Jerry Bruckheimer on Casting Johnny Depp for 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and How the Second Film Was Almost a 'Disaster'

Mega-film producer says casting Johnny Depp was one of his team's "great coups."

ByABC News
May 18, 2011, 5:33 PM

May 19, 2011— -- Just weeks before the release of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," mega-film producer Jerry Bruckheimer was still in the editing room of his Santa Monica, Calif., offices attending to details.

"We had a picture that was about 2 [hours], 35 [minutes]," he said. "So we had to shape it down to a length where we feel the story works, and so I think the picture runs 2 [hours], 7 [minutes], plus credits."

At the controls, visual effects editor Marty Kloner was compiling the film's most dazzling effects.

"We're taking the best ones and we're putting it together in a reel to show the Academy," Bruckheimer said, "to hopefully be considered for an Academy Award."

Always thinking ahead, Bruckheimer has supervised every element of the widely successful, four-part "Pirates of the Caribbean" film series that has so far raked in $2.7 billion at box offices worldwide. "On Stranger Tides" premieres on May 20.

It has been no secret that Bruckheimer believes Johnny Depp's appearance makes the "Pirates" series. He said casting Depp in the lead role as Capt. Jack Sparrow was one of his team's "great coups."

"Now who's going to see a movie about a theme park ride?" Bruckheimer said of "Pirates." "For me, the key linchpin to telling your audience this is special, this is different [is] if Johnny Depp wants to do this."

Bruckheimer acknowledged that, at first, Disney executives were aghast at Depp's interpretation of Jack Sparrow, which he based on his kids' favorite cartoon -- Pepe le Pew. But, he said, they eventually came around. The Walt Disney company is the parent company of ABC News.

"When we cut a scene together and showed them how it was going to work, they got on board with it and it was understood what we're trying to do," he said.

Focused on keeping it creative and commercial, Bruckheimer has made some of the biggest blockbuster action movies to come out of Hollywood in the past 30 years: "Top Gun," "Con Air," "Black Hawk Down," "Armageddon" and "Pearl Harbor" are among them. He is also the producer for the long-running "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" television series and the critically-acclaimed reality series, "The Amazing Race."

Bruckheimer explained that his job as the producer on a film is like being the general manager of a football team.

"I'm the one who has to oversee it all," he said.

With decades of experience under his belt, Bruckheimer said the thousands of little decisions that go into each film are what determines its success.

"There's so many other mistakes that you can make along the way, and I've been there," he said.

One of those mistakes happened with the second installment of the "Pirates" series. Bruckheimer recalled when the creative team gathered in his office after a catastrophic preview of "Dead Man's Chest."

"It was a disaster," he said. "The kids didn't like it. ... We were ready to slit our wrists. We got the liquor out. I'm telling you, we thought our careers were over."

The answer to saving the film, Bruckheimer said, was to un-complicate its ending, a common conclusion for Bruckheimer, who said he reads every film and TV script produced by his company, Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

"If an audience doesn't understand the character's motivation or a plot point, you've lost them because they get bored," he said.

Bruckheimer knows that the fate of his films lies with the audience, which he says is "never" wrong. While he said he can't control the Twitter-fueled world of rapid-fire responses, it doesn't keep him from being the event-movie master.

Disneyland in Los Angeles, Calif., shut down once again this week for the star-studded premiere of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stanger Tides" so that stars Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz could walk the black carpet and special guests could have their pick of free rides.

"You want to send a message to the audience that the people who made the movie, who financed the movie, really believe in it -- and when they spend money on it, they believe in it," Bruckheimer said.