IAR INTERVIEW: Johnny Depp Talks 'The Lone Ranger'

Monday, 01 July 2013 17:44 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR INTERVIEW: Johnny Depp Talks 'The Lone Ranger'

For almost 30 years 3-time Oscar-nominated actor Johnny Depp has been entertaining people around the world with his unorthodox approach to playing interesting and offbeat characters. 

He began his career with a small but pivotal role in the horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, and later in director Oliver Stone’s Vietnam masterpiece Platoon, before becoming a teen idol on the popular ‘80s TV series 21 Jump Street. Rather then capitalizing on his fame, Depp focused on playing challenging characters on the big screen in a string of acclaimed films including Edward Scissorhands, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Ed Wood, Dead Man, Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Sleepy Hallow, Chocolat, and Before Night Falls. But it was his unusual turn as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl that earned him his first Academy Award-nomination for Best Actor and made him one of the most popular movie stars on the planet.

Since then he has earned two more Oscar-nominations for his work in Finding Neverland, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and has gone on to appear in such popular films as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Public Enemies, Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist, Rango, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, as well as a cameo reprising his role as Tom Hanson in the big screen version of 21 Jump Street. In addition to acting, Depp also wrote and directed the 1997 movie The Brave with screen legend Marlon Brando, and produced such films as The Rum Diary, Dark Shadows, and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. Now Depp is taking on the coveted role of Tonto in the latest film adaption of The Lone Ranger, which he also executive produced and opens in theaters on July 3rd. 

The new film centers on Native American warrior Tonto’s (Depp) recounting of the untold tale of how John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, was transformed into the legendary hero of justice called The Lone Ranger. The two unlikely heroes must now learn to work together in order to fight against greed and corruption in the Wild West. In addition to Depp and Hammer, the movie features an excellent cast that includes William Fichtner (The Dark Knight), Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins), Barry Pepper (True Grit), James Badge Dale (Iron Man 3), Ruth Wilson (BBC TV’s Luther), and Helena Bonham Carter (Les Miserables). The Lone Ranger was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Gore Verbinski, the team responsible for the first Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. 

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico (along with several other members of the press) to attend an intimate press conference with Johnny Depp to talk about his work on The Lone Ranger. The popular actor discussed his new film, his history with the source material, why he wanted to play Tonto, his apprehension in taking on the role, his own Native American heritage, negative critical backlash, his research, what he hopes young audiences will learn from the film, his favorite Western, and who would win in a fight – Captain Jack Sparrow or Tonto.

I began the press conference by asking Mr. Depp about his history with the film’s source material, his passion for the project, and why he wanted to play the role of Tonto. “Well, I can remember very well as a little kid, seeing the series on TV. You know, the black and white series with Clayton Moore and the great Jay Silverheels,” he explained. “As a very young child, I was always perturbed by the idea of Tonto being a sidekick. That just didn't register properly in my head. I mean no disrespect to anybody at all, certainly not Jay Silverheels, but I just thought it was potentially an opportunity to right the wrong. I think it’s great that Tonto makes The Lone Ranger. I think it’s a very poetic way that he creates The Lone Ranger, and I think it’s right, finally.”

This is not the first time that Depp has portrayed a Native American character on screen, he also did so in his directorial debut The Brave. In fact, the actor has stated in the past that he has Cherokee and/or Creek Indian relations in his ancestry. Depp went on to explain why he felt that he was the appropriate actor to play Tonto in the film. “I learned from my great mentor/father-figure/friend Marlon Brando that in the history of cinema, the Native American has been portrayed as a savage or as something lesser than. It was important to me to at least take a good shot at erasing that, and we all approached it that way. I was told I was Cherokee as a kid. I was told I was Creek as a kid. I was told so many different things in Kentucky. But I’ve always had a fascination and a connection somehow and this film was a great opportunity to be able to, try to at least chip away a little bit at the cliché.”

“The period was a horrific period, I mean in terms of the indigenous peoples of America,” Depp continued. “They had been forced like prisoners, westward.  They were forced to become Christians or Catholics and abandon their culture, abandon their beliefs, and abandon their religion. So it was a very insane time for those people. What I loved about the idea of Tonto, and one of the things that Gore (Verbinski) and I talked about early on, is that he’s a band apart.  He feels that a horrible act has been done upon his people, and therefore he feels shame. He goes out on his own to avenge that. There is a whole lot of history there.”

The actor also talked about his own fear of taking on the role of Tonto and the unavoidable backlash that he has already gotten for portraying a Native American character on screen. “There was fear with the idea and possibly having some kind of repercussion, which there already has been and it’s okay,” Depp explained. “I expected it. I still expect it but as long as I know that I have done no harm and represented at the very least, the Comanche Nation in a proper light, then it’s okay. There’s always going to be naysayers. Everybody’s got an opinion, you know. Christopher Hitchins once said, ‘Everyone in the world has a book inside them, and that’s exactly where it should stay.’ So people can critique, dissect and do what they want. I know that I approached it in the right way, and that’s all I can do.” 

In researching his role, Depp spent a lot of time with Native Americans and he discussed what he learned from speaking with them. “What I learned from them is that after everything, generation after generation of what their ancestors have been through, that they’ve come out of it with trying to hold onto that heritage, and that language, and keep it alive. What I learned is that they are warriors! They’ve made it this far, and it’s incredible.”

Since the character of The Lone Ranger is somewhat unknown to the younger generation of moviegoers, Depp was asked what he hopes to achieve with the message of this film. “My hope was to try to almost in a weird way, embrace the cliché, so that it’s recognized by people who have been conditioned to how a Native American has been represented in film,” he explained. “So it was a kind of a trick in a weird way to sort of suck them in, and then switch them around, and take them on a different path. I had to embrace what is deemed as cliché for Tonto. In terms of speech pattern it was trickery on my part. I wanted to convey that the Native Americans were only deemed savages when Christopher Columbus hit the wrong place, and decided that he’d hit India. That’s our history! He thought he hit India, and called the people Indians. That’s our history, and I mean that’s pretty weird, seriously!”

The Western is an important part of cinema history but with a few exceptions, it is a genre that has not done well in the box office in recent years. So Depp was asked to name some of his all-time favorite Western movies. “That is a tough one,” he replied. “There are so many great westerns. I will admit to not seeing the film, but I feel somehow that director Jim Jarmusch made a great, amazing, and epic poem of a Western with Dead Man. I haven’t seen the film but I love Jim, and I know what he’s capable of. I did read the script by the way, and it was wonderful.”

Finally, Depp was asked who he thought would win in a steel cage death match – Captain Jack Sparrow or Tonto. “It’s over for Tonto,” he replied. “Captain Jack is far too dark. It wouldn’t take long and it would be unpleasant.” 

The Lone Ranger opens in theaters on July 3rd. 

To watch our exclusive video interview with William Fichtner about The Lone Ranger, please click here

To watch our exclusive video interview with James Badge Dale about The Lone Ranger, please click here

To watch our exclusive video coverage from the red carpet of The Lone Ranger premiere, please click here

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