There’s a lot of different players in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, but perhaps the most perplexing is Paul McCartney’s cameo. The return of Captain Jack Sparrow brings with it most of the previous leads – naturally, Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa is back to chew up the scenery like it’s a bushel of apples but so is original trilogy icon Will Turner – and some fresh faces of significant importance – villains with scores to settle and children of said icons on an adventure. Within that cast, though, is the former Beatle.
McCartney was announced for the film back in May 2016 and as the movie’s Memorial Day release reared into view took an odd position in the marketing, with the musician sharing a poster featuring his barely recognizable character that seemed to suggest he was going to have a semi-substantial role.
Of course, he isn’t the first music revolutionary to appear in the series. Johnny Depp famously based Jack’s flamboyant approach to privateering on The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, leading to the guitarist appearing in At World’s End and later On Stranger Tides as Captain Teague, Sparrow’s father. In both films his scenes were brief, tongue-in-cheek nods to the behind-the-scenes inspiration, but became fan-favorite moments in the series regardless. Getting a member of the rival band seemed to be some sort of extension of the joke, although if that’s the case the punchline is a bit odd.
In the end, McCartney gets a single scene – and a very short one at that. Early on in the film Jack finds himself in prison and during his inevitable escape comes across his Uncle Jack in another cell – yes, he’s Sparrow’s nakesake. Paul’s character is thus presumably Teague’s brother and seems more than at home in jail, happily playing cards and joking (his gag of choice involves a skeleton walking into a bar and asking for a beer and a mop) while his nephew escapes; he flippantly discusses a routine beating from soft-handing Victor. After that, though, Jackie isn’t seen again and the audience is left wondering what was all the fuss about. All that hype for a nothing bit part?
It’s possible that changes were actually made to the cameo. As first reported, the cameo was part of a big action set piece added during reshoots that featured McCartney prominently. The sequence those stories were talking about is presumably the jail break and subsequent guillotine escape and thus the reports of a key role were an exaggeration, but on the flipside it may be that a punchline to the appearance was planned but ditched for whatever reason.
The backstory of the scene that since been revealed may provide a bit more of an answer. It turns out that the brief moment wasn’t originally intended for McCartney but as a second reprise for Richards. Speaking to USA Today, the film’s co-producer Espen Sandberg said those plans fell through due to “touring commitments” and the Beatle was settled upon almost as a joke gone wrong:
“So we needed another rocker and on top of our list was Paul McCartney. And Johnny said, ‘Well, I have his number.’ And of course Johnny has Paul McCartney’s number. So he started texting him. And it went back and forth. And then [Paul] said yes. So we were super happy.”
When you imagine Paul’s scene with Keith in his place is suddenly makes a lot more sense; all it’s doing is extending a three movie in-joke and so the brevity is less perplexing. But that doesn’t explain the weirdness of his marketing placement – or address the Kraken they’ve unleashed.