Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are frequent film collaborators, including the hugely successful “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise which stars Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. Bruckheimer had been intrigued with the idea of relaunching the classic TV show The Lone Ranger as their next franchise, but the project was languishing in development until Depp stepped in.
Depp figured that the best way to get the ball rolling would be to get into character as Tonto. He rounded up two close friends—makeup artist Joel Harlow and photographer Peter Mountain—and set about creating his distinctive version of how Tonto would look in the hope that it would convince Bruckheimer and the studio, Disney, to give The Lone Ranger the green light.
He based his ‘look’ for Tonto on a painting he’d seen of a Native American warrior and added his own, unique, flourishes. The result was spectacular and it convinced Bruckheimer—and indeed Disney Studios— that it was time for “The Lone Ranger” and Tonto to ride back onto the screen.
“I was doing ‘The Rum Diary’ with Bruce (Robinson) in Puerto Rico, and I had already found a painting of a Native American warrior with these stripes down his face,” Depp explained.
“I asked my makeup artist, Joel Harlow, who is a wizard, to help me put something together. So we did the makeup and I asked the photographer, Peter Mountain, to take some shots.
“We went out into these filthy weeds and started taking some photographs and Peter printed them out and showed me and I was like, ‘Yeah, I think we’ve found him and now he needs to be brought to life.’ I called up Jerry and said, ‘Look, when I’m back in LA, I’d love to sit down with you.’
“And so we met up and I handed him five or six photographs and Jerry said, ‘He’s fantastic. Who is that?’ And I said, ‘It’s me!’ And Jerry said, ‘Jesus! Can I take these with me?’ And I said, ‘ Yeah, sure, show them to the boys.’
“And I also showed them to Dick Cook [former chairman of Walt Disney Studios] and the responses were all very positive because for them, I think there was some element of Captain Jack Sparrow, a Captain Jack–type character. And everybody got excited about it, including me, and then I went after Gore (Verbinski) to direct it.”
The director immediately said ‘yes’ and that meant that the creative team behind the fabulously successful “Pirates of the Caribbean” films—Depp, Bruckheimer and Verbinski, who helmed the first three—were back together.
Fast-rising, young star Armie Hammer (“The Social Network,” “J. Edgar”) plays John Reid in an origins story that reveals how he transforms into the Lone Ranger and unites with a Native American warrior to fight injustice.
“First and foremost, Armie is a great guy,” says Depp. “He’s very smart, very quick and clever with a great wit and he’s super talented. He committed to playing the Lone Ranger as an earnest, naïve, ‘white man’—and that’s exactly right.
“Armie is a young actor coming up the ranks and he looks like a classic movie star and what’s more, he has the chops to back it up. So he fully committed to this role—he played it perfectly, he got the humor, and he didn’t want to play it as the ‘cool guy’ as it were. I found him a dream to work with and I feel like I’ve made a really good friend in Armie.”
“The Lone Ranger” began its journey into popular American culture as a radio show back in 1933 and quickly became a national phenomenon. The TV show, starring Clayton Moore as the masked lawman and Jay Silverheels as Tonto, first aired in 1949 and ran until 1957.
Depp remembers watching repeats of the TV show when he was a boy. The actor promises that his Tonto will be an equal partner—and certainly not a sidekick—to the Lone Ranger and honor the noble, warrior tradition of his Native American heritage.
“‘The Lone Ranger’ was just one of those sort of regular things that you would see on television as a kid. I watched it and I always identified with Tonto,” he says. “And even as a kid I wondered why the Indian was the sidekick.
“And it wasn’t that ‘The Lone Ranger’ was overtly disrespectful in the way he treated Tonto but I just thought, ‘why is he the guy that has to go and do this and that? Why isn’t he the hero?’ So that was something that was always on my mind. And I was told at a very young age that we have some Indian blood in our family…who knows how much – maybe very little, I don’t know.
“So what I wanted to do was play this character not as the sidekick to the Lone Ranger. I wanted to play him as a warrior and as a man with great integrity and dignity. It’s my small sliver of a contribution to try and right the wrongs that have been committed in the past.”
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ABOUT THE MOVIE:
From producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, the filmmaking team behind the blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, comes Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ “The Lone Ranger,” a thrilling adventure infused with action and humor, in which the famed masked hero is brought to life through new eyes. Native American warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice—taking the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption.
“The Lone Ranger” also stars Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson and Helena Bonham Carter.
A Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer Films presentation, “The Lone Ranger” is directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski, with screen story by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Justin Haythe and screenplay by Justin Haythe and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. “The Lone Ranger” releases in U.S. theaters on July 3, 2013.