With the umpteenth Pirates movie recently released in cinemas, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, it’s worth looking back on the series and all of its casting decisions.
It’s difficult to separate essentially all of the actors from their roles, especially when their roles defined many of their future careers, but this is exactly what this article will attempt to do.
We can’t help but wonder how the franchise would’ve turned out without Johnny Depp as Captain Jack. Nor can we help but ponder the idea of an Orlando Bloom-less Will Turner. Yet times change, and with it, actors either suffer from bad publicity, or simply from poor casting choices, and thus fade into obscurity. In the current age, Pirates of the Caribbean would look vastly different, which seems obvious to say, but is much more difficult to imagine.
Nevertheless, we’ve imagined it. Featuring a mix of up-and-coming actors, veterans of cinema, and unconventional decisions, we’ve assigned each main character in the franchise with the actor that’s most suited to the role if the movie were recast.
So, What If Pirates Of The Caribbean Were Cast Today? Let’s find out.
Emma Watson may seem like a decent choice for Elizabeth Swann - she’s young, highly marketable, very British, and not afraid to participate in blockbusters. However, it must be remembered that Keira Knightley made her big break in the first movie.
Emma Watson’s simply too popular, and so we should turn to an actress who is largely unrecognized, but has the potential for great things: Florence Pugh. She’s a relatively unknown actor who has received high praise for her work in Lady Macbeth and The Falling, and her Britishness and on-screen charisma lends well to the role of Elizabeth Swann.
What’s more, her role in Lady Macbeth proves that she’s at home acting in the upper echelons of societal classes, and also displays, much like Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann, that she’s certainly not a push-over.
Hector Barbossa’s character arc was originally planned to finish after the first movie. Great public reception to the character, however, largely due to Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal, meant that he returned as one of the main recurring characters in the series.
This means that it's a big name to live up to. Thankfully, Michael Smiley is more than a competent replacement. Slowly gaining recognition after roles in Free Fire and The Lobster, as well as a small cameo in Star Wars: Rogue One; casting him as one of the series’ most beloved characters would be more than deserved.
He shares the gruff, dishevelled, twisted look that’s attached to Barbossa, and his roles in A Field in England and the Netflix series Black Mirror certainly proves that he can cut quite the menacing figure. It helps, too, that his Northern Irish accent is not far off Barbossa’s own.
Due to Jack Sparrow’s popularity, it’s difficult to look back and remember that Will Turner was originally envisioned as the main character of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Orlando Bloom may not have found critical or even commercial success beyond his roles as Will Turner (and Legolas in The Lord of the Rings), but it’s difficult imagining the blacksmith-turned-pirate as anybody but Bloom.
Yet Douglas Booth may just have the attributes required for such a role, and not just because he’s handsome, British, and his surname sort of sounds similar to Bloom's. For one, he’s a seriously talented actor. He proves this in movies such as The Riot Club and Noah.
Also, more importantly, the type of characters he plays (in The Riot Club and Jupiter Ascending for example) are as cocky and confident as you can get, befitting of Turner’s assured swagger.
Kevin McNally’s Joshamee Gibbs epitomizes a supporting character: perpetually on the outskirts of the action, but integral to the series, and a beacon of morality amid the treacherous antics of other characters (well, as moral a character as any in the Pirates franchise, at least).
Indeed, Terry Rossio, writer of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, considers Gibbs to be the most virtuous character in the series. Is there any actor more proven to portray an upstanding citizen in a world torn by sin and destruction than Liam Cunningham, famous for his role as Ser Davos in Game of Thrones? It’s doubtful.
Ser Davos is shockingly similar to Gibbs: he’s loveable, self-aware, gruff-voiced, possesses a streak of anger that’s only shown on occasion, and has experience being second-in-command. Cunningham fits the role of Gibbs perfectly and, due to Game of Thrones’ popularity, he would almost certainly be picked if Pirates were cast today.
Before 2015, very few had heard of Mark Rylance. Yet his role in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, and subsequent Best Supporting Actor award at the Oscars, has thrust the man in the limelight.
