The Lone Ranger star Johnny Depp is the picture of ease here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Movie Fanatic is here to talk to the cast of the new Jerry Bruckheimer-produced, Gore Verbinski-directed Western action adventure.
Given the controversy that resulted from the casting of a white actor when The Lone Ranger was on television airwaves decades ago, Depp thought thoroughly about what he could do to tackle the part, undo years of misrepresentation of Native Americans in film and also enhance the big screen version of a classic American hero.
As can even be seen in The Lone Ranger trailer, Depp tackled the role of Tonto determined to not make a caricature that further adds to the scar that is Hollywood’s representations of Native Americans. “I learned more about this through the great mentor-father-friend that I had in Marlon Brando. In the history of cinema, the Native American has been portrayed as a savage,” Depp said. “It was important to me to at least take a good shot at erasing that.”
He even met with Native Americans of the tribe he’s portraying, the Comanche, to ensure he got it right and even more. They returned his passion, by making him an honorary member. “What I learned from them is that after generation after generation after generation of what their ancestors have been through, what they’ve come out of it with is trying to hold onto that heritage, and the language, and keep it alive,” Depp admitted.
“What I also learned is that they are warriors. They are warriors, still, you know. Even if you lose your way now and again, they are still warriors. They’ve made it this far. It’s incredible.”
If he is worried about any backlash on him for being white and portraying a Native American, Depp is aware that it is there… although he feels he’s done everything he can to put that worry to rest.
“Was there fear with the idea of some kind of repercussion from it? There already has been. And it’s okay. I expected it. I still expect it,” Depp admitted.
“But as long as I know that I have done no harm and represented the Comanche Nation in a proper light. There’s always gonna be naysayers. Everybody’s got an opinion, man, you know? There’s a great Christopher Hitchens quote that he said that everyone in the world has a book inside them, and that’s exactly where it should stay," Depp said, laughing. "People can critique and dissect and do what they want. I know that I approached it in the right way, and that’s all I can do.”
Through his own study and research for the role, Depp was utterly repulsed by what happened to the Native Americans in the era where The Lone Ranger takes place.
“The period was a horrific period, in terms of the indigenous peoples of America. They had been forced like prisoners westward. They were to become Christians or Catholics or abandon their culture, abandon their beliefs, abandon their religion,” Depp said.
“What I loved about the idea of Tonto was that he’s a band apart. He feels that he’s done a horrible act upon his people, therefore he has shame. And he goes out on his own to avenge that. I wanted to convey that the Native Americans were only deemed savages when Christopher Columbus hit the wrong (expletive) place, and decided that he’d hit India. That’s our history. He thought he hit India, and called the people Indians. I mean that’s pretty (expletive) weird, seriously.”
The Lone Ranger and Tonto have been around since the 1930s. Depp’s first memory of them was from his childhood. “I can remember very well as a little kid seeing the series on TV -- the black and white series with Clayton Moore and the great Jay Silverheels,” Depp said.
Even as a youngster, the global superstar knew there was something off about the portrayal of Tonto. “I was always perturbed by the idea of Tonto being a sidekick. That just didn't register properly in my head. I felt, 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.”
Lastly, now that he has embodied two iconic characters, Tonto and Captain Jack from the Pirates of the Caribbean series… we wondered: who would win in a battle -- Tonto or Captain Jack? “It’s over for Tonto,” Depp said and laughed.
“Captain Jack is far too dark. It wouldn’t take long and it would be unpleasant.”