It seems like a lifetime ago, when I was still fresh to Los Angeles, having moved there after my birthday in 2004. I didn’t start filming until 2005, but my story began in the winter of 2004. I had been extremely busy at the time filming episodes of Deadwood, and in between studios for All Souls Day and Red Eye. But in between filming, a general casting call had been put out for the second Pirates of the Caribbean film, and at the time, it was the big call that everybody in Hollywood wanted a piece of.
I went to the Ricardo Montalban Theater in Los Angeles where Sande Alessi Casting was doing the call, and hundreds of people were lined up to audition. After hours of waiting, it was finally my turn to stand in front of a panel to see if I had the look they were going for.
“Holy shit, you’re thin”, said one of the casting people when I walked on stage. This was something I’ve often heard throughout my life, but the tone was different this time. They sounded impressed. “Take your shirt off.” I was still getting used to the casual nature of the acting business, and this was years before my Burning Man days, so I still wasn’t quite comfortable exposing myself in front of people, especially not on stage in front of hundreds of people, but I complied anyway. “Your look is perfect”, she said. She then pointed at me. “From this point forward, you are no longer allowed to cut your hair. We will be giving you a call shortly in regards to your formal audition.”
A few weeks passed, 2004 turned into 2005. Eventually, they did call me, and I was asked to go to the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. So I drove to one of the places I had dreamed of seeing my entire life, parked the car, and walked into an office where they had the projector that they used for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on display. Pitted with four other people, we were asked to choose a weapon and improvise a scene: We were deep in the hold of the Black Pearl, and all the rum was gone… save for one tiny bottle if we could find it. We scoured the room and tore it apart. It was by chance that I spotted the bottle under the chair. It was also by chance that I caught a glance of those other would-be pirates taking my notice of my discovery, and were advancing upon me.
I did the only thing I could do: I rushed the largest guy of the group, climbed up on his shoulders, and tried to throw him off balance with a few smacks to the head. He took hold of me, and threw me across the room, where I hit the ground hard, sliding across the carpet, and slicing open my knee. But I still had the bottle. I immediately flipped to my feet, and caught the next advancing person with my arm. Shortly after, they called “Cut”.
They lined us up. I was disheveled, covered in sweat, and blood trickling down my leg. They asked us if we were truly sea-worthy and ready for this crew, to which I belted out something that I was, and then they thanked us, and saw us out.
Another week or so passed. I checked the “Pirates Hotline” every few days to see if any casting announcements had been made. And then it was one day in January (January 29th, to be exact) where I called the line, as they finally had the names. I listened through the various ships and actors, waiting for any sort of lead… and then: “Black Pearl… Guy Chapman.”
THE Black Pearl? I hung up and called again. I still couldn’t believe it, so I hung up and called again. Sure enough, I had been cast as a pirate on the Black Pearl! I was beside myself, and instantly called my Dad and sister, who both cried. Friends and family cheered for me. A few actors on various sets grumbled at my fortune. One went as far as to break and steal everything of mine that he could get his hands on, when he wasn’t sending harassing phone calls my way. But fortunately, a move to a new apartment later ended the majority of those issues.
Things really began to change for me at the time. I was in a HUGE Hollywood film, and I wasn’t sure where any of this was going to lead me. A lot of things changed. I had to go to Pirate Boot Camp, where I learned how to fire a cannon, swing a sword, and load a cannon. The make-up people fit me with hair extensions to match my already growing hair and beard. I was fit for prosthetic teeth to make them look as yellowed and nasty as they possibly could (I miss those teeth).
It was one day where Bill Nighy (Davy Jones) graciously introduced myself to me, and I met Orlando Bloom (Will Turner). They later fit me for a full Flying Dutchman costume as a secondary role.
People were paying attention to me like never before, wanting interviews, and autographs, and photo ops. I was merely just a lowly pirate.
And then filming began at the Disney Studios, on the very soundstage where Tron was filmed. The crew and I were placed on a huge multi-level Black Pearl soundstage with gimbals that rocked the ship as if it were in the ocean. The crew and I had to “fight” against a to be filled in later CG kraken, so we had to react to an invisible enemy, and fire cannon blasts to a soundstage wall.
Between takes, I sat in the hold with the actors that played Pintel, Regetti, Gibbs, and my other pirates, and I looked around more than once, amazed that the moment was actually real and happening to me right then.