He received a main role in The BFG, and will show up on screens soon in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. While not exactly a typecast, his roles are usually humble, caring characters who are tender and fatherly.
Bill Nighy is much the same. His roles in Shaun of the Dead and About Time give him the impression of an actor most suited to acting as a loveable paternal protagonist. Thus, his casting in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest raised a few eyebrows.
Yet he was superb, and superbly menacing, and we believe that Mark Rylance would be the same. He’s exceptional with accents, has a similar trajectory to Nighy’s filmography, and has untapped potential as a sinister villain.
Additionally, there’s nothing more sinister than a villain played by someone who you’ve always viewed as a good guy.
Jack Davenport’s James Norrington was initially envisioned as appearing in only the first Pirates film. Yet producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s respect for the actor, alongside a positive audience reaction, led to the character’s continuation in the series.
He’s a not-quite antagonist in the first and second movies, and largely a bystander in the third, up until his heroic death.
Nicholas Hoult has been in many blockbusters over the years as a supporting character, including the X-Men series as Beast and Nux in Mad Max: Fury Road. He looks the part, he’s British, and he’s adept at playing well-meaning characters (as exemplified by his whole filmography).
There is no reason at all why he wouldn’t add another blockbuster to his collection by carrying out the role of James Norrington.
We didn’t say that these casting decisions had to be realistic. Joaquin Phoenix recently turned down the role of Doctor Strange for the sole reason that blockbusters weren’t his cup of tea.
He wanted to focus on the character over the set-piece, and that was never going to fly in a Marvel movie. So to star in Pirates is more than unlikely. However, what if he was afforded the creative freedom with his character, in the same way that Johnny Depp was with Jack Sparrow?
We know he can play a scene-chewing villain from his work in Gladiator, and his scraggly, grizzled look in Inherent Vice isn’t far off the depiction of Blackbeard in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
What’s more, Blackbeard’s Hispanic daughter, Angelica, would make more sense with Phoenix in the role than Ian McShane. Also, since Blackbeard appeared and met his fate in the same film, Phoenix wouldn’t have to worry about any contract obligations for subsequent films.
A famous British actor that’s widely celebrated and is a relic of cinema was cast as a loving and over-protective father. No, it wasn’t Michael Caine, but Jonathan Pryce, who was cast as Governor Weatherby Swann.
Though there are many similarities between them, it’s clear that this role fits Caine like a glove. Caine has shown his talented hand at playing fatherly figures, especially from his performance in The Dark Knight Rises,
He’d be able to give Weatherby Swann more substance to his character than there was in the original Pirates, which isn’t a knock on Pryce’s portrayal, but rather a testament to the brilliance of Caine’s acting. From his roles in Interstellar, and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, it’s clear that he’s not afraid to take on blockbusters.
One actor in need of recognition is Octavia Spencer. Her roles in The Help, Fruitvale Station, and Hidden Figures have earned her many awards and award nominations, but it’s the latter film that has finally made the average moviegoer notice her.
The next logical step would be to cast her in a blockbuster, and what better role than as Tia Dalma (who is later found out to be the sea goddess Calypso)? Calypso is an integral character in the series, and was originally played by Naomie Harris.
Spencer is seductive, sly, extremely talented, and can portray crazed characters impressively. There’s very few people who can get away with giving Jack Sparrow a jar of dirt as a way of helping him, or uttering the line, "the song has already been sung! The brethren court is called!" and managing to sell it.
Toby Jones is yet another actor who doesn’t receive the recognition he deserves. Most people recognize him, especially after his roles in high-profile films, such as The Hunger Games saga and the first two Captain America films, but he’s hardly an actor the average moviegoer would be able to name. This is a shame, since he has clearly proved his worth time and time again.
One role that’s easy to imagine Jones in is as Lord Cutler Beckett, originally played by Tom Hollander. Beckett is a slimy, manipulative, and complex antagonist in the Pirates franchise, and his overconfidence eventually proves his downfall.
