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How Paul McCartney wound up in the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie

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The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is no stranger to rock ‘n roll cameos — after all, Keith Richards played Jack Sparrow’s father in At World’s End and On Stranger Tides — but Dead Men Tell No Tales marks the first appearance by a Beatle.

That’s right: Sir Paul McCartney has a role in the latest Pirates film. McCartney’s involvement was first reported in the trades more than a year ago, and earlier this month, the rocker shared a photo of himself in full costume — complete with wide-brimmed pirate hat and eyeliner. But other than that, the exact details of McCartney’s role have been kept under wraps — until now.

With Dead Men Tell No Tales finally hitting theaters, EW caught up with co-directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg to get all the details on Sir Paul’s pirate turn. Originally, Rønning revealed, they had hoped to have Richards reprise his role, but when he was unavailable, they started thinking about other possibilities.

“We had even written a scene for Keith,” Rønning says. “And then because of some scheduling issues, he couldn’t come to Australia to shoot, so we sat down with Johnny and kind of brainstormed, like, ‘Okay, who could fill his shoes?’ Because we felt like we should have something. We should honor the tradition of showing a Jack Sparrow family member. And we made a very short list, and of course, at the very top of that list was Sir Paul McCartney.”

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Once they had McCartney in mind, Rønning and Sandberg had to figure out how to get in contact with him. Fortunately for them, they had Johnny Depp on their side.

“Johnny, of course, has his phone number, as you do,” Sandberg says, laughing. “I don’t know what kind of club these people are a member of, but he had the phone number, so he said, ‘You know, I’ll text him! No problem.’ So he did! He just texted Sir Paul, and Sir Paul texted back. And it went a little back and forth, and their lingo got more and more pirate-y, and it was like, well, this is going to happen!”

Warning: Spoilers ahead about McCartney’s character in the film, so if you haven’t seen it yet, turn back now. 

At one point during the new Pirates, Capt. Jack Sparrow finds himself locked up in a Caribbean jail, awaiting execution. It’s there that he comes face to face with McCartney’s character, another pirate prisoner who’s playing cards. To Jack’s surprise, he recognizes the pirate as his own uncle — who’s also named Jack.

“It’s a pretty awesome family tree,” Sandberg says. “I’d love to be at that family reunion. That must be a fun party.”

And, because you can’t cast McCartney in your movie without taking advantage of his musical talents, “Uncle Jack” is even heard singing a sea shanty — much to the directors’ delight.

“One of the best moments of the whole shoot was at the end of the shooting day with him,” Rønning recalls. “The scene starts with him singing a song, and at the very end of the day, we needed to do a wild take to just record him singing. Nobody else is working on the set so on the soundstage, it’s completely quiet, and we’re only rolling sound. So I’m sitting there behind the monitors, listening in with earphones and basically recording Paul McCartney. That was a big, big moment.”