IN hindsight, Disney should have made it the prize in a raffle. Three weeks on St. Vincent with your best friend surrounded by the cast and crew of "Pirates of the Caribbean." This was basically the job description for Vanessa Branch and Lauren Maher, the tarted-up wenches of the "Pirates" trilogy.
As Giselle and Scarlett, respectively, they entered the public consciousness in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" by slapping Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow.
For Branch, especially, it was the slap heard 'round the world -- the clip of Depp reeling from his second blow ("I might have deserved that") was used to promote and laud the film; it even showed up at 2004's Academy Awards.
The rewards for the two actresses, virtually unrecognizable without their wigs, decolletage and lurid makeup, were personal as well as professional. Yes, they have the skull rings worn by all the "Pirates" alum, but they also have a friendship that not only turned a three-week shoot into a splendid vacation but also earned them much more screen time in "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."
"We became best friends, got to go down to the Caribbean with Johnny Depp," says Maher. "It doesn't get any better than that."
"Imagine an island paradise, all guys and us," says Branch. "When we got there, the guys straightened up," she adds, "and that lasted for about a day."
Seeing the set for Tortuga for the first time was, she says, a transcendent experience. "You had to take a 30-minute boat ride to this cove where the city was and the ships are there. And as we arrived, the sun was rising and you thought you were in another world."
That, she adds, is the reason people become actors. "You get to be transported to another place and time," she says. "That doesn't happen very often."
Some of the transporting, though, wasn't all that enjoyable. Maher was not particularly taken with the corsets the two had to wear. "It was really hot and you can't breathe," she says. "A couple of the extras fainted. But it made me a little more disgruntled, which was very helpful for being a wench."
Like all of the cast, neither had any idea that when they landed bit parts in the first film they'd soon be "livin' the ride" for three.
Branch and Maher were content with the prospect of a few minutes on screen in "At World's End," but when they showed up for the shoot, they were told they had much bigger parts.
"I think it may be because Gore saw we were such good friends," says Maher. "I don't want to give anything away," she adds, "but we are teaming up on Orlando."