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'PIRATES' CREW IT'S HAVE SWORD, WILL SWASHBUCKLE FOR CAST OF DISNEY RIDE-TURNED-MOVIE.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Writer

Pirate movies haven't worked for nearly half a century. Movies based on theme-park rides are 0-for-1 (last summer's ``Country Bears'').

So when Disney approached superproducer Jerry Bruckheimer (``Bad Boys,'' ``Armageddon,'' ``Black Hawk Down'') to steer Disneyland's ``Pirates of the Caribbean'' attraction onto celluloid, he was not overjoyed.

``It scared me,'' Bruckheimer says. ``But to make it work, the script had to be unique. If Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (screenwriters of ``Shrek,'' ``Aladdin'' and ``The Mask of Zorro'') hadn't come to me with this idea of cursed pirates who turn into skeletons in the moonlight, chances are I wouldn't have done it.''

So Bruckheimer, with ``The Ring's'' Gore Verbinski at the director's helm, did end up making ``Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.'' And he made it his way, resulting in the first PG-13 rated feature ever released under the family-friendly Walt Disney Pictures label.

``To their credit, Disney said try to make it a PG movie - but go make a good movie,'' Bruckheimer says. ``And that's what I told Gore: 'Don't have any gratuitous violence; you're not going to have any sex; we're going to keep the language as clean as you possibly can in a pirate movie - but beyond that, let's have a good time.' ''

And to further signal that this ain't just kiddie stuff to the teenage crowd that the elaborate production needs to attract, Bruckheimer purposely cast edgy actor Johnny Depp as his lead freebooter and hot young things Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley in the main romantic roles. As the following interviews with the actors indicate, a jolly good time was had by all.

Johnny Depp's golden role

Johnny Depp liked playing a buccaneer so much that he's still got the gold-capped teeth he wore while making ``Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.''

Well, OK, that's a little exaggerated.

``What happened was that I left Los Angeles immediately after I finished shooting, and there's always the possibility of a reshoot,'' says the 40- year-old actor, who lives in France with his wife, singer-actress Vanessa Paradis, and their two small children. ``So, I went to Europe and when they said there would be no reshoots, I was stranded there without a dentist, really, because the only guy who I trust to take these things off is over here in L.A.''

Frankly, we like our story better. It fits the perception of Depp as a wild, perhaps a little crazy Hollywood rebel that has followed the actor through a series of eccentric, sometimes brilliant movie choices (``Edward Scissorhands,'' ``Ed Wood,'' ``Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'') and colorful off-screen antics involving smashed hotel rooms, celebrity photographers' cameras and celebrated waif-women's hearts.

Apparently, the folks at Disney and ferociously mainstream producer Jerry Bruckheimer were thinking of the legend, too, when they cast Depp as their park-ride movie's key pirate, Capt. Jack Sparrow. But they probably were not expecting Depp to show up with as many gold teeth as he did (a few were yanked out, at Disney's request, before cameras rolled).

``I'll tell you, I thought it was very brave of Jerry,'' Depp says of being cast in a big-budget adventure saga that's meant to be fun for the whole family. ``Yeah, it's very weird. But it was very brave of him and Disney to come to me with this thing.''

The actor returned that weird bravery with a wittily whacked-out take on the ultimate pirates' pirate - who by the time the film commences seems long past his best days at sea.

``Maybe a guy who's spent way too much time on the water,'' Depp mused about the shipless cap'n, who often seems on the verge of falling over. ``Maybe his brain is seriously cooked from the sun a little bit. He's a guy who's infinitely more comfortable on the deck of a ship than he is on dry land. But also, I think that he would kind of use that to some degree with people to hypnotize them, like a moving target.''

In fact, Jack proves as resourceful as he can be bumbling. Depp says he built the characterization out of a combination of two favorite pop culture figures: cartoon skunk Pepe LePew (for his clueless optimism) and his friend, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, whose longtime burnout image camouflages a strong survivor's shrewdness.

``Keith's kind of a great pirate, yeah,'' the actor reckons. ``I thought pirate because the pirates were sort of the equivalent of the rock 'n' roll star of the 18th century - on the road to some degree, freedom, adventure, women, outlaw behavior, all of that stuff.

``It wasn't an imitation of Keith or anything like that,'' Depp explains. ``It was just like a salute to him - and beyond the fact that I think that he's the greatest rock 'n' roll star of all time, I also think that he's an incredibly interesting man, beyond the Stones. He's unbelievably wise. He's really a wise man, a sage, a Buddha or something.''

