Interview: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio on 'At World's End'
by Scott Holleran
May 31, 2007

Box Office Mojo: Let's talk about the multiple plot points. The first movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is more linear—

Terry Rossio: Oh, it is so not. Look at the reviews of the first movie. They're exactly the same as the second: it's convoluted, it's all over the place, it's impossible to understand.

Ted Elliott: A lot of friends of mine who are writers said there were so many plot holes—but it's still fun. The thing is there are no plot holes but what there isn't is tell-it-three-times, signposted exposition.

Terry Rossio: It's fun to watch how the first movie comes out and it's [considered by some to be] convoluted. Then the second movie comes out and the first one becomes ever so understandable. Now, the third movie is out, and people seem to understand Dead Man's Chest vastly better than they did before. The best reason to make a fourth movie is so people will actually figure out the third.

Ted Elliott: That is not a scoop. He's saying that's just the best reason—it doesn't mean it's happening.

Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott
Photo Credit: Scott Holleran
Box Office Mojo: Who's your least favorite character?

Terry Rossio: Let's see…

Ted Elliott: [Speaking to Terry Rossio] You actually have one?

Terry Rossio: I was going to say—

Ted Elliott:—Cotton's parrot became a bear, I'll tell you that.

Terry Rossio: [Executive Producer] Bruce Hendricks. Shout out—hi Bruce, I love you.

Ted Elliott: One of the problems with At World's End is simply that we had so many characters. Writing the first one, we were able to create the characters that we needed to tell the story and then we wanted to service those characters in the second and third movies. That sort of limited the possibilities of creating new characters that we needed to tell the story. The actors did not like this but I did say that At World's End would have been a lot easier if, at the end of Dead Man's Chest, a whole bunch of characters had been hit by a bus. But, really, Cotton's parrot, because he has to be able to communicate what's going on in Cotton's mind but he has to do it in nautical clichés or jargon and there's a point where you really need to have Cotton and the parrot have a presence in a scene and you've already used "red sky at morning" or "all ashore that's going ashore" and you can't do that [again]. It was a great idea for a character in the first movie. In the third one, notice he flies away before the maelstrom starts and only comes back in the end.

Box Office Mojo: I meant who would be your least favorite character if it were a real person …

Ted Elliott: Beckett, obviously. His philosophy sort of absolves him of personal responsibility for the actions he's taking in the service of the corporation. That's when it all goes to hell. That's the problem with Beckett because the rest of the story really is about Sartre's [idea of] freedom—that if you enter into a relationship, you take on these obligations and limit your own freedom willingly and, if you objectify the [other] person, that can lead to sadism, whereas if you try to ensure that other person's freedom as well as your own, that's really the nature of love. To me, it's such an inspiring concept. Anyway, Beckett has a philosophy that is very much at odds with my own.

Terry Rossio: For the longest time, my least favorite character was the [rock guitarist] Keith Richards character—whatever it was going to be—because somehow the world collectively woke up one day and decided that Keith Richards was going to be in these films—

Ted Elliott:—It really felt that way.

Terry Rossio: Every question we were asked everywhere we went was about Keith Richards and we became almost required to include this character. Somehow, everybody thought it would be wonderful to have Keith Richards but if you explored the idea and pressed them a little bit, nobody had any idea of what they wanted to see or what they could see—other than to [have him] show up and mumble which would have made everyone unhappy. It was very challenging because the role had to be crucial to the movie or it shouldn't be there but not so demanding that if Keith couldn't make it for whatever reason it somehow couldn't be modified.

Ted Elliott: I think we also found a good use for Keith Richards as a personality himself and for the character he played.

Box Office Mojo: Who is your favorite character?

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth
Terry Rossio: Elizabeth, mostly because of Keira. I've never seen a moment of action or a line of dialog or anything that she ever performed that wasn't spot on. We knew that any scene with her in it was going to be good and anything we wrote for her she would make good.

Ted Elliott: My answer is also Elizabeth and knowing we had Keira is what made us push the character in the direction that we did particularly in Dead Man's Chest. She was why we had the confidence we could make that story work. But it really comes down to the fact that there are not that many female protagonists that have done that whole [writer Joseph] Campbell heroes journey—and when they do, it's [usually] a complete imitation of the journey that a male character would take. We tried to find a way to create moments that were specific to her being a female but were no less dramatic and complete as they would be for a male character.

Box Office Mojo: Has the Internet influenced this series?

Terry Rossio: I definitely feel that Barbossa's first name kind of came about through the Internet. I don't know if it was Johnny [Depp] who dubbed Barbossa's first name Hector but somehow it wound up on the Internet and everyone started calling him Hector. We went ahead and put it in.

