ruining the film. What is it? What is that thing? Is it drunk? Is it gay?’ So I fully expected to be fired.”

When another executive called Depp to ask him about the character, the actor had the perfect response.

Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow) in Pirates of the Caribbean
Buena Vista Pictures/Photofest

“I said, well, didn’t you know that all my characters are gay?” he explained.

“I was really expecting to be fired. But they wouldn’t for some reason. They were actually going to subtitle my character – they couldn’t understand Captain Jack,” he says of the role, which eventually nabbed Depp his first Best Actor Oscar nomination.

In Depp’s latest transformation, he goes nearly unrecognizable as Whitey Bulger for the crime thriller Black Mass – and it has both critics and audiences singing his praises.

But what did those who were closest to Bulger think about Depp’s portrayal of him? Pretty spot-on.

Director Scott Cooper recalled a day on set when Bulger’s longtime attorney, J.W. Carney, Jr., stopped by to watch them film, admitting he was nervous about what Carney might think.

“Just before I called, ‘Cut,’ I looked over at him, and he was shaking his head. So I introduced myself to him, and I said, ‘Did we just not get it right?’ ” Cooper said.

Johnny Depp in Black Mass

“He said, ‘Scott, I’ve known this man for 30 years – to see Johnny capture him the way that he has, the way he looks, the way he talks, the way he moves, his eyes, everything. It’s as though his specter has come back in this room,’ ” Cooper recalled. “I thought to myself, ‘My God, we got him.’ ”

Even Depp, 52, marveled at the effect his transformation had on onlookers when he stepped out of his trailer one day in full makeup and saw the expressions on people’s faces.

“I’m walking out of the trailer, people are looking, the people on the street were checking me out and they’re looking,” he said. “They’re kind of shocked. There were a few that had these grim faces and I thought, this is fantastic. I wonder if I’m going to get shot.”

Reporting by SCOTT HUVER