Actor Kevin McNally discusses returning as Gibbs in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, a fifth Pirates movie, The Raven, and much more.
Actor Kevin McNally may not be as recognizable as Johnny Depp, but he plays an integral part as Johnny Depp's right-hand man in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which arrives on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD October 18. Kevin McNally appeared in the first three Jack Sparrow adventures (Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End), and now he returns once again as Joshamee Gibbs in this latest high seas adventure, where Captain Jack sets out in search of the Fountain of Youth.
I recently had the chance to speak with Kevin McNally over the phone about his experiences in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Here's what he had to say below.
Obviously Gibbs has been in for the whole series, but this was the first movie that was loosely based on a book. I was curious if you ever explored that book, even though your character was already established?
Kevin McNally: I did start to read the book, and then I left it until the end of shooting. Obviously, none of our characters are in it, so I didn't find it particularly useful. I kept finding that the story in the book was divergent from the story that we got. For me, the source material was the script.
I believe I remember hearing they optioned the book because it was somewhat similar to the story they planned on telling.
Kevin McNally: Yeah. The Fountain of Youth was there, and I think those ideas were inspired by the book.
I really loved the opening. Were you kind of surprised when you flipped open the script and saw Gibbs right there at the beginning?
Kevin McNally: Not really. Well, it had sort of become a thing that I'm at the beginning of the film now, recovering from some sort of disaster. Usually what happens is I open the film, and then I tell Johnny the plot for the first three quarters of the film, and then I go off and do something very interesting while everyone fights. Then I come back again and take Johnny away with me. That's very much the shape of the movies, but I absolutely loved this one, because it was really imaginative. It's in London instead of at sea. It was a wonderful reveal for my character, when the hood comes off, and, of course, it has the greatest ending of any of the movies. For me, it couldn't have been better, really. I very much enjoyed this one.
There are a lot of firsts with this movie. This is the first one in 3D, the first movie with a new director. I was wondering if you could talk about how different the production was on this one, compared to the original trilogy?
Kevin McNally: Well, the first three, particularly the third film, was so big, and so immense. It was very challenging. There was a wonderful feeling on this one that there were a few changes, which sort of inspired us all to re-energize and come back to the characters again. It was 3D and there were new characters, but there was the feeling that it was scaled down a little, so that we got back to some more character acting. We felt that we explored the massive sets and the boats turning over with the big sea creatures. We really came back to the excellence of a great story, which is three sets of people, all looking for the same thing. It felt just right. We had a much more focused, manageable story to deal with. Also, it would be sort of impossible to keep getting bigger, and it would be a mad thing to do.
That's probably true. That whole dual-boat scene at the end of the third movie, I have to imagine that would be pretty hard to top.
Kevin McNally: Yeah. What are you going to do, to be better or bigger than Number Three? As far as I can see, the feedback from the people I know or the people who get in touch with me, those changes were all good, and people were surprised and delighted by the fourth film. Those are even from people who thought the fourth movie in a franchise wouldn't be good. But, you know, we had a top-line director come in, we had Penélope Cruz and Ian McShane come in. I think they added very valuable contributions to the franchise, which we're all grateful for.
I was really thrilled when I heard Ian McShane was going to be Blackbeard, and I enjoyed his performance as well. Can you talk a bit about working alongside him, and the rest of these new cast members like Astrid Berges-Frisbey and the others?
Kevin McNally: It was very enjoyable, particularly with Ian, because I've known him for years. In fact, he and my wife did a very successful TV series together in England for 10 years or so. He's an old friend, and it was great to act alongside him and watch what he did with this wonderful character, the decisions and choices he made. He's a wonderful, wonderful actor. It was great to work with Penélope Cruz because I just adore her. I think she's a brilliant actress and a beautiful woman. Astrid was a delight, as was the young Sam Claflin, who became our new young hero. I thought he did wonderful things with this sort of milquetoast young man. It could've been a really boring performance, but he gave it real vigor and spunk. I really liked it. I didn't find there was a wrong note sounded in any of the changes, including 3D, which I thought was shot really artistically, rather than for effect.
This is new territory for (director) Rob Marshall as well, and the 3D was really quite wonderful.
