Johnny Depp Nearly Got Fired From ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ for Making Jack Sparrow ‘Too Gay’

There are few guarantees in life like the guarantee of a Johnny Depp-led Pirates of the Caribbean film being a box office success. Depp’s multiple turns as Jack Sparrow have left fans laughing and buying tickets, with each film grossing major bucks at the box office. But did you know that Disney nearly fired Depp from the original film in the series? From what Depp said he heard later, it would have been for a rather embarrassing reason. 

Johnny Depp’s brilliant acting career

Johnny Depp in a hat and glasses in front of a blurred background
Johnny Depp | Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Depp has been one of Hollywood’s biggest and sought after stars for over 30 years. One thing Depp is known for is his chameleon-like ability to transform himself for a variety of roles. Early in his career he starred in the drama What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, but also played the quirky lead character in Edward Scissorhands. He’s played just about every type of character one can play since, including: 

  • The eccentric Willy Wonka
  • The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland
  • Mobster Whitey Bulger
  • The drug dealer George Jung
  • The voice of a cartoon lizard in Rango
  • The evil wizard Grindelwald in the Harry Potter universe

It’s clear that Depp has got a tremendous range. He’s been able to play an incredibly eclectic mix of characters. Depp has also fronted some very successful blockbusters and even a few franchises. None of those franchises have been more successful than Pirates of the Caribbean. 

How Johnny Depp made ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ a worldwide phenomenon

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In the Pirates franchise, Depp stars as Jack Sparrow. Basing his character on Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, Sparrow is a hard-drinking, scatterbrained pirate who still has a solid moral compass. Sparrow’s adventures put him in contact with all sorts of characters, both good and evil.

Many characters seem to have a history with Sparrow, as more often than not they’re not happy to see him yet again. Depp plays Sparrow with an almost Buster Keaton-like physicality. He also has the troublemaking spirit of Bugs Bunny thrown in as well. It all adds up to Sparrow being one of the most memorable characters from a blockbuster franchise in recent history. 

The Pirates films have all been huge hits. According to Box Office Mojo, not one of the five moves in the series has grossed below $172 million. The highest-grossing was the second film in the series, Dead Man’s Chest, which made $423 million.

While the movies feature plenty of colorful characters, exciting action, and brilliantly filmed set pieces, there’s no question who is the singular force most responsible for their success. Depp’s Sparrow is who people keep coming back to see. 

The time Johnny Depp was nearly fired from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ 

While it’s hard to imagine anyone but Depp in the role of Captain Jack, Disney executives almost fired him from the role. Pirates is now thought of as a hit before it came out some Disney executives were concerned by Depp’s portrayal of Sparrow.

Then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner in particular was confused. In an interview captured by the E! Network online, Depp said they almost fired him for making the character too “gay.” 

“Yeah, they wanted to fire me…It trickled back to me that [former Disney CEO] Michael Eisner went on some sort of bent about how ‘G*dd*mnit Johnny Depp’s ruining the film! Is it drunk? Is it gay?’ So I fully expected to be fired.” 

Depp leaned into the criticism, telling the execs that all his characters were gay. Of course, he wasn’t let go, and Disney and Depp both made plenty of money off of it. It just goes to show that Hollywood executives who fancy themselves creatives should probably leave the filmmaking to the artists. Plus, what’s wrong if Captain Sparrow were to be gay?