Brenton Thwaites on Henry Turner and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’

by W. Andrew Powell
Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner

Brenton Thwaites has made an incredible career for himself already, and he hasn’t turned 30 yet. After starring in The Giver, Maleficent, and Son of A Gun over the last few years, he’s already worked with Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Ewan MacGregor, Alicia Vikander, Angelina Jolie, and Gerard Butler.

Now, with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Thwaites joins film icons Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Depp as Henry Turner, the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and the busy actor seems to be blazing a trail to a very bright career.

Recently I had the chance to chat with Thwaites about his career, and the opportunity to play a pirate opposite Depp and Rush. He talked about how he got started, his big achievement so far, and how he hopes his character might evolve in Pirates of the Caribbean if he gets the chance to play Henry again.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is in theatres now.

Andrew Powell: At what point did you get interested in doing films and acting?

Brenton Thwaites: “I went to a university called the Queensland University of Technology. But they had a whole creative industry faculty, and I studied the fine arts degree called the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting attached to that university. We studied mainly in theater and acting techniques, or you know, that actors have learnt in plays and theater and drama studies.”

“We did a small segment on film and film acting, but I kind of knew when we were doing all that stuff that I wanted to venture into film, and my ambitions were kind of set on the United States. So I did a few smaller TV series, and a couple of guest stars on some bigger shows. And then I moved to America.”

Did you have a breakthrough moment? Like something that you felt like was a real, I guess, success point for you that led to where you are today? Was there something that started that?

Thwaites: “I think the biggest breakthrough thing that I had was Philip Noyce put me in The Giver, and that gave me a chance to be in a movie with such phenomenal Academy Award winning actors like Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges. And also play the lead character in a story that has a lot of colors and emotion and heart. And so that was one a breakthrough for my own acting experience, and also I think it was a beloved book, and it was a hard role to get, and I think [Hollywood] kind of started paying more attention to me after that.”

The breadth of actors you’ve worked with already is incredible. When you got the role for Pirates of the Caribbean, were you more excited to work with the cast, or more excited for the fact that you get to play a pirate?

Thwaites: “Ha! I think both, mate, to be honest. I love Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Depp. They’re two of my favorite actors of all time, and when I found out Javier Bardem was going to be the main villain, I just was filled with joy and excitement and anxiety. And also, you know, just to look at yourself in the mirror dressed as a pirate is kind of cool.”

Yeah, and you have some fun moments on screen. The opportunity to work opposite, obviously, Geoffrey Rush and everyone, did you notice a difference between how they prepped for the role and how you prepared? Was there anything you learned off of them?

Thwaites: “Well, they prepped for the role like 13 years ago when I was 14. So I don’t really know what initially they were thinking. I know that Geoffrey Rush explained kind of how Johnny got to playing Jack Sparrow. They were saying that he wanted to explore with the sea-legs thing and on land being kind of dizzy, and such a sea-going guy that he would have this kind of drunk land-legs walk, sea-legs walk. But that was right before my prime as an actor, you know. This one, they just all played straight into their characters, and it was more about playing with the material and improvising in the storyline.”

For your character, for Henry, is there something you really wanted to bring out in him? Was there a particular element that you thought was really fascinating about the character? Obviously there must have been a few.

Thwaites: “Yeah, there was. I just wanted to show, basically, his drive and determination in achieving his goals. He’s a character who is, along with Carina [Smythe, played by Kaya Scodelario], driving a story and making sure that all the pirates are basically staying on track with finding the treasure.”

Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites)

Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites)

This is kind of an off-beat question, but the character has a bit of a gap. We see him young, and then we see him older. Did you have any thoughts about what he went through in those in-between years, because it seems like he probably had a bit of a hard life.

Thwaites: “Well, we see him in that young stage already very focused on saving his father, and very passionate about breaking that curse. I think Henry is someone who, in those years, had this objective in the front of his consciousness for those years of his youth. He mentions he spent his life studying the myths of the sea and the supernatural, so I can see him sailing the seas and wandering the streets, talking to mysterious creatures and characters about who was Jack Sparrow.”

“So basically in that whole time, he’s searching for Jack Sparrow to point him in the right direction for this treasure that could essentially save his father. So I see him educating himself on the world that they’re in, and also searching for clues as to where Jack Sparrow is.”

He’s probably one of the most worldly characters in the whole series. If you get a chance to play him again, where would you like to see his story go?

Thwaites: “I’d like to see him explore with his relationship with Carina–just to have more. These guys are so focused and driven into finding this Trident of Poseidon. We see little slices of their character. They have a lot of conflict and tensions to start, and they basically form a relationship when they start understanding more about each other. But I’d like to see them kind of, I guess, team up and work together. Or face tougher obstacles in the next one. I’m not really sure, I’m open to suggestions if you’ve got some.”

I’d like to see how dark he could get. I’d be very curious to see those kind of directions, possibly. But of course there’s a fair bit of darkness already in Pirates.

Thwaites: “Well that would be cool, man. I like that. Yeah, I agree.”

The last thing I want to know is, in terms of future direction, I know you’ve said you want to be able to travel as you work in different films. Do you have a particular style though that you haven’t yet been able to play that you’d like to try?

Thwaites: “I did say that. Now I’m going against that, I’m done traveling, mate. I want to stay with my baby at home.”

“A particular style that I would like to do–I would like to try something like the Dardenne Brothers. They have this style that really observes and watches the character. Like the audience is their best friend just watching them walk through life and experience the things that happen. And there’s a realism and a naturalness to that that I would love to do one day, those kind of illusive oners with a character as they go through life and experience the things that they do. I’d like to do that.”

That’s amazing. Well, thank you for the time. I really appreciate it. It’s great seeing the film, and I look forward to seeing what comes next for you.

Thwaites: “Thanks brother. Have a good day.”

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