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Keith Richards rocks a new generation

After decades of dark excess, Keith Richards seems wildly out of place at family-friendly Disneyland. But on a recent Saturday, there he was, a rock ‘n’ roll exile on Main Street USA, attending the massive movie premiere of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” the fourth installment in the blockbuster franchise in which he briefly appears as Capt. William Teague, father to Johnny Depp’s scoundrel son Jack Sparrow.

“No one is more surprised by all of it than me,” the Rolling Stones guitarist said with a wink. “I never expected to work for the Disney organization for a while. I’m still shocked, but, hey, it’s all good fun.”

Richards first got on board for a cameo in the 2007 film “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” at the behest of Depp, whom the musician describes as a “blood on blood” friend, and it’s quite apparent they have a jolly good time playing pirate together. “If Johnny says he wants to do something, well, it doesn’t take much to get me to show up,” Richards said with a rasp of a laugh.

The legendary guitar player was given a surprising amount of spotlight during the six-hour premiere, which was really more of a pop-culture pep rally, with more than 700 fans paying $1,000 each to join invited guests and watch the 3-D film on a six-story outdoor screen, eat dinner and see the stars up close.
Johnny Depp (center), Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane are shown in a scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” from Disney. (MCT)
Johnny Depp (center), Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane are shown in a scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” from Disney. (MCT)

With a big pirate grin, Richards went through it all, shrugging, bowing and staggering, the same bleary ballet that famously inspired much of Depp’s on-screen shtick as Sparrow when he was first putting his now-signature character together for the 2003 film “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

In this new movie, Richards is on screen maybe two minutes, but it’s enough time to kill a man, pass on some key knowledge to his offspring and deliver a line that gets one of the biggest laughs in the movie.

“Well, basically, I tell Johnny what to do at one point, and then I get out of there,” Richards said.

He had just arrived at the theme park in a black SUV and was waiting in a green room where two makeup artists stood by to touch up the Disney Channel starlets and MTV faces who showed up for the all-hands-on-deck media event. It was a world apart from a Stones stadium show, but there was one thing Richards recognized.

“You can hear ‘em screaming already,” he said, nodding toward the wall and the thousands of fans beyond who lined the park’s sidewalks and already had waited hours for a glimpse of the celebrity parade to the premiere.

“This is so different than what I usually do, and I love to see how it’s made, you know,” he said. “And I don’t have to really do a lot of work. We did it in London at Pinewood Studios, and it was the usual thing. You get there early, and you wait around a long time. The makeup takes a long time; it’s an incredible amount of makeup, and sometimes you’re sitting there next to a guy who’s getting scales put on. ... It’s a lot of preparation to do something that will be short, but it’s amazing stuff, as you expect.”

A few days earlier, Rob Marshall, the director of the new film, said the set crackled with excitement on the day that Richards was scheduled to do his pirate duty. “What an amazing guy; he can’t help but be himself, and it was just an honor to have him come in,” said the Oscar-nominated filmmaker (“Chicago”), who picked up the franchise after the three-film run by Gore Verbinski. “We were in London too, so people were just freaked out that he was coming.”

Marshall himself wrote the line that Richards delivered, but he brought it to the rock star with trepidation. “It required him to have some fun with himself, and I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about it, but it was great, he loved it,” Marshall said. “He is just so self-effacing and funny in general. I told him he was doing some great acting and he said, ‘You should see my Hamlet.’”

Marshall made it clear that the whole scene with Richards, which takes place in and around a scabby old tavern early in the film, was put in to satisfy the star of the franchise.

“He and Johnny have an extraordinary chemistry together, and they really love each other,” Marshall said. “When Johnny said to me and to us, ‘I want Keith in this one,’ what worked out really nicely is that instead of a cameo he’s actually really part of the storytelling and he puts the plot in motion in a way. He sends Jack on his quest, and it really brings a smile to your face when you see them on screen together.”

“Life,” the memoir out in paperback this month, only enhanced Richards’ real-world desperado aura and rock stature. Publisher Little, Brown and Co. paid $7 million for the 500-page-plus book, which was written with veteran journalist James Fox, an investment that seems to have paid off. Richards said the wave of positive reviews for the book, which debuted at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction when it was initially released in October, was more than he expected.

Richards was in a good mood at the “Pirates” premiere, eager to go meet the screaming masses. That the youngest fans knew more about the Black Eyed Peas than they did “Black and Blue” didn’t bother Richards one bit. It actually provided a special sort of satisfaction.

“Not everybody that likes pirate movies necessarily likes rock ‘n’ roll, right, and so this all gives me another chance to communicate with different people,” Richards said. “Now everywhere there’s all these young people who know me as Capt. Teague, not as Keith Richards. ‘That’s Jack Sparrow’s dad!’ And that’s cool, man.” 

By Geoff Boucher

(Los Angeles Times)

(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)
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