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8 Actors Who Almost Played Jack Sparrow Before Johnny Depp Was Cast

8 Actors Who Almost Played Jack Sparrow Before Johnny Depp Was Cast

He’s been everyone’s favorite mischievous, ever-boozy, and always hilarious pirate for over two decades now. Yet, many people don’t know that Johnny Depp almost never got the part of Jack Sparrow. It’s difficult to imagine anyone pulling off the part better than him, since it’s become one of the most recognizable and iconic roles of his career. That’s certainly saying something, given that the legendary star has also played so many other unforgettable characters, like Edward Scissorhands and Willy Wonka.



While it’s taken as lore now that Depp is Sparrow and no one could have done a better job playing the character, there are actually eight other actors we could have ended up with instead. Among them are many superstar actors who were certainly capable of making the role just as engaging and memorable in their own way. We may never know what might have been, and most fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

With Depp now pretty much the face of the franchise, it’s still fun to imagine what those other actors might have brought to the role. It’s going on seven years now since the last film, although a Pirates of the Caribbean reboot recently confirmed. However, with new actors and characters reputed to star in it, here’s a look at an old favorite, and the eight talented actors who almost played him before Johnny Depp was cast.

8 Michael Keaton

It’s never been conclusively confirmed whether Michael Keaton ever actually auditioned for the role of Captain Jack Sparrow, or why he never got the role if he had. However, a persistent rumor that he was considered for the role before Johnny Depp was cast has been doing the rounds for years. Regardless of what might have been, the veteran actor is still going strong and would certainly have been capable of pulling off the role.

A Great Choice Once You Think About it

Michael Keaton may seem like an odd choice for playing Jack Sparrow, given how different an actor he is in some ways when compared to Johnny Depp. However, Tim Burton films have had a profound effect on both their careers, in some ways being highly influential in how successful they both became.

While Johnny Depp has made far more of a spectacle of himself playing offbeat characters, it’s easy to forget that Keaton also played some very unconventional characters. He was, of course, Batman in both of the movies by Tim Burton featuring the character. However, a year before donning the bat suit, he also played what was one of his most famous roles to date when he took on the thoroughly wonky role of the titular character in Beetlejuice.

Roles like this proved again what a fantastic actor Keaton was. While it was eventually not to be, there’s no doubt that he would have been able to bring his own distinctive kind of depth to Jack Sparrow had he gotten the role.

Related: Pirates of the Caribbean: Why a Movie Reboot Is the Only Path Forward for the Disney Franchise

7 Cary Elwes

Cary Elwes is now a veteran actor who has a fantastic list of film and TV credits to his name that date back to the late ’70s. He may not be as recognizable or an A-lister as others on this list, but has still cultivated a highly respectable career in Hollywood over the years. Some of his acting highlights include recent roles in films like Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Rebel Moon: Part One, while he also has a role in the next heavily anticipated Guy Ritchie film, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. However, horror fans will probably know Elwes best as Dr. Lawrence Gordon from the Saw films.

What isn’t so well known about the actor is that he was once a heavy favorite to play Jack Sparrow. Given the caliber of actors who were also considered and the big budget franchise it went on to be, Elwes’ inclusion among the favorites may seem a little out of place. That is, until you know a little more about the production history of the first film.

The Curse of the Black Pearl Was Almost a Very Different Film

We now know that Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl went on to be a huge hit. However, it was probably helped in that regard by the fact that Disney chose to invest heavily in it, sparing no expense when it came to securing A-list stars to star in it and the dazzling special effects to bring it all to life.

However, as reported by Yardbarker via MSN, Disney weren’t always sure that this was the direction they wanted to take the film in.

For a while, they debated whether or not to release it in theaters or to make it a direct-to-DVD movie. This also played a role in their concepts for casting at the time. They had Matthew McConaughey in mind for Jack Sparrow in a theatrical release, or Cary Elwes if they went the direct-to-DVD route.

Related: Pirates of the Caribbean: Does the Franchise Really Need Johnny Depp?

6 Rik Mayall

A British comedian who sadly passed away in 2014, aged just 56 at the time, Rik Mayall became very popular for his comedic roles such as the ’80s British sitcom, The Young Ones. His was another name bandied about to play Jack Sparrow early on. Although making appearances in films like An American Werewolf in London, Mayall really made a name for himself for his comedy shows, stage work, prolific voice roles, and for his hilarious roles in shows like The Black Adder.

Another Casualty of Disney’s Decision to Go Big Budget

Like Cary Elwes, as talented and popular as Rik Mayall is, his name was only considered back when Disney was still mulling over whether the film was going to be a direct-to-DVD release or not. Once it was decided that there was enough scope for The Curse of the Black Pearl to receive a much more sizable budget and backing as a blockbuster, focus shifted away from actors like Mayall.

5 Matthew McConaughey

Long before becoming an Academy Award winner, Matthew McConaughey was already a huge star, and experiencing massive popularity in the early ’00s when TheCurse of the Black Pearl was in development. McConaughey was already acclaimed for roles like Dazed and Confused and considered a sex symbol, well on his way to being one of the most beloved rom-com stars of the time for his role as Steve Edison in The Wedding Planner.

Disney’s other early plans for the first Pirates film were vastly different to the one that was eventually made. Back then, it was meant to be a more linear type of pirate film, in which Will Turner had to rescue Elizabeth from a pirate holding her for ransom. That pirate was Jack Sparrow, and he was originally meant to be a very different character.