With his roles in Berberian Sound Studio and the TV series Sherlock, he’s proven that he’s more than capable of taking on this particular job description.
Recently, Pirates of the Caribbean’s producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, stated that the franchise wouldn’t continue without Captain Jack. It’s easy to see why: in 2003, a 39 year-old Johnny Depp took to the screen and quickly became its most memorable and iconic character. It’s difficult to imagine Captain Jack Sparrow as any other actor but Depp.
Franco may just be the perfect fit for Sparrow in an age where Depp’s popularity has all but diminished. Indeed, Depp’s reveal in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was met with laughter and mockery rather than applause, and after the release of Dead Men Tell No Tales, it’s clear that Depp’s increasingly playing more of a caricature of Jack Sparrow than the real deal.
We know James Franco has physical comedy down to a tee, and his over-the-top mannerisms in The Interview are well-suited to Captain Jack. What’s more, Franco can apply a dangerous edge to his acting that’s needed in portraying Sparrow, highlighted by his work in Spring Breakers.
Put Franco in a pirate hat and give him an undefinable accent, and he’s good to go.
Hot off the heels of Star Wars: Rogue One, a film that thrust the actor in the spotlight following his role in the Ip Man series, Donnie Yen is the obvious choice to portray Captain Sao Feng, the Pirate Lord of Singapore.
Sure, it’s cynical to suggest that his presence makes the film more marketable, drawing in more audiences (especially from the Chinese box office), but that’s just one reason why Donnie Yen is suited to the role.
The type of roles Yen has taken have always been that of the protagonist, and so it would be interesting to watch him ham it up as a menacing semi-villain. His natural charisma and screen presence are attributes that the character of Sao-Feng demands, and, as shown by Rogue One, he’s able to stage a convincing death, too.
Donnie Yen is an actor that’s taking up more and more blockbusters (including this year’s xXx: The Return of Xander Cage), and it isn't too impossible to see him also take on the role of Sao Feng.
Angelica, Blackbeard’s daughter in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, was originally played by Penelope Cruz. Sassy, dangerous, alluring, and with a distinguishable streak of anger, we’d argue that the role is also suited for Sofia Vergara.
Thrust in the limelight after the TV series, Modern Family, her character of Gloria seems to possess all these characteristics, while still managing to be well-liked by (almost) every viewer.
Vergara hasn’t found much success in Hollywood so far, appearing in duds such as The Smurfs, Machete Kills, and Hot Pursuit, but she’s due a break. While her acting may not exactly be referred to as stellar, she shines in the right role, and the right role for her is Angelica.
Is there any actor growing faster in fame and popularity than Tom Holland? Soon to don the red suit in the blockbuster Spider-Man: Homecoming, we think he’s also suited to another blockbuster, as Philip Swift in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
In all honesty, there wasn’t much to Sam Claflin’s portrayal of the bland character, though this was entirely due to sloppy writing. It’s easy to forget, however, that Tom Holland was absolutely superb in his break-out role in The Impossible,. His heroism in the face of adversity, and his ability to believably convey the tragedy of the situation, lends himself perfectly to the role of Swift.
Furthermore, he’s charming, handsome, and British, which are necessities in portraying Swift. These also make it believable that he’d manage to woo a mermaid, if you manage to get past the fact that mermaids don’t exist.
You can picture it now, can’t you? Daniel Day-Lewis, to prepare for the role of Jack the Money, stays in character for three months in a monkey cage that’s stranded at sea. He also manages to escape his cage, time and time again, in order to annoy each cast member during their shoot by stealing their food and jumping on their backs.
He wraps up the film by winning yet another Academy Award, before slinking away from the media once again, to stay hidden until he’s hilariously cast as Dumbledore’s actual beard in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sequel.
I mean, the man can play anything and make it believable. From his role in There Will Be Blood to his titular appearance in Lincoln, Day-Lewis has shown us that he's capable of almost anything.
Do you think any of our decisions were wrong? Did we get any spot-on? Who would you like to see instead? Let us know in the comments!