Who’s ready for another high seas adventure? Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the fifth installment in the franchise and reunites Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow with the pirate mates, including Capt. Hector Barbossa, played by the wonderful Geoffrey Rush.

This time around, the two must team up with young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and the scholarly Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) to find Poseidon’s trident that can break any curse, all while being chased by the ghostly Spanish captain, Salazar (Javier Bardem).

ScreenPicks recently sat in on a lively conversation with Geoffrey Rush, who talked about the experience playing Barbossa all these years.

This was an emotional one for your character, Barbossa. Without giving too much away, can you describe that process?

Geoffrey Rush: I had to suppress a lot of tears. Thank goodness I was wet. We couldn’t see Barbossa weeping. When I read the script, I looked back at the other films to see if this made sense. If that “secret” is known because it happens when Barbossa and Jack were younger. When he finds out the truth, you need a therapist to work through what he’s been hiding. Why did he get Jack the monkey, is it a surrogate substitute, you know what I mean?

The line Johnny has, which I love, when the name “Smith” drops – he’s tied up, which I love; he can talk all he likes but I’m still free – and he was going, “Smith, Margaret Smith, I remember that name. I remember you were naked and drunk, dancing on a table in a tavern.” That didn’t make it into the film, but love the idea that we had a frat boy past of shared naughty adventures. Bottom line for Barbossa is his narcissism and vanity and ruthlessness – and his shockingly good looks – but I like there’s something there that might reveal a vulnerability or a doubt. And it fits in because [this Pirates] is about parents and children, subliminally. It’s quite a deep film – it’s a Bergman pirate movie.

Did you and Johnny Depp do a lot of improvising?

GR: The script is sort of set, and we shoot fast and furious. It’s a lot of discipline because it’s a very industrial site, particularly in this one. Well, even more so in the first ones where we were always out on boats for week after week. I love props so when I knew the Black Pearl was mine and there were 80 pirates, I loved the fact Disney let them be grubby and disease-ridden and there was a gritty reality. And the fantastical nature of how the Flying Dutchman looked as a ship, that it could break the surface of the water. There’s a lot of action adventure with all of that.

But with Johnny, it’s always been the back story that I mutinied and took the Black Pearl and it’s always been like a marriage. I think now it’s more like the Black Pearl is the most beautiful girl in the world and we’re fighting over the same girlfriend. But Johnny does occasionally throw in some lines that come out of nowhere. I love the scene in which he is shanghaied into the marriage, saying, “How did I get here, what’s going on. I don’t want this.” And how will Jack once again get out of a perilous situation, which he always manages to do. Thankfully, Hector, his enemy shows up [to save Jack] and Johnny on the day adlibbed a line, complete non sequitur at his wedding, and said, “Did you bring me a present?” [Laughter] That’s so Johnny, so Jack, that irreverence and absurdity. It’s a smoke screen that Jack Sparrow uses. That you don’t know whether he’s greatest, luckiest hero in the world – and probably the most honorable person – or is he sometimes just a complete idiot? He kind of plays off people. They are never quite sure who they’re dealing with.

What did you think of the huge sets on this Pirates?

GR: Well, in this story, the supernatural elements, which have always been there – Davy Jones was completely CGI’d, that abalone creature, which I thought was groundbreaking – I think the last 25 minutes of this film is groundbreaking. I reckon it’s raised the bar in imaginative CGI, really magical. We used to be at sea, but now it was more imaginative because with Salazar’s character, they wanted demonic, dark nighttime seas. That would have made shooting in reality impossible.

What was the most challenging scene?

GR: Thank god for Kaya Scodelario. She had worked on a film, I think one of The Maze Runner series, and she asked me, “Are you doing a scene where you have to hang upside down?” And I said, “Yeah, a little bit worried about that.” She said, “Do be.” Because she’d done a scene where she was hung upside down with dialogue for maybe 15 minutes at a time. But she’s young, athletic, brilliant and all that. I made a deal with the director. We have to shoot that with a line of dialogue at a time because it’s a lengthy scene. And boy, how ugly do we look? Barbossa upside down, with his own moth-eaten hair falling down, my eyes like this – it wasn’t a pretty sight. Javier and I had to keep the knife edge… he could have killed me at any point, but he knows that he can’t. But I thought cutting to 30 pirates hanging upside down just enhanced Salazar’s rage and his malevolence.

What do you think it is about the lore of pirates?

GR: I love the authenticity of how grimy and the maritime qualities of being at sea. The brotherhood, which it was. They went offshore on boats. And for their particular governments or monarchs – the Protestant British, the Catholic Spanish and the Portuguese – condoned piracy because you’d bring back some loot and you can keep a percentage for yourself, which they would share. So there’s a philosophical spirit behind it. Somebody asked me the other day who were contemporary pirates, and it’s the people who hack films or there are people smugglers. It’s a pretty ugly sort of historical phenomenon. But somehow in literature, they’ve caught imagination. The writers on this have kept this from the beginning of the films that Jack is an anti-hero who has a special compass that says go in this direction. And wherever it points, he’s an existential outlaw who goes, “I’m going to go there.” It’s that desire to go, “I can be irreverent. I’ll take my chances and meet the moment.” You could write philosophical books about existentialism and living in the moment.

Jack Sparrow is a personification of that. I think audiences find that very attractive. Even kids dress up as pirates, even when it wasn’t in pop culture. They love the sword and the hat. Barbossa’s hat is very important. In the very first costume fitting, we tried it without the hat, and he just sort of disappears. I looked in the mirror and said, “Where has he gone? Where’s the vanity?” It’s in the brain, it’s the feather. It’s a nice little haven for the monkey.

You must have some great monkey stories.

GR: Oh, please. The monkeys are trained so brilliantly. The best job in the world. People can complain about animals used in films, you go, look, relative to my trailer, the monkey is in a 5-star hotel. But the monkey is trained to have no relationship to me whatsoever. If it gets too close, it will want to start grooming me and bonding. If I pull a sword out, it would get frightened. It would think how have I offended my master. So the monkeys relate only to the trainer, who gives them rewards. Pablo and Chiquita, there were two monkeys.

I love it because there’s a comfort zone for me. Every time the monkey is on my shoulder, I get this warm, aromatic peanut breath. For every scene – and it’s so adorable. [Barbossa] is such a crusty old bastard and the monkey is so cute. [The trainers] go, “Pablo, over here!” and get the cues so it looks like the monkeys are watching everyone’s conversation. In the third one, we were in Singapore, and the monkeys there with their little hats on, lighting a rocket. The monkey is the cleverest character in the whole show.

Barbossa often gets lumbered with big expositional speeches and I was in the middle of one in this film, and suddenly there was this hurl of fluid, coming off my shoulder and all over my arm and my face and costume, which was a mixture of mushed peanuts, banana and coconut milk. And I thought, “Everyone is a critic.” [Laughter].

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