Kevin McNally: Absolutely. It was great to work with Rob, because, like myself, he is of a theater background. We have the same vocabulary, the same shorthand, as indeed does Geoffrey Rush, who is an old man of theater like me. So that was really great, and I think for Johnny, it was very refreshing, because there was a very different feeling on the set. I'm not saying a better or worse feeling, it was just different. After three films, you welcome some changes, whatever changes they may be. We, of course, missed Gore (Verbinski) tremendously. He's such a dynamo of a man, and I can't think of anybody else who could've directed those two huge movies, 2 and 3, back to back, with the dexterity which he employed. Rob has his own pace, a different pace, and it was very enjoyable.
Did shooting this in 3D affect your process at all?
Kevin McNally: Not really. I remember saying to the cameraman, in my 35 years as an actor, we have spent all of that time getting cameras smaller and more manageable and lighter, so we can go around the world and shoot films faster. In the space of six months, it's gone back to 35 years ago. We've got massive cameras (Laughs). It takes 20 minutes to change a lens. We did have to get used to the process being slowed down somewhat, but then again, you'd grab a pair of 3D glasses and watch a scene being shot and you'd think, 'Wow, that looks incredible.' So that would really invigorate you again, to engage with the process.
In this one, it didn't seem like it was a completely different Jack Sparrow, but there seemed to be little nuances which were different. Can you talk about how you've seen Johnny's character evolve throughout the four movies?
Kevin McNally: I know what you mean. I think probably one of the reasons Johnny comes back to these films, and why he may come back for another one next year, is the writers explore different things with him. It would be very easy for them to keep coming up with a swashbuckling wise-cracker. The things I noticed in this film, I had a wonderful scene with him where he had to admit that he had feelings for a woman, which we both find a bit embarrassing. That was good and he actually was going to try to live forever, and he learned something about why he wouldn't want to live forever. That was fascinating, that in the fourth chapter of a blockbuster, they give the leading actor an internal journey, as well as an external journey. I think the things you noticed were manifestations of the slightly more internalized things he was being offered by the film.
I was wondering if you could talk a bit about The Raven. That looks like a very intriguing film, so could you talk about your experience on the set, and the character you play?
Kevin McNally: I play Edgar Allan Poe's publisher, who is very frustrated that he has got writer's block. The film is about trying to work out... there's a serial killer using Edgar Allan Poe's methods from his stories. Obviously, Poe is under suspicion, and he's trying to work out who would be doing this to him, and for what reason. A lot of the people in the film would have a reason to try and inspire him to write more, including my own character. It's a very dark, psychological thriller, although there's some wonderful humor. John Cusack is extraordinary as Poe, because he's a wonderfully powerful and intense actor. I think he found a lot in Poe that he really, really loved. (Director) James McTeigue is a master of darkness, of dark horror. I'm really looking forward to it. I had a fantastic experience doing it, and I particularly enjoyed it because that came right after Pirates, because it was so different. I always like to do that after I finish a Pirates movie.
I know it's very early still, but have you heard anything about Pirates of the Caribbean 5? I know they brought one of the writers back to work on the script.
Kevin McNally: I think the intention is to shoot another Pirates film next summer. Whether that will happen or not, I don't know. I hope so. I quite need a holiday in Hawaii at the end of my theater run, so it would work out perfectly for me. I think we have every intention of doing that next year. I think two years between each film is very good for the audience. When we did 2 and 3 within a year between them, I think that was probably a bit soon. So, if we did one next year, it would probably come out in 2013. That would be good.
Is the plan to bring Rob back to direct then?
Kevin McNally: Those things don't quite trickle down to me for many, many months. I'm not the first to be told these things, so I don't know, but I would imagine, with the huge financial success of Number 4, that he would be the first port of call. Maybe he has feelings about whether he wants to do another pirate film or not. I don't know. All these things are up in the air.
What would you like to say to the very few people who didn't see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in theaters, about why they should pick up this huge Blu-ray set on the 18th?
Kevin McNally: I would say to pick it up, get a load of popcorn, get your friends over, close the curtains, and have a Pirate Sunday, just for me, and watch all four of them, back to back.
Excellent. That's about all I have for you, Kevin. Thanks so much for talking to me. It was a pleasure.
Kevin McNally: You're welcome. Thank you.
You can watch Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which arrives on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD October 18.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was released May 20th, 2011 and stars Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham. The film is directed by Rob Marshall.