CANNES, France – Johnny Depp chuckled when asked if he was worried about the notoriously harsh critics at the Cannes Film Festival, where his new swashbuckler "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" played amid far more sober fare.
Depp said his family — French actress and romantic partner Vanessa Paradis and their two children — are the only critics he needs.
"My family have seen more of my movies than I have. In fact, a lot more, including this one," Depp said at a news conference Saturday before the "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel screened. "They've been angels through this process, because I started out secretly testing characters on them to see how the reactions would be. When my daughter was little, we'd be playing Barbies, and I'd start doing these voices. Finally, she just said, `Stop.'
"So they go and see the movies, and basically, I can tell by their reaction if I did all right or not. So I'm very lucky in that way. They seem to enjoy them so far. I haven't been fired by my kids."
And the Cannes critics? Depp, 47, who spent the first two decades of his career in quirky little movies that rarely found much critical support, was not exactly quaking in his pirate boots.
"Yeah, I've always feared the critics," Depp said, laughing. "They really scare me."
The fourth movie in the "Pirates" franchise inspired by the Disney theme-park ride, "On Stranger Tides" casts Depp's boozy, woozy buccaneer Jack Sparrow alongside a female pirate (Penelope Cruz) and her notorious dad, Blackbeard (Ian McShane), in search of the fountain of youth.
Geoffrey Rush reprises his role as Sparrow's foil, Barbossa, with Jerry Bruckheimer back as producer on the blockbuster franchise and "Chicago" filmmaker Rob Marshall taking the wheel as director. The movie sails into theaters worldwide starting Wednesday.
It was a reunion for Depp and Cruz, who previously costarred in 2001's crime story "Blow."
While the characters of "On Stranger Tides" are obsessed with finding eternal youth, the 37-year-old Cruz said she does not fret about growing old.
"Birthdays are always something to celebrate. I'm looking forward to every step of the way," Cruz said. "Maybe because I'm from Spain, that's looked at in a different way there than, for example, a place like Los Angeles ... there are a lot of things that I keep from my roots. And that's one of them, the way we look at that. I never want to be afraid of that. Change is good."
At Disney, the studio that bankrolls the "Pirates" franchise, change was not always seen as good. As the first movie was in production — "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" — Disney executives had hoped for a more conventional swashbuckling hero than Depp's Sparrow, whom the actor patterned on a cross between rocker Keith Richards and the cartoon skunk Pepe LePew (Richards reprises his role as Sparrow's father in "On Stranger Tides").
Sparrow mumbles, minces, prattles and prances. He wears heavy eyeliner and a mess of baubles in his braided hair and beard. His clothes resemble a gypsy's castoffs as much as the attire of a dashing pirate.
"There wasn't a group of Disney upper echelon who had any enthusiasm whatsoever for what I was doing," Depp said. "They almost subtitled me."
But with $2.7 billion in worldwide box office for the first three "Pirates" movies, no one at the studio gripes about Sparrow's idiosyncrasies now.
Bruckheimer has a script for a fifth "Pirates" movie in the works, and Depp said he's on board to keep playing Sparrow as long as the right ingredients go in.
"If you are surrounded by such an amazing and creative force such as Jerry, such as Rob, such strong actors like these guys, I think the possibilities are endless," Depp said. "But really, ultimately and truly, these films are made for the people who go in and they pay their hard-earned money to see these things. And if the people get tired of it or something, that's when it stops."