The Character was Inspired by Burt Lancaster

Matthew McConaughey was initially considered for the role before the entire direction of the film changed drastically. His resemblance to Burt Lancaster, whom the original iteration of the character was based on, gave him the edge at the time. McConaughey was reputedly already attached to that version of the film, but was ultimately rejected once it was decided to take the film in the direction of the action-fantasy-epic it wound up going in. Had McConaughey landed the role, his and Johnny Depp’s respective careers could have gone along very different paths as a result.

4 Christopher Walken

Given his advanced age now, it’s hard to imagine that Christopher Walken could have brought the same kind of effervescence to Jack Sparrow that Johnny Depp did. However, the legendary veteran of Hollywood was a lot more sprightly back in the early ’00s, and is certainly renowned enough as an actor to have brought all kinds of depth to the role. Known for roles in everything from iconic films like Pulp Fiction to wacky ones like Balls of Fury, there aren’t many roles a star of his caliber would have trouble pulling off convincingly.

He Was Reputedly Considered for More Than One Role

While details are sparse on just how closely Christopher Walken was considered as an early contender for the role of Jack Sparrow, his name was definitely in the running at some point. In fact, he reputedly was actually considered back when the film was still meant to be a straight-to-DVD release.

Walken was supposedly even offered the part, but declined it. Meanwhile, according to Looper, Walken was also heavily considered for the part of Davy Jones — so much so that Visual effects artist and art director Aaron McBride incorporated features like the actor’s “piercing blue eyes” into concept art for Jones. That role eventually went to British actor, Bill Nighy.

Related: Johnny Depp Responds to Allegations of Bad Behavior On Set of 23-Year-Old Movie

3 Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman‘s roles, like Wolverine in the X-Men films, and his other diverse portrayals like that of P.T Barnum in The Greatest Showman have made him one of the most popular and respected actors around today. However, back when he was still relatively unknown outside of Australia, the remarkable story of how he almost played Jack Sparrow was one that almost changed the entire course of his career.

Jackman Was Still A Relatively Unknown Actor at the Time

The story starts with Stuart Beattie, an Australian filmmaker and screenwriter, who would routinely send scripts to Disney that were just as routinely rejected. One of those rejected scripts was an idea for a Caribbean-themed pirate adventure film. However, when Disney decided that they would make films based on their rides, Stuart’s idea suddenly came back to the fore and Disney called him in to write it.

Given his Aussie roots and the fact that he knew of Jackman as an actor before he became famous worldwide, he had it in mind that the role of Sparrow should go to him. As he described it to ABC Australia:

I had seen him in all these musicals growing up, so I knew this guy was a phenomenal talent and so that’s what I thought of, ‘Jack. Yeah, Jack Sparrow!’

However, since back then, Disney executives had never heard of Hugh Jackman, they were too hesitant to offer the part to an unknown actor and eventually went with Johnny Depp instead.

2 Robert De Niro

By the time The Curse of the Black Pearl was released, Robert De Niro was already well established as another icon of cinema. As a star of films like The Godfather II, Raging Bull, and The Untouchables, De Niro had long since cultivated an image as a brilliant method actor known for the intensity he brought to roles. However, he’s also shown how diverse his range is too, since he’s starred in plenty of comedic roles, like Bad Grandpa, and was hilarious in them.

He Famously Regretted Turning Down Jack Sparrow

Another early contender to play Jack Sparrow, De Niro, was rumored to be heavily favored for the role, which at one stage was his if he wanted it. However, since Disney themselves were so uncertain about which direction to take the film in, the iconic star was left feeling apprehensive about the role.

De Niro was apparently among the final two with Jim Carrey, and was later offered the role. However, when he heard the film’s direction changed to one that would be based on Disney’s famous theme park ride, he felt the film would not do well and declined it, but was later said to have regretted the decision.

Related: Pirates of the Caribbean: A Look Back at The Black Pearl, 20 Years Later

1 Jim Carrey

An absolute legend in his own right, Jim Carrey possesses a rare kind of acting prowess and talent as an entertainer in general that simply can’t be taught. From his early days on In Living Color to his many iconic films like The Mask, Ace Ventura, and The Truman Show, to his brilliantly outlandish performances in others like The Grinch and as The Riddler in Batman Forever, Carrey has demonstrated over and over again just what a star he is.

The One Actor Who Might Have Made the Role More Iconic Than Depp

While still at the peak of his fame at the turn of the century, Carrey didn’t just come close to being Captain Jack Sparrow, he was reputedly one of the front-runners for the role, and was even offered the part. However, despite how magical he might have been in the role, Carrey was filming Bruce Almighty at the time, which threw up scheduling conflicts for him and caused him to turn down the part. Given what an amazing actor and comedic genius he is, if there was one actor who could have possibly eclipsed Johnny Depp in the role, many believe Jim Carrey was that actor.

Regardless of how it all turned out, Johnny Depp has gone on to make the role of Jack Sparrow iconic. Amid all the turmoil of his legal troubles with Amber Heard, it’s uncertain if we’ll ever see Depp’s version of Jack Sparrow in a film again. Thankfully, as the star proved when he caused a stir on social media, he can always be the character outside of film whenever he wants — especially when it’s for a good cause.

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