It’s not everyday that you jump on board a nearly 15-year franchise — especially one that’s as prominent in the pop culture zeitgeist as Pirates of the Caribbean. Given the strong brand recognition of the franchise as a whole (not even including the movies), it’s an intimidating prospect for anyone to jump in head first. That’s exactly what collaborators Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg did when they hopped on board Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth and latest entry in the successful Disney film series.
LRM recently had a chance to sit down with Rønning, and in it we discussed everything from how they locked down the gig to his long-lasting relationship with co-director Espen Sandberg.
LRM: How did you manage to get the gig?
Rønning: I think that Pirates of the Caribbean reminds me of the kind of movies that I grew up with, the kind of Hollywood adventure, family movies. Movies that made me want to become a film maker. It’s in that sense very much in my world. So when we learned that they were planning to do another Pirates of the Caribbean, we went for it, we chased it, and we worked very hard. In the middle of that process, our previous film, Kon-Tiki, got Oscar nominated. That really helped to get the gig for sure.
LRM: You actually had to fight for it?
Rønning: Absolutely, you don’t get anything without fighting for it here. You have to show passion, and you need to have a vision, and you need to shine in 20 meetings. Maybe then you get the job.
LRM: So my next question, since there’s previous pirate movies, what did you and Sandberg set out to accomplish with this film in terms of how it compares to the other films?
Rønning: I think it was important for us, we’re fans of the franchise as well. It was important for us to analyze why we love it so much, especially the first film. How can we catch that lightning in the bottle again? I think it’s a combination of several things. It’s the spectacle and the adventure of course, but then also it’s very funny. It’s great comedy. It scares you, it has horror elements. But most of all, I think it’s because it has heart. And that mix I think is the reason why this is such a special and popular franchise.
Rønning: No, we grew up together.
LRM: That’s how you met, that was my next question.
Rønning: Exactly. We’ve been making movies since we were 10 years old with my dad’s video camera. So for us, it’s a very natural process. I think it’s a very collaborative one, and I think we always include the actors and the crew, it’s a very open forum I would say, trying to create an environment where ideas are welcome. Our job is basically just picking the right idea.
LRM: Okay. So you pretty much read each other’s minds, you have an idea what you both like.
Rønning: Yes and no. I think that we do have different sensibilities, that’s probably the strength of the partnership. If we were exactly the same, it wouldn’t be an advantage.
LRM: Now can you tell me about your upcoming project, “Origin”?
Rønning: I’m doing a couple of movies attached to a very interesting project called Micro with Steven Spielberg producing. It’s based on the Michael Chricton novel. That’s for DreamWorks and Amblin and Universal. There’s other projects out there, but right now I’m so excited to have this movie out, I can’t wait to show it to the world to be honest. It’s been a very long journey for us.
LRM: And can you tell us how it was working with Mr. Depp?
Rønning: It’s fantastic. There’s so much of him in Jack Sparrow and vice versa, he created this character. I think our job was more to work with the comedy with him. He knows Jack Sparrow, that’s not part of our job. It’s more distilling and tweaking the humor, and those mornings him with the trailer, it’s hilarious and magical at the same time. He is Johnny Depp, he is Jack Sparrow, and you’re sitting there, you’re creating a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, it’s a dream come true.
LRM: How did you manage on the film, the younger Jack Sparrow? It was really good, how did you?
Rønning: That is Johnny Depp, he’s been in a computer for a year.
LRM: Seeing the film it’s like all the things, the features, everything, the expressions, it’s him.
Rønning: It’s insane. It’s a process we call youthification, and it’s a company in Santa Monica that does it. It’s a very complex process, and we worked so hard on making it feel real. Because when you start changing a face, it’s complex and extremely difficult because if it’s not exactly right, you will see that it’s fake, it needs to be exactly right. Researching 21 Jump Street, Crybaby, those early movies and TV shows with him to try to get that look, Johnny was thrilled with the look of that. He flipped out. I think he saw his career could last another 30, 40 years.
LRM: It was very impressive. When I was watching I was like, they couldn’t get another look alike so good in the facial expressions.
Rønning: I agree, it’s very good.
Rønning: Kaya, that was fantastic. First of all, she’s an amazing actress. I think for us, it was so important to have a strong female lead, and someone that can hold their own in this crazy, pirate, dirty, male dominant world I would say. She came in and I love her in the role of Carina. I have two daughters myself, so it was also important for me to have a lead in the movie they could look up to and identify with. I think it’s important also for Brenton Thwaites, who plays Henry, to have characters you can relate to. That is the emotional core of the movie, because there’s so much spectacle and fantastical stuff going on around it.
LRM: Well, congratulations. Actually, one more question. What about her scenes with the dress? In half the movie, she’s wet.
Rønning: It was horrible for her.
LRM: I saw the dress out here and I thought, that looks pretty heavy.
Rønning: She’s just a trooper. She never complained about anything. She was there, she was on it. She even fell down the stairs on the black pearl and hurt her shoulder, and I think it even popped out, what do you call that? She kept on shooting. It was insane.
LRM: You’re like, I’ll work with her again.
Rønning: For sure, I wish.
LRM: Great. Thank you so much, I really appreciate your time.
Rønning: Thank you so much.
Pirates of the Caribbean is out in theaters now!