Love or hate Pirates of the Caribbean's particular brand of larger-than-life swashbuckling, it's hard not to like the opportunities the franchise affords character actors. That's not often the case these days with big studio tent-pole films, but the scope of Disney's biggest franchise always finds a space for memorable roles outside of the leading men and women. Case in point, Kevin McNally, who has now enjoyed not only four films as Captain Jack Sparrow's reliable first mate Mr. Gibbs, but also four films as the owner of some of cinema's finest mutton chops.
Thanks to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which quietly became the 8th highest grossing film of all time earlier this year, hitting DVD and Blu-ray this week, we were given the chance to chat with Mr. McNally about the films and, more specifically, how good they are to character actors, why so many people enjoy them, and what he's up to next (good news for fans of the show Supernatural).
Movies.com: One of the things that's so likable about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is that it has so many great opportunities for character actors. Is that more rewarding than the sheer popularity of the films?
Kevin McNally: Absolutely. Obviously the popularity of the films is wonderful, because most actors, not movie stars but character actors like me, will do a great many movies and not a great many people will have seen them. But to have done a franchise like this, a truly memorable franchise where you can just say Pirates and people know exactly what you mean, is a wonderful honor and pleasure. And of course what's great about the style of the franchise, this rip-roaring character adventure aspect of it, means there is a place for a gnarled old pirate like me. And perhaps I couldn't find my place in something a little more like The Matrix trilogies or something. I wouldn't wear the suits well enough, I think. Dress me in rags and give me a funny accent and I'm absolutely happy.
Movies.com: Since you've done a ton of period piece films and television, is that something that attracts you to roles or is it just a case of the availability of projects?
McNally: I know what you mean. In the theater I've always enjoyed doing modern plays, but it seems as an Englishmen, particularly when working over here in America, one tends to be in the period pieces. Also in England so much of our period pieces.. my wife is in a very successful TV show called Downtown Abbey at the moment and it's just typical that a great export like that is going to be set in Edwardian times. It's just part and parcel with being English, I think.
Movies.com: For Stranger Tides, how was it for shifting to a new director in charge of a new crew? Was it a jarring transition or was it more like a partial family reunion?
McNally: It's remarkable; every time we go back to these films, I always talk to the crew on the film about how it doesn't seem like that long ago that we were doing the last one. It's sort of like coming back to school after summer break. There was a new injection of energy in this film because of A) having a different director and B) shooting in Hawaii rather than in the Caribbean. Little changes like that are always useful because you don't want to get stuck in a rut coming back and shooting the same things.
There was very much a fresh feeling to this one and it's something I personally feel seeps through to the movie. I think it's a honed down, sharper rebooting of Pirates. I enjoyed making it as much as I did watching it.
Movies.com: Was more stressful, doing the second film or the fourth film?
McNally: I think the second film, because we felt we had to immediately follow upon what we did in the first film. The fourth film, we were filming in Hawaii, so I've never been more relaxed in my life.
Movies.com: When it comes to Gibbs, he sort of represents this anchor point between all four films, how do you stick in the character for four films and still feel fresh?
McNally: You couldn't decide that you're going to be a lynch pin for four years. After we did the first one, I obviously struck, probably more by luck than by design, a note that was good for the movie and was good at being a lynch pin for the other characters. It was picked up on by the writers, which was developed throughout the films, so by the fourth film there is a wonderful shorthand for Mr. Gibbs so they then expanded me to do more not just with Johnny, but to have that link with Barbossa as well and ultimately be the plot device that brings us all together at the fountain of youth.
Now the way I feel about that is obviously pride and a tremendous sense of honor. I really enjoyed that I could, along with Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Depp, develop this character through a series of films and hopefully some more.
Movies.com: Working on a film like this, do you find the same freedom to develop a character as much as you would a smaller production, or do you find yourself having to stick more closely to the script?
McNally: I don't think it really much matters, the size of the movie. Essentially what happens, the first time you read a character in a film, regardless of how big it is, nobody knows. Nobody knows. People have set the film up, they've written the part, and they've tried to cast somebody they think is good for it, but then it's up to you to put all those things together and make something coherent at the least and at the best exciting and originally. I think that applies to theater or television or movies regardless of the vibe. It's all essentially the same job, just slightly on a bigger scale.
Movies.com: Speaking of TV, you're in an upcoming episode of one of my favorite shows, Supernatural -
McNally: Yes, I'm actually about to do my second episode!
Movies.com: Excellent, I was actually going to ask if you were going to be a recurring character.
McNally: They say recurring, but that depends on how much the audience likes you. They put me in for another one, which I'm very happy to do because I had such a good time shooting it. I'm going back to England in January to do a play and I hope they can fit me in a few more before then because it's such an enjoyable show to do. The guys are great and it runs very smoothly. It's a very happy shoot and a hugely popular show.
Movies.com: It's a very interesting show; because of the network it's on and the way it's marketed, it's very easy for people who haven't watched it to dimiss it as something it isn't, but it's actually a very clever show that has a lot of great opportunities for character actors.
McNally: It's interesting that you said that because I kind of got the feeling that people were funny about the show. It seems to me, because I watched a load of them before I went up there, but I find it a very engaging, enjoyable, imaginative show. It seems to have a sort of quite success, doesn't it?
Movies.com: Absolutely. But getting back to Pirates for a second, have you heard anything about the fifth film or what it would even be about?
McNally: No, but I think the desire is to do another one next summer. I can only imagine the challenge that faces the writers is to find new characters and storylines. We've exhausted a hell of a lot of pirate mythology, but there are a couple of things we haven't explored yet, and I imagine they might be going toward those things. And will be something interesting for all of us, to have a think about what sea-ness we haven't touched yet.
The great thing about Pirates is that we always have to have two storylines. A natural one and a supernatural one. I think that's one of the joys of the pirates films, that those two threads run through all films.
Movies.com: Do you have any sea myths that you'd like to see in the next film?
McNally: I'm drawing a blank right now, but whenever I talk to people they have loads of stuff that they'd like to see done. I don't know. I should maybe go online and start looking up sea myths to see if I can help in any way, but I'm sure the writers are already on top of that.
Movies.com: Now, you were you in both The Raven and Poe, correct?
McNally: I was. I did them both back-to-back as well! I thought I'd go into an alternative universe for a few months there. The Raven is coming out I think in January, but unfortunately Poe wasn't picked up. It was an absolutely beautiful hour of television and I'm sorry it didn't go. But there it is, that's the world of pilot season for you.
Movies.com: The trailer for The Raven actually hit today, I don't know if you've seen it--
McNally: I haven't yet.
Movies.com: It has a much more modern and slicker cut to it than I was expecting, so I'm very curious to see how it shakes out. How was that for you on set?
McNally: It was great. I'm a big fan of the director, James McTeigue. He has great dexterity with this sort of style and period, so I always felt we were in great hands. I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie, actually.
Movies.com: What other projects are on your immediate horizon?
McNally: I'm going back home to finish work on Downtown Abbey, I've been doing a few episodes this year. Then I'm coming back to do an episode of Supernatural and then it's off to the West End and possibly Broadway to do a bit of theater. And then, hopefully when we finish that, we might be doing some more Pirates.