Well, to Depp, maybe. But while his heroes remain outlaws, Depp himself appears to have been domesticated somewhat by fatherhood. The onetime bad boy can hardly speak five minutes without mentioning 4-year-old Lily or Jack, born last year.

``The kiddies give you strength and perspective, and you understand stuff,'' he reckons. ``Things that would've made me sort of upset or angry before, or things about Hollywood, things in magazines or paparazzi or stuff like that, now you can sort of really go, 'Oh, (at)#$% off. I'm just going to play Barbies with my daughter.'

``And having a boy, the difference, I mean, it's really shocking,'' he marvels. ``She's very elegant, and everything has to be perfect, and my boy, he stands up and screams like some godawful warrior and then runs straight into the wall. He falls down, shakes it off and gets back up and does it again.''

Try to take pictures of his beloved offspring, though, and the old awful warrior in Johnny could come out and bite.

``I don't know why anyone needs another photograph of me, there are plenty out there, and so I don't care if they take my or Vanessa's photograph,'' he says. ``But when they start taking photographs of my kids and putting them in their magazines, that I can't support. They should have long lenses, because if I catch them, I'll swallow their nose. I'll bite their nose off and swallow it.''

Argh! Maybe he should keep the pirate teeth.

``I can remember going to Disneyland with my kids,'' Depp recalls. ``We went into the princess store, and I bought my daughter a little princess dress, and the lady behind the counter ... I smiled and said thank you or something, and she looked at me as if to say, 'I have a really good dentist.' She seemed so upset about my dental dilemma.''

Orlando Bloom tries to stay in one piece

Orlando Bloom could become a really big movie star if he doesn't kill himself first.

``When I was young, I just didn't have a really healthy appreciation of death,'' chuckles the handsome 26-year-old from Canterbury, England, who has managed to break most of the key bones in his body - including his back after a three-story fall off a balcony. ``I probably just thought I was invincible, so I had a few accidents and stuff. But I actually learned quite a lot on 'Pirates' - just that I want to have a nice long career in this business, so I've got to look after myself in order to make sure I can go the distance.''

Considering the kinds of movies he makes, Bloom's odds are 50-50 at best: Elf archer Legolas in the ``Lord of the Rings'' trilogy; first casualty in ``Black Hawk Down'' (the character broke his back; Bloom was hired because of his ``experience''); Helen-plunderer Paris in the upcoming, all-star production of ``Troy''; and, at the moment, reluctant apprentice corsair Will Turner in ``Pirates of the Caribbean.''

``No,'' Bloom notes with relief when asked if he suffered any serious injuries on the seagoing saga. ``A few scrapes with the blades, but nothing too serious. Pretty mellow.''

At this point in his career, you believe Bloom - who moved at age 16 to London, where he studied classical stagecraft for half a decade - when he tells you that a little one-room character study sounds nice.

``I'm not saying that I haven't wanted to be involved in the films that I've made, because I have,'' Bloom notes. ``I've loved them, they've been great. But like, right now, I've been hankering to do a film where there's three guys sitting at a table playing cards.

``I'm in a rite of passage, slightly,'' he acknowledges. ``You can't just go into getting the great character roles. You've got to learn your craft and make sure that you're ready when those opportunities come.``

One other hazard Bloom must survive in order to achieve longevity in his chosen field: Outgrowing the teen heartthrob status his blond-bewigged, pointy-eared Elfin role has bestowed upon him.

``I guess, yeah,'' he shrugs. ``It's kind of unusual. It's all right, it's flattering and stuff. But it's not really something I find I pay too much attention to.''

Asked if being a sex symbol interferes with his romantic life (although he's reportedly dating ``Blue Crush'' star Kate Bosworth, Bloom refuses to discuss personal matters), the actor shrugs.

``Just the travel and nature of this business makes maintaining relationships difficult,'' he reckons. ``But I think relationships are hard to do for most people, not just actors.''

If you want Bloom to really get sentimental, ask him about the last day of reshoots for ``The Return of the King,'' the final ``LOTR'' feature, due for release at the end of the year.

``It was really emotional to sort of say goodbye,'' he says about the multi-film, multi-year project. ``We've done the last of the wig for the last time, I've done the pointy ears, I'm done. I did three days, and they gave me my bow and arrow from the last shot and cut together a little clip for me of all the Legolas moments with music. It was really kind of sweet and fun and sad.''

