Gore Verbinski has directed Johnny Depp five times now, from their work on the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies and most recently in Rango. The animated Western where Depp portrays a lizard, Verbinski told us in New Mexico recently, should perhaps have been second in their back-to-back modern Westerns.
“I think we did it backwards. This was the movie that the other one is making fun of,” Verbinski said and laughed.
But seriously, Verbinski considers himself a fan of the genre. So, to be able to make a Western, much less a big screen version of an icon like The Lone Ranger was truly special. And it shows, according to our The Lone Ranger review.
“This is the real thing. I am a huge fan of the Western genre, and the opportunity to actually go out there in the dust with guys on top of trains -- it was never supposed to happen this way.”
Having such admiration for the genre, he became keenly aware of how difficult it is to launch one, regardless of the era. “It’s really dangerous to make a Western, and my respect for all the crew and the stunt people who worked on these great Westerns -- it was kind of a lost art going back to John Ford,” Verbinski said. “Guys had to learn how to fall off horses, or not learn how to fall off horses all while cameras are rolling.”
As seen in The Lone Ranger trailer, the Jerry Bruckheimer production sought to have the highest of production values to lure audiences back into a cinematic experience that celebrated the Old West.
“We’ve got shots like guys jumping from trains to horses, and you see it in 100 movies -- but you have to go out to do it like never before,” he said. “My respect for everybody who worked on Westerns in the great era has gone way up.”
The key to making his Western work was casting the perfect actor to play the title character and his sidekick Tonto. What was it about Armie Hammer that made him the Lone Ranger? “We couldn’t get Jimmy Stewart,” Verbinski said and laughed.
“He’s a brilliant actor. He’s tall, good-looking, handsome, and who doesn't want to put that in a meat grinder and chew it up and see what happens! Throw him on top of a train, underneath a train.”
Evident in this The Lone Ranger clip, Hammer also has electric chemistry with Johnny Depp. “We had to collide these two guys together. Just look at them. These are a pair of numbskulls,” he admitted. “Who doesn't want to go ride into the West with both of those guys?”
Some have made light of the fact that although this is the story of the Lone Ranger, Depp is getting top billing. But, the fact remains that this story is told from the eyes of Tonto… something that set the tale apart, according to Verbinski.
“The decision to tell this story from Tonto’s perspective was the decision to have a Native American perspective in the narrative, and things like the landscape become very important,” the helmer said. The audience can feel the locale in every shot, almost tasting the dusty earth rising into one’s mouth. “It becomes characters in the movie.”
At the center of the drama is the definition of “progress,” as defined by Tom Wilkinson’s businessman. The railroad is ever present. “The train draws a line into that landscape, and it quantifies and bisects it -- and suddenly it’s parceled and sold. The Native American concept of our relationship to the earth wasn’t anything like that,” Verbinski said.
“We’ve lost our connection to the earth. That’s the great thing about Westerns -- landscapes and those ideas can be dealt with thematically. It is perfect to have Tonto team up with the Lone Ranger. One man is ruled by the laws of nature and one driven by the laws of man. Their worlds collide. And they’re both tribeless at the end of this movie, but they have each other.”