Branching Out - A Chat WIth Pirates Of The Caribbean's Vanessa Branch

By , Contributor

Stephen Busken

Actress Vanessa Branch

In the Pirates of the Caribbean feature films, moviegoers are transported back to a time when men were, of course, pirates, and women were no shrinking violets either. Some followed in the footsteps of their male counterparts and set sail as pirates, while others like the blonde and beautiful Giselle march to a very different drumbeat. Vanessa Branch plays the wench from Tortuga and one of the many women vying for the romantic attentions of Captain Jack Sparrow. What started out as a mere wisp of a character has become something much more for the actress.

“Giselle is a lady of the night and if you blink you will miss her in the first two Pirates films [The Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man’s Chest] as she’s not in them a great deal,” says Branch. “You do, however, see much more of her in the third movie [At World’s End] as well as a short film that’s coming out in October. She’s a lower class gal who sees herself as a higher class gal. Giselle is really fiery and feisty and struggles through life as necessary.

“My character is also madly in love with Captain Jack Sparrow [Johnny Depp], but constantly gets screwed over by him, as does Scarlett, who is played by Lauren Maher. The two of us are best friends now, having met on the Pirates movies, and one of the fun things about playing Giselle is that Lauren and I get to play off each other onscreen.

“Working on Pirates was such an extraordinary experience because they’re extremely well-done period pieces. So when you walked onto the sets you truly felt as if you had just stepped back 400 years in time. Although I went to the Caribbean to work on the second and third films, I didn’t go there for the first one. It was shot on the studios lot and they created this amazing Tortuga area where everything was dirty and there were drunken pirates as well as animals wandering around and gunshots going off. You literally felt like that’s where you were. That’s what really grabbed me from the start and that amazing feeling continued with the next two movies.”

 

As Branch mentioned, she will be reprising her role of Giselle in the upcoming Pirates short film Tales of the Code: Wedlocked. This short will be part of the October DVD release of the Pirates feature films - including the fourth one, On Stranger Tides - and revolves around the characters of Giselle and Scarlett.

“They [Walt Disney Studios] wanted to do some kind of short version of the film, and although Lauren and I were only very briefly in the first two movies, there is actually quite a bit of fan interest about both our characters as far as where Giselle and Scarlett came from and who they really are,” explains the actress.

“The studio decided to give the fans more information, so we did the short film, which was tons of fun. It was shot on part of the set that was used for the third Pirates movie and the production quality is just as high as in the actual films.

"Wedlocked was directed by Jim Byrkit [storyboard artist] who did a number of the initial drawings of all the characters in the Pirates films and was [director] Gore Virbinski’s kind of right-hand man throughout the first three films. Jim is also an amazingly talented director and we had a ball working with him. Lauren and I got to come up with a lot of neat little extras to add to the story, so I think audiences will be really pleased with the short. It’s charming as well as funny and it not only allowed Lauren and I to reveal more about our characters but also show more of what we can do as actors.”

Born across the pond in London, England, Branch was three years old when she first began entertaining thoughts of becoming an actor. “I was in preschool at the time and they were auditioning five year olds for the role of Farmer John in a school play,” she recalls. “None of the five year olds could get it right, though, so the teacher, who was getting a bit flustered, asked, ‘Is there anyone else who wants to give it a try?’

“I raised my hand and she said, ‘Oh, dear, you’re a girl and you’re too young.’ I was, however, very insistent that I could do it, and from that day on my Mom says I wanted to be an actor. When I got older and went to college I graduated with a double major in Chinese language and English. My parents hoped I would choose a career that was slightly more stable and would allow me to use my Chinese language skills. There are so many things I love to do and that I might do simultaneously in the future, but acting has always been it for me.”

Having stared out as a model before moving into TV commercial work, the actress booked her very first acting job on an episode of the TV series Encore! Encore! starring Nathan Lane. “I was incredibly nervous to be working with Nathan Lane because he’s such a comic genius,” notes Branch. “Joan Plowright was also in the show along with a number of other theater-trained actors and it was just a total joy to be part of.”

Star Trek: Voyager, The Invisible Man, Entourage, Eve and CSI: Miami are among Branch’s other TV credits, while on the big screen she has appeared in such movies as All Roads Lead Home, Cold Play and Suburban Girl in addition to the upcoming 500 Miles North, 6 Month Rule and Kung Fu Hero, which premieres next month in China.

Kung Fu Hero is a child martial arts film and is the story of an eight-year-old boy who gets kidnapped,” says the actress. “I play the lead bad guy, which is pretty neat because skinny blonde women don’t often get to be the villain. I’ve shot a few films in China and in this particular one I speak half-Chinese and half-English. Unfortunately I don’t do any Kung Fu fighting, and I wish I had, but I do get to order all these henchmen around to do the fighting while I pretend to be this deranged, very badly damaged woman.”

Besides her work in Pirates, the actress is perhaps most recognized as the original Orbit girl who, in the TV adverts, promised to clean up “Dirty mouths” and make them “Fabulous” with some help from Orbit chewing gum.

“Funnily enough, my audition for Orbit was one of the worst I’ve ever done in my career,” says the actress with a chuckle. “They gave us all this blocking to do, which was strange for a commercial audition, and then at one point the casting director said, ‘I’m going to throw a tennis ball past your head, but just keep saying your lines.’ She threw the tennis ball, but instead of flying past me, it hit me smack-dab right in the middle of my forehead.

“I’m a trained theatre actor so I just kept going, which made me look like a complete ditz, but at the same time it was kind of in-character. Well, they brought me back for a second audition, this time in front of the director as well as producers. I don’t know what was wrong with me, but I couldn’t get anything right; I was a complete and utter moron in this audition. Later on when I finally booked the job, the director, who was a wonderful Spanish film director, said to me, ‘You know, when we were first introduced I thought you might be the dumbest girl I’d ever met, and therefore perfect for the part, but now I realize what a good actress you actually are.’

“Those commercials were a delight to film. I really had a great deal to do with helping create that character. For example, the ‘Fabulous’ line wasn’t in the initial script. It was my idea to use the same word every time as opposed to the various ones that were in each new script. Again, I had such a ball and it gave me the opportunity not only to act but to play an iconic character. That was very, very cool.”

Please note, Pirates of the Caribbean photos copyright Walt Disney Studios, and Orbit gum photo copyright Orbit.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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