Five years later, Paul and I just happened to be in the same place at the same time again last summer—on the movie set of the new film, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
Melody, my daughter, worked as a costumer on the movie in Hollywood and was hired to continue with the crew at Kaneohe Bay on O‘ahu.
I was beyond excited as we pulled onto the muddy, kiawe-lined lot filled with rooster cages, mobile homes and tents. As Melody pointed to a small trailer and said, “That’s Johnny’s [Depp] trailer,” my heart pounded…
His role in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film was a life-changing experience.
From our parking spot in front of one of the large tents, I watched as several beat-up cruisers pulled into the lot. The men who stepped out of these rust-buckets came in all shapes and sizes sporting dread heads, shaved heads, beards, piercings and tattoos. I watched with fascination as the paid pirates paraded into the tent.
Then they undressed and put on their costumes, some of which were strikingly similar to their own clothes. Then they headed to another tent for hair and makeup, and over the next several hours, I marveled at their transformation.
As Melody and I walked through the dimly lit lot surrounded by pirates and zombies to get a bite to eat, I could not help but feel excitement—accompanied by a slight sense of fear. Just then, one of the scariest pirates in the entire motley crew ran up with open arms and hugged me. But I had heard that Paul was hired to play a pirate in the movie, so it was really no surprise to run into him on the set.
Paul, aka “Felix,” a 53-year-old man of Irish decent, grew up in Stockton, California. He enlisted in the Army in 1976, when he served as a helicopter repairman, recovering the bodies of those who were killed in airplane and helicopter crashes. After leaving the Army, he worked at Harrah’s in Reno, Nevada, as a heavy-duty cleaning specialist. He left that job and joined the laborer’s union, but after a work-related injury left him unemployed in 1998, he made his way to Maui, where his sister lived.
Finding himself homeless after spending a month at his sister’s home, he camped out in a tent until he found an abandoned house with no water or electricity. There, he squatted pirate-style for two years, bathing in a nearby waterfall and pond.
A self-professed dark horse, he said he was “always living on the edge,” but makes friends easily with anyone.
And it was with a little help from some of these friends that Paul made it to the movie set.
Eric Hatcher, a freelancer at the Stopwatch, took several photos of Paul and sent them to the casting director, who asked Paul to come to O‘ahu for a casting call.
At the time, Paul was living only on his disability check and had no money for airfare, so another friend, Brad Wehler, a Rotarian and Stopwatch regular, offered to pay his way. When he was called back for an audition, Brad again sponsored his trip.
But it was all worthwhile. Paul got a part as a “sub-core pirate,” one of only 30 extras and the only pirate from Maui. Unlike the “core pirates” who had speaking roles, Paul would remain silent other than for the group pirate utterances. (Arrr.)
Next, it was off to Kaua‘i to attend pirate school. His hair was dyed and a braid was plated into it. He was told not to cut his beard. He was given a wind-burnt complexion and several scars were added to his face. After being photographed and catalogued, he was taught how to fall over, swab the deck, pull ropes… and stare at Penelope Cruz?
“You’re making the last part up,” I said.
“No, I’m not. We really had to stare,” he replied.
Paul was on location for five weeks. The scenes in which Paul appeared were shot at Barber’s Point, Kaneohe Bay and a sound stage in Honolulu. He counted a total of seven sightings of himself in the movie.
When I asked Paul how it felt to work with the stars, he said that Cruz had placed her hand on the shamrock tattoo on his forehead and said, “I want a boy.” [She was pregnant during the filming and did indeed give birth to a boy earlier this year.]
Pirate Paul was really impressed with Depp’s deep devotion to his fans—especially the children and families who came from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He noticed that Johnny took his time writing long messages as opposed to just signing his autograph.
There was also a moment on the boat when Paul was suffering from a bit of heat exhaustion. He had hidden a water bottle on board, and when he went to retrieve it, Depp was standing nearby.
“He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Paul, you did a great job.’”
Paul said he was fed well and actually put on a few pounds during filming. The job changed his life and he noted that he gets good service and special treatment everywhere he goes now. He made a lot of new friends and is a celebrity in his hometown in California and in Makawao where he lives.
But there remains a humble softness in this man’s baby blue eyes that goes just fine with his rough-around-the-edges exterior and Jack-O-Lantern smile.
This pampered pirate, as he refers to himself, said, “I had a blast and got paid for doing nothing.”
Paul is now anxiously awaiting the sequel—and looking for an agent.
The 3D movie opened a few weeks ago, grossing a record-breaking 90.1 million, making it the most popular movie in the world. As of press time, it was still showing at the Maui Mall Megaplex in Kahului and Kukui Theater in Kīhei.