Truth be told, Orlando Bloom could not be happier to have lived out so many extraordinary fantasies in his still-young movie career. Regardless of how much it hurt.

``I played pirates in the garden as kid,'' he notes, ``and I've been so lucky with that. I've gotten to play an elf, Army boy, a bush ranger (in the Australian production ``Ned Kelly''), a boxer (in the unreleased comedy ``The Calcium Kid'') and now a pirate.''

Keira Knightley doesn't LOOK lazy

Tall, thin and taut, Keira Knightley looks every bit the teen action heroine.

The 18-year-old English actress portrays a young soccer player in the sleeper hit ``Bend It Like Beckham'' and a damsel who swashbuckles as good as the guys in ``Pirates of the Caribbean.'' Her next job is a warrior-woman interpretation of Guinevere in ``Pirates'' producer Jerry Bruckheimer's ``King Arthur.''

But don't ask her to visit the gym for fun.

``I am naturally, possibly, one of the laziest people ever,'' the lively and witty Knightley admits. ``It's very lucky that I have good genes, because that means I have a fast metabolism and don't really have to work out. For 'Beckham,' I had to run around, which I tell you is not easy. Then I sat around and didn't move until I did 'Pirates.' Now I'm training for 'King Arthur' pretty much every day. And I have bigger muscles than my brother! And when we finish, I will go back to my lazy old ways and love it. I think exercise is bad - and it turns you an unnatural color.''

The daughter of a stage actor and an actress-turned-playwright, as a child Knightley had to perform a much more demanding set of exercises in order to receive her parents' permission to pursue her lifelong dream.

``My mom basically said, 'If you come to me with a book in your hand and a smile on your face every day throughout the summer holidays, at the end of it I'll get you an agent,' '' says Knightley, who for years had disguised her dyslexia by memorizing books on tape. ``I did it when I was 6, and she felt so guilty at having made me work all through my summer holidays that she had to get me an agent. Unfortunately for her, I got a part about a year later and got completely hooked. But I was never allowed to carry on acting if I didn't keep my grades up.''

One of her best early roles: playing the decoy Queen Amidala in ``Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.''

``To tell you the truth, I was on it for, like, two or three weeks, and I don't remember it at all, apart from being very uncomfortable in the costumes,'' admits Knightley, who still bears a striking resemblance to Natalie Portman - if the older actress were a few feet taller, anyway - but insists that neither of them see the similarity. ``But it was a really great experience because I was 12, and it was like being dropped in the deep end as far as working with blue screen and all of that goes.''

The deep end of the ``Caribbean'' adventure involved more uncomfy costumes, restricting 18th-century corsets that made Knightley's scripted fainting spells look extra realistic.

``Luckily, they were still sane in 450 A.D.,'' she says of the ``Arthur'' project. ``So I'm in lovely, floaty dresses, and I float around and maybe kill a couple of people, and it's lovely.''

Still, carousing in the tropics with Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Jack Davenport in tight clothes had advantages.

``I mean, what more could a girl ask for?'' Knightley says. ``I've got these gorgeous guys around me, and they were very smelly and very dirty most of the time, but you know, they're still lovely eye candy. I did have a great time.''

More genteel roles have included Lara in a British television production of ``Doctor Zhivago,'' and a part in the upcoming romantic comedy free-for-all ``Love, Actually.'' And the ongoing success of ``Beckham'' is a continuing source of joy (even though she's a fan of West Ham, the mortal rivals of David Beckham's former team Manchester United).

``There are so few feel-good films that actually make you feel good and don't patronize you,'' she notes. ``I mean, normally when I come out of a feel-good movie I feel kind of disgusted, like my brain's been turned to bubble gum. You come out of 'Beckham,' and you smile.''

These days, Keira Knightley has a lot to smile about. Including that lazy-girl favorite, free laundry service.

``I still live in London (with her parents), but it's so phenomenally expensive I can't afford to move out,'' she reports. ``But I'm very happy living with the parents; they do my washing, so it's good.''

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Yo ho ho

We're not kidding about the sexy cast of `Pirates of the Caribbean'

(2 -- 3) Johnny Depp, left, and Orlando Bloom ship out in ``Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.''

(4) Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, enjoying red-hot careers, play the young lovers in ``Pirates of the Carribean.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 6, 2003
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