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Cannes: 'Pirates 4' sails choppy waters, while Depp taunts critical sharks

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Cannes Rush
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

The critics of Cannes have teeth as sharp as any pirate’s knife, which makes it a treacherous place for a big, juicy Hollywood popcorn flick like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Reaction was mixed as the movie played the festival Saturday, but Depp just chuckled and chummed the waters when asked if he feared their wrath. “Yeah, I’ve always feared the critics. They really scare me,” he cracked. “And that’s why we’ve come to Cannes.”

Despite scratches from a few reviewers, many noted improvement over the previous two movies, and there was palpable enthusiasm from the thousands of onlookers gathered around the Grand Theatre Lumiere for the premiere.

After the jump, see more photos from the red carpet, and hear from the stars as they reveal:

Which family member doubled for the then-pregnant Penelope Cruz at the end of filming.

How playing Barbies with his daughter helped Depp shape Jack Sparrow.

And why Geoffrey Rush considers himself “the Liza Minnelli” of the returning cast.

Penelope Cruz, who joins as Jack Sparrow’s bitter ex-lover Angelica, was pregnant at the start, and naturally grew bigger and bigger over the course of the three-and-a-half month shoot. By the end, there was no hiding it. So for some of those scenes where her full body is seen from afar — we don’t know which — it’s not her, but her lookalike little sister Monica.

“I did a couple of months in LA with the training, and they showed me some of the choreography and fights,” the elder Cruz told reporters. “Once we started, I was not able to do everything, just what was safe. They protected me every step of the way. … Then Monica came at the end, for one week and a half in London.”

Director Rob Marshall chimed in: “Towards the end we asked Monica to help us out with some of the wide shots and some of the long shots, where we needed, uh, a different silhouette.”

In last week’s EW cover story, Depp revealed he hadn’t watched Pirates 2 or 3, and was critical of the stories in those movies, saying he hoped the fourth installment would do better. At Cannes, he talked more about not watching completed versions of his own work.

“The only real drag of me not seeing the films that I make is that I don’t get to see other people’s work,” he told reporters. “I’m asking next time in my contract if I can have a version where I’m actually cut out of the film, but everybody else is in.”

Depp said he relies on his 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son to be his test audience, including as he rehearses characters like Jack Sparrow while playing dolls with them.

“My family, has seen more of my movies than I have. In fact a lot more. Including this one,” he said. “They’ve been angels through the 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 would be doing these voices. Finally she just said ‘Stop,’ when she was old enough to.”

“They go see the movies and I can tell from their reaction if I did all right, or not,” he added. “They seem to enjoy them so far. I haven’t been fired by my kids.”

Along with Depp and Kevin McNally (who plays Sparrow’s first-mate Mr. Gibbs), the only other returning cast member from the previous films is Geoffrey Rush’s duplicitous Captain Barbossa, who has given up piracy (allegedly) for the life of a privateer commissioned by King George II.

He described the new Barbossa as, well … kind of a showman, fronting for his wealthy new benefactor.

“On the second day of shooting, there was a night shoot, and it was 3 o’clock in the morning,” Rush recalled. “Johnny, Kevin McNally and myself were lying on the ground on the edge of this cliff, overlooking the Spanish camp. Rob [Marshall] said ‘Look at you guys! It’s like Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr.!’ And Johnny just dropped into the most amazing impression of Sammy Davis Jr. Kevin McNally started singing a Frank Sinatra song … so I figured I must have been the Liza Minnelli.”

“It was a great note because I thought, ‘Working in the court of George II is a new thing, and maybe it’s like playing Vegas, where you have to go out there with a whole new energy.”

The same is true for playing well at Cannes, and for success in general when Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens May 20.

“Is it your normal Cannes fare? No, I wouldn’t say that,” Depp told reporters. ” Do I think the audience will like it? I think so, you never know. Somebody could’ve stepped on a rusty nail, had a bad day, a gas pocket. Who knows? I’m thinking people will like it.”

Anthony Breznican on Twitter @Breznican.