Johnny Depp returns to the big screen as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Image Credit: Supplied picture

When it comes to iconic movie characters, it used to be that the mumbling likes of Brando’s Godfather, Newman’s so-hip-it-hurts Cool Hand Luke or Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman from American Psycho were the ones most widely name-checked by film buffs.

Then, in 2003, a dreadlocked pirate with an endearing line in status anxiety ("You have to be the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of." "Ah, but you have heard of me."), an accent nicked from the Glimmer Twin himself, Rolling Stone Keith Richards, and little direction in life other than to "commandeer a ship, pick up a crew in Tortuga, pillage, plunder and otherwise pilfer my weasley black guts out", swaggered on to the big screen. Enter one Captain Jack Sparrow.

With the first three instalments of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise making a household name of Keira Knightley (who took on the role of Elizabeth Swann at the age of 17), grossing over Dh9 billion worldwide and earning Johnny Depp a Best Actor Oscar nomination for The Curse of the Black Pearl, the fourth outing for Captain Jack and the loveable ragtag bunch of ne’er-do-wells that make up his crew has an awful lot to live up to as they set sail for stranger tides.

e+ reveals the behind-the-scenes goss on the movie that’s already being touted as one of the biggest flicks of 2011…

New stars, old tale

"It has a whole new story line and set of characters," new director Rob Marshall told The Hollywood Reporter. "It felt new, and that was important to me." And it seems that the fourth movie was a concerted effort to shift away from the somewhat complex plotlines of the Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End sequels, with Johnny himself admitting, "To be honest, I didn’t see them."

With the inclusion of the pirate Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth already agreed upon as pivotal plot points, the writers turned to the 1987 novel On Stranger Tides by author Tim Powers, in which the protagonist John Chandagnac becomes embroiled in life on the high seas, encountering zombies and cut-throat pirates along the way.

"We designed a story that would support new characters," screenwriter Terry Rossio told THR. "Blackbeard came from the book, but I wouldn’t call this an adaptation."

Penélope and Keith join in

With Keith Richards returning as Jack’s dad, the Rolling Stone has revealed that he loves working with one of his best pals Johnny.

"How can you play dad to Jack Sparrow? You’re feeling your way all the time," admits the guitar legend. "Then it clicks. Johnny’s so easy to work with, he’ll give you all the help in the world." Adding, "When I’ve got the whole gear on, I evolve as the character. Give me a couple of pistols and a sword  and I’m away."

And with Penélope Cruz falling pregnant during filming, the Spanish Oscar winner roped in her look-alike sister Monica as a stand-in for some scenes.

"It helped that I had worked on the fight choreography for two months before I was pregnant," Penélope revealed. "I never did anything dangerous."

Johnny: ‘Jack’s a gas to play’

"It’s been a gas, it’s been a gas, and the whole experience has been… I mean there’s not a bad thing you can say about it," Johnny told Collider about stepping into Captain Jack’s boots for a fourth time. Adding of co-star Penélope, "You can throw all kinds of stuff out there into the atmosphere and she’ll snatch up something and throw a curve ball back at you. It’s very stimulating, she’s someone I adore, one of my best friends. It’s been great having her."

Said to have been involved in coming up with the plot, it was Johnny’s idea to turn swashbuckling newcomer Sam Claflin’s character into a missionary, to add a spiritual dimension to the film. And Disney’s MT Carney reveals of the overriding premise behind the new movie, "We wanted to remind people of why they fell in love with Jack Sparrow in the first place."

The new guys

Don’t miss Orlando and Keira too much, there’s some pretty cool new characters…

Angelica

Played by Penélope Cruz
Who’s she? An ex-flame of Captain Jack, Angelica seeks the whereabouts of the Fountain of Youth and will do anything she can to find it.

Blackbeard

Played by Ian McShane
Who’s he? Based on the real Captain Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach, a pirate from the 1600s, he captains the ship Queen Anne’s Revenge and wants Jack to help him find the Fountain.

Philip

Played by Sam Claflin
Who’s he? Missionary Sam is part of Jack’s crew, but when he falls in love with Syrena, he vows to stop her being used to find the Fountain.

Syrena

Played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey
Who’s she? When the gang discover that a mermaid is required to find the Fountain, they capture the fish-tailed Syrena, putting her watery life at risk.