For lunch, I ate in the commissary, where Walt Disney himself has eaten, and looked around at the various soundstages. I bought a studio Christmas ornament from the company gift shop.
When it came time for the Flying Dutchman scenes, we shot those on a soundstage at Universal Studios in Hollywood. On another huge ship, we were constantly doused by stage rain to the point where my mask (I was one of the non-CG pirates) was steam up, and I had to be led off set. During one particularly grueling rainstorm, they called an extended lunch so that we could wring our clothes out.
As we stood outside, we were right next to the theme park. One of the security guards asked if we wanted to warm up on the Backdraft ride, to which we gladly took him up on his offer. Once the ride was over, he told us to “Have fun”, and promptly opened full access to the theme park to us. Being recognized as film actors, lines were not an issue, as they escorted us to the very front of the lines. As a result, a whole row of us sat in full pirate gear on the Jurassic Park ride, swaying in unison and singing “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For Me!” while dinosaurs roared at us. We also first dibs to ride the (then) brand new Mummy rollercoaster. The experience was then topped off by a group of Japanese tourists who acted like we may as well have been the Beatles (though we never told them exactly what film we were shooting). To this day, that was the best outing I have ever had at Universal Studios.
While there had been talk of me going overseas and being in the third film, it just never materialized. I was called back for a reshoot of a scene later in the summer, but ultimately the reshoots caused a number of my scenes to hit the cutting room floor. You can still see me in the film, just not at the level as to what could have been.
But I was still busy with other parts. I had moved back to San Diego during the summer, and still did various pirate related things, like audition for a related commercial, and an interview here or there but my ship, it seemed for all intents and purposes had sailed.
I had largely put Pirates behind me as the years passed, but again, rumblings for a fourth installment surfaced in 2010, and damned if I didn’t get the “itch” again. But auditions this time were in Hawaii. Part of me felt unresolved after the last outing. Surely, my character was kraken food by the end of the second film, but what happened to the third one? I made a few calls, asked if Kauai was really the only viable option, then bought a ticket and hopped a plane to the Garden Island.
I waited in line yet again, though much smaller, and found myself once more face to face with the people to cast me the over five years before. They were shocked to see me there, but the reunion was a sweet one, and I was told I was going to Round 2.
My initial plan was to go, audition, and leave, but the process took longer than I thought. So I had to reschedule my flight, add my time to my hotel, and simply wait. And you know, there are worse places to wait than Kauai. I fell in love with the little island, eating fresh fish, drinking rum while lying on the beach, running through the rainforests barefoot and swimming under waterfalls…. I even ended up on the front page of their newspaper, as the casting made headlines on the island.
For business trips, there were FAR worse ways to go. Just when I was about to call it quits and write the event off, I got a phone call:
They wanted me for a proper audition… If I showed up on Oahu the next day. I deliberated it, but I had already invested money in staying longer, and couldn’t maintain this indefinitely. After talking about my options with Jen, I called casting and gave them my answer.
“I can’t believe I’m going to say this, as it hurts me to even think about it. I’ve waited five years and traveled 3,000 miles for this moment, but I can’t keep holding out for this. I’m sorry, but I can’t make it.”
“But you can’t give up”, the casting director said. “You’ve come so far, and you should at least find out if you could have made it or not. Besides, you already have the odds stacked in your favor for having acting talent.”
Wasn’t that the point of this entire trip, I remembered?
“You’re right”, I admitted. “I shouldn’t give up. I’ll find a way to Oahu.”
“No. No….”, the casting director abruptly said. “We don’t leave for the airport for another hour. Can you come to the Kauai Mariott? We’ll just audition you here.”
I raced full speed to their hotel.
I ran full force into the hotel and into the tower where production was being held. I nearly fell into the office gasping and sweating from running so hard. If they needed a disheveled look, I had that down in full. They let me rest and compose myself, and improv my scene. I didn’t have to fight off four other people this time, but they liked my audition.
Did I get the part? No. But it was a wonderful memory all the same.
Part Five is said to be in the works, and damn it all if I don’t admit to getting that itch again, but we’ll see how it goes. For a tiny part as a basic pirate, it changed the entire course of my life. I still get photo requests from time to time, and it may be one of the biggest roles I’ve ever done, but it was more than just a few scenes. It’s been a life of friends, memories, and I made my Dad proud of me. It really has been a pirate’s life for me.
I really can’t ask for more than that.