If you had any doubt about there being value in a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean after the second and third films failed to recapture the magic of the original, just repeat the following two words to yourself a couple of times: Ian McShane. The immensely talented actor is probably best known for his work as Al Swearengen on David Milch's prematurely finished HBO series Deadwood. Spinoff Online had the opportunity to chat with McShane for a few minutes last night when he came out in support of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides 2011 Toy Fair preview and, as you might expect from such a gifted performer, he was far too humble.
"The thing when you play characters is, it's what you give off more than anything," McShane told Spinoff Online when asked how he prepared to give life to the role of the legendary Blackbeard. "Once you've got the outfit on and [the creative team] has talked about you being bad" -- that's "bad" meaning "evil" or "villainous" -- "... [the work has] been done for you if you play it right. So you play it a little different. You let it take over."
Of course there's a limit to just how much McShane could let Blackbeard take over. After all, we're talking about a Disney movie here. The actual Blackbeard -- real name Edward Teach -- wasn't an evil brute, but he and other pirates have been romanticized over the years. McShane couldn't go full-bore with his portrayal of pirate villainy simply because it's not that kind of story. "This has got a comedy bent to it," he said. "It's got a very specific style. Everybody double-crosses everybody and everybody has a good time along the way."
Director Rob Marshall, like McShane, is a newcomer to the series, replacing the original trilogy's director Gore Verbinski. McShane enjoyed the experience of working with Marshall, who has a background in blockbuster film, but much more in the musical/drama vein. "Rob comes from theater and I think he cast it very well, the actors. And this is a good script too," McShane said. "I was really impressed by the script of this one. It's very smart, funny and the ingenues are very good -- the way they brought in the younger people, with a missionary and a mermaid in the plot. It's very smart and funny, it's terrific. Rob is what we call charmingly relentless. He knows what he wants. It's good when you get a director like that."
As for his own performance, McShane credits much of what you'll be seeing to how he looks. "With something like this you just need the costume," he said. "The costume is like an hour to put everything on with the bard, the makeup -- I have this complicated beard to put on ... in three pieces. Kenny Myers is the extraordinary makeup guy who did it all."
Of course, there is no interview with McShane that doesn't mention Deadwood. The HBO series never being finished is one of TV history's great disappointments, one that still smarts today years after the fact. McShane actually experienced some of the camaraderie he felt on the Deadwood set while shooting Pirates. "This was similar in terms of the cast," he said. "Depp's a great guy ... a cool guy. And so is Penelope [Cruz]." Presumably he means the "great" and "cool" bits about Ms. Cruz and is not, in fact, calling her a dude. "It was a very happy, happy shoot with good actors."
Lest you think all is lost for Deadwood, McShane made it clear that he wants you to have hope. "I was talking to David Milch ... actually last week, and we were talking about Deadwood, which is unfinished business for both of us," he said. "You never know. I'm not saying anything, but never say never. You know what I mean? ... Just don't say when."
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens on May 20.