It seemed like a cushy enough task: Go to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Find an employee sorry, cast member hired to roam around as Capt. Jack Sparrow. And get the skinny on what it takes to embody one of the most popular characters ever based on a theme park ride. For starters, does he study the Pirates movies, or just old Keith Richards interviews? And what's his best eyeliner-removal technique?
Before I'd even left for the park, though, I hit a snag. A call to Disney revealed that cast members aren't allowed to speak with the press, in or out of character nor can the company talk about anyone playing Cap'n Jack. I went to the Happiest Place on Earth nonetheless, hoping I'd at least observe a wobbly-legged Johnny Depp look-alike in his natural habitat. Then another snag: I couldn't find one. Sure, there were the three animatronic Jack Sparrows in the refurbished Pirates of the Caribbean ride. And I did spy two garden-variety pirates harassing parkgoers near the ride's entrance. (Pirate: ''Ye be spending too much time in yer basement, ya pale landlubber!'' Pale teen boy: ''I'm...I'm not a lubber!'') But hours passed with nary a Jack in sight.
Just as I was set to decamp for the Toy Story ride, the Captain finally emerged, flanked by two female Disney minders and collecting children behind him like a pirate pied piper. ''Oh, my God, is that Johnny Depp?'' squealed one teenage girl. Yes, the resemblance was impressive. Our Sparrow tipsily posed for photos and signed autographs with the requisite eye rolls, spine wiggles, and marble-mouthed non sequiturs. He held court for 45 minutes before his handlers wrested him away, insisting Jack needed to return to the Black Pearl. Two hours later, Jack was back, the line this time even longer. If I didn't know any better, I'd say Buzz Lightyear looked jealous.