When "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" was announced for a summer 2011 release, fans went wild. Then the project hit rough waters following the departure of studio chief Dick Cook, a big supporter of "Pirates" star Johnny Depp. The Jack Sparrow actor subsequently expressed hesitation about continuing with the series.

Still, the project sails forward. Depp's not a lock until he signs off on the script, which he hasn't yet seen, but Captain Barbossa actor Geoffrey Rush told MTV in late September that he's been told to keep his schedule open for cameras to roll next spring.

And before any of that took place, in midsummer, word emerged that Rob Marshall, director of the Academy Award-winning "Chicago," is negotiating to direct "On Stranger Tides." So when MTV's Josh Horowitz spoke to Marshall at the press junket for his upcoming musical "Nine," he had to squeeze in a few questions about the status of his work on "Pirates."

"[The deal is] very close to happening, actually," Marshall said. "I'm very excited ... excited to work with Johnny."

It's an unusual change of gears for the series. Gore Verbinski directed the three previous entries, a good pairing of material with the same guy who directed "The Ring" and the Brad Pitt/Julia Roberts-starring action/thriller "The Mexican." Marshall, on the other hand, represents a sharp change in direction, what with his "Chicago" and (soon enough) "Nine" cred — two musicals.

"I think [Disney is] probably looking for a fresh approach," he explained. "I think it's good when you're doing these series' of films, like 'Harry Potter.' It's nice to bring in a fresh approach." The real question is, how does Marshall define "fresh"?

"I don't know yet. Johnny's playing Captain Jack, so that's there," he revealed. "It'll be its own thing. I'll approach it as a film." This confirmation is at odds with Depp's own recent comments that he'd only do another "Pirates" if he read a script that was "worthy of the audience's attention," but Marshall is pretty sure the actor is in.

"You know what, [he's in] as far as I know. The truth is, we all love Dick [Cook]. He's a very special, special man," Marshall explained. "So [his departure from Disney] was hard for everybody. But Johnny is a great guy and we've been looking to work together for awhile, so it's going to be nice to be able to do that, hopefully."

Marshall doesn't have a timetable, though he is certain that "On Stranger Tides" is next for him. Given the musical background, we have to wonder if Depp will get to break into song, especially after his success with Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd" adaptation. And a Jack Sparrow song-and-dance number could be an amazing thing indeed.

"I'm sure we'll do something," Marshall revealed. There'll be a little something in there ... from us. The great thing is that I love Johnny. He's incredible, as an actor and as a person too. So I know it'll be a great experience."

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