Disclaimer: This post contains minor spoilers for the latest Pirates movie.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the fifth entry in the long-running Pirates series, and the second one not to be directed by franchise-starter Gore Verbinski (the first being 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides). Given the big name surrounding this franchise, it was undoubtedly a hard gig to lock down for co-directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. We at LRM had a chance to sit down with co-director Sandberg, and right off the bat, we asked that very question.
LRM: How did you manage to get it?
Sandberg: Joachim and I chased the movie because we heard that they were going to make a Pirates, and we got hold of the script, and we absolutely loved it, then we started calling basically Disney and Jerry [Bruckheimer] to be allowed to pitch our take on it. We did that several times, we got higher and higher on the ladder, so to speak. In that process, our movie, Kon-Tiki, got nominated. That helped a lot. Then we got even higher, we got to meet with Jerry and Sean Bailey, everybody with Disney, and that went really well. At the very end we got to meet Johnny Depp. That was awesome.
LRM: For this question, what did you and Rønning set out to accomplish with this film in terms of how it compares to others in the Caribbean since this is the fifth? A lot of pressure, I imagine.
Sandberg: A lot of pressure, but we really watched all the movies, we love the franchise obviously, and I guess especially that first one. We analyzed what makes this a great movie. It has such a unique mix of spectacle and humor and horror and heart. We really wanted to make sure that this movie also has that, and that we’re pushing the envelope in every way we can, make it really funny, but also make it really emotional. We’ve been working hard on the script, on the story line, to make sure the characters all have a personal journey in the film. Even Jack Sparrow, who doesn’t really have an arc, but through the back story, we do learn a little bit about how Jack became Jack Sparrow, and also he became enemies with Salazar, and why he’s coming back. So we worked a little bit on Barbossa’s story line, we wanted to do him justice. And of course this young couple that comes in with a whole family theme.
LRM: Yes, and speaking of going back to Sparrow’s past, history, how he became captain, I have to say, young Sparrow was amazing. Watching the film it was like, who is this kid? Is it him? The facial features, everything was Depp. How did you manage it?
Sandberg: we shot it with Johnny. It’s all him, nobody else can play Jack Sparrow. And we’ve been working very hard in a very big computer for over a year to make him look young. Like 21 Jump Street. It’s really cool, we’re all super thrilled about the result, that we have that kind of tool.
LRM: Great job on that. Watching was like, is it him? He looks really young. Great job on that part. I understand you’re a childhood friend with Rønning. Was there, working together, you work great as a team, can probably read each other’s minds, dislikes, likes. But was there something in the film where you had a conflict on agreeing on something?
Sandberg: No, not conflict. We do definitely see things differently and have different ideas, that’s the whole point of a collaboration. I think the fact that we always have a conversation is a great thing, because we’re used to discussing ideas. We’re very open also with the actors and with the studio and our producers about everything. We encourage that. We want it to be a dialogue, we want it to be a collaboration. The best idea may win.
LRM: What’s your directing process aside from talking about it? Is there something from your previous projects that you follow or guide yourself to get to your start?
Sandberg: That’s hard to answer, I don’t know how everyone else does it. I don’t know what’s different. I think we really focus on the emotional core, on the story. And I think also for all the action pieces, for all the special effects, that it’s always character and always story that’s driving that. That’s only helping and never being in the way, I think is our approach.
LRM: Okay. It was heard there was a Terry Rossio draft that was put aside. Were you involved already around that time?
Sandberg: I don’t know anything about that, I’ve only worked with [screenwriter] Jeff [Nathanson].
LRM: Can you tell us about anything coming up you may already be working on?
Sandberg: Several things, but I can’t talk about it yet. I’m really now looking forward to a holiday after this. Close to four years actually, I’m happy to finally get it on the big screen, and I’m happy and proud and curious to see how it does.
LRM: And how is it working with Mr. Depp?
Sandberg: Amazing. He’s the coolest guy, he’s super funny, always interesting, he has a unique imagination that you can see when you see Jack Sparrow. That’s all Johnny. That’s been a pleasure, very fun.
LRM: And what about with Keira [Knightley]?
Sandberg: That’s also really nice. To have her back just feels so right. When we shot that scene, that’s sort of a spoiler a little bit. It’s a spoiler that she’s in. You really feel like you’re on the Pirates of the Caribbean set when she’s there, it felt like an important conclusion to the story line.
LRM: It was a nice throwback for sure. For the film, I’m just curious about this part. You had an actress with a dress that was wet for half the movie. How challenging was that for her?
Sandberg: We were in Australia, so it’s really nice and warm. You’d have to ask her, but she’s a tough cookie. I think it was okay.
LRM: And working with Javier Bardem?
Sandberg: Pure pleasure. He’s so hard-working, and such a nice, charming man. The cool thing is that he’s constantly working on his character, constantly working on the scene. How can we make it better, how can we make it more interesting, how can we add more layers? I was amazed when you see him on screen, the 1st time he comes down the stairs and talks to young Henry there, he’s both scary and funny, and he has this pain inside of him that you can feel at the same time. It’s so much going on, even though he has so much make up on and a hole in his head. So to be able to do that is pure magic.
LRM: You did make his villain character likable. I liked him, I fell for him. He was scary so it’s like, how do you really like him? I was kind of rooting for him. Okay, well thank you so much for your time.
Sandberg: Of course.
LRM: I greatly appreciate it.
Sandberg: Thank you.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is out in theaters now!