Ted Elliott: I think in one of the behind-the-scenes [home entertainment features], Geoffrey [Rush] and Johnny [Depp] were joking about Barbossa's first name and Johnny came up with Hector. He became Hector Barbossa.

Box Office Mojo: What's the plot point of the peanut in At World's End?

Ted Elliott: Sometimes, a peanut is just a peanut, Scott. Actually, Johnny [Depp] was responsible for the peanut—his attitude was that, if you have nothing, then a peanut is everything.

Box Office Mojo: Is anyone virtuous in these movies?

Ted Elliott: Like cruelty, virtue is a matter of perspective.

Terry Rossio: I think Gibbs is the one character who's continuously loyal to Jack Sparrow. Gibbs is the one shining beacon of hope for humanity.

Box Office Mojo: Is the opening scene a political statement?

Ted Elliott: How could it not be? The recitation of the [suspension of individual] rights came from an actual historical document—an order concerning piracy in which they suspended the right to trial—the writ of habeas corpus—

Terry Rossio: There was an uprising in a South Pacific nation and that was an actual decree. The greatest threat to a democracy—

Ted Elliott: —is that people will vote themselves out of their own freedom. Once you've done that, you can't vote them back.

Box Office Mojo: Is Norrington a hero?

Ted Elliott: I really have a problem with the terms hero and villain. The only true evil in the world is willful ignorance—the refusal to accept facts.

Terry Rossio: I would say that a character who's good is one who would make a moral choice once they know all the facts versus a character who would knowingly make an immoral choice. By that criteria, I think Norrington is a good guy.

Box Office Mojo: Have you ruled out the possibility that you two will write future installments?

Ted Elliott: Not at all. We don't want to make a bad movie in the franchise. For us, it's about whether there's a story worth telling—and, right now, Jerry, Gore and the studio agree with that.

Box Office Mojo: Any plans for new motion pictures based on Disneyland attractions?

Terry Rossio: I wanted to write The Haunted Mansion and I'd actually figured out a way of doing it.

Box Office Mojo: What types of screenplays are under consideration?

Ted Elliott: We want to do a Western. The public consciousness that existed when Westerns were popular—that sense that, if you leave town, you could easily die—isn't there anymore.

Terry Rossio: If you think of The Searchers, that lack of civilization is dangerous.

Ted Elliott: I think it started to fall away in the middle to late Sixties to the early Seventies—this idea, as in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, that the men you need to build a civilization have no place in it once it's been built. If you think about the idea of a hero, the last thing you want to show up in your life is a hero—because all that can mean is that there's something really bad going on. The only time heroes show up is if there's conflict. It's not good to be around heroes if you're not a sidekick—you can become collateral damage way too easily.

Terry Rossio: The other thing that happened to the Western is the political correctness about the Indians—or the Native Americans. There was a point where the wilds were [considered] scary partly because the [Indians] would, as in The Searchers, come in and wipe you out. Then, somehow, we started to sort of understand that Native Americans perhaps shouldn't be cast as such bad guys considering we came in and slaughtered all of them and that had the effect of making the Western less [appealing] and making those open spaces less frightening. In the Western that we want to do, those open spaces need to be made frightening.

Ted Elliott: Actually, the minute it became sort of understood that maybe the Indians had a really good reason to do what they were doing, they stopped doing that in movies.

Box Office Mojo: Speaking of Westerns, John Wayne would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. What's your favorite John Wayne movie?

Ted Elliott: Red River, where he's playing much older than he actually is. He's a genuinely underappreciated actor—a very mannered actor—

Terry Rossio: —I was going to say Red River.

Ted Elliott: I also really like Rio Bravo. Believe it or not, Rio Bravo had an influence on the [original] Shrek movie [written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio]. The great thing about John Wayne's character in Rio Bravo is that his change is very subtle—it's a very slight change—but he causes change in the characters around him and you cannot deny the influence he has had on everyone. I just find that story template to be fascinating. To some extent, Jack Sparrow is very similar.

Pirates of the Caribbean Special Briefing

• Review - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
• 5/29/07 - Third 'Pirates' Sacks Memorial Record
• 5/25/07 - Scott Holleran: 'At World's End' Premiere
• 7/8/06 - Interview: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio on 'Dead Man's Chest'
• 6/29/06 - Scott Holleran: 'Dead Man's Chest' Premiere
• Review - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
• Review - Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

• Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio's Web Site: www.wordplayer.com
'At World's End' Official Web Site
'Dead Man's Chest' Official Web Site
'Curse of the Black Pearl' Official Web Site

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