Lone Ranger - Johnny Depp
Lone Ranger - Tonto (Johnny Depp) ©Disney Enterprises and Jerry Bruckheimer, photo by Peter Mountain

Johnny Depp, who has brought such iconic characters as Edward Scissorhands, the Mad Hatter, Sweeney Todd, Willy Wonka and Captain Jack Sparrow to the big screen, now embodies the role of Tonto in Jerry Bruckheimer’s The Lone Ranger.

In the movie, directed by Gore Verbinski, the Native American warrior recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a lawman, into the legendary masked hero, the Lone Ranger.

Johnny Depp spoke of his new movie, which opens on July 3rd, at the press junket for the film, which was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The movie’s framework is Tonto as an old man. What was it like the first time you saw yourself in makeup?

Lone Ranger – Silver and Tonto (Johnny Depp) ©Disney Enterprises and Jerry Bruckheimer, photo by Peter Mountain

Yeah, I’m pretty old [in this]. My great-grandmother apparently did have quite a bit of Indian blood and wore the braids and had tobacco down her bosom, so that was sort of the idea, sculpting me into my great-grandmother.

Joel Harlow, the makeup technician, just killed it.

You met with Indians and learned about their culture. What did you learn from them?

What I learned from them is after everything, from generation after generation, what their ancestors had been through, the majority, the elders, some of the kids,  have come out of it trying to hold onto their heritage and the language.

What I learned is they are warriors still. Even if you lose your way, now and then, you’re still a warrior.

Lone Ranger – Tonto (Johnny Depp) ©Disney Enterprises and Jerry Bruckheimer, photo by Peter Mountain

What were you concerned about portraying Tonto?

The idea of some repercussion, there already has been and it’s ok. I expected it and I still expect it. So long as I know that I have done no harm and have represented, at the very least, the Comanche nation in the proper light.

There are always gonna be naysayers, people can critique and dissect and do what they want, I know that I approached it in the right way and that’s all that I can do.

Lone Ranger – Tonto (Johnny Depp) and The Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) ©2013 Disney Enterprises and Jerry Bruckheimer, photo by Peter Mountain

Young people don’t know a lot about the Lone Ranger or western movies. What kind of message do you want to convey with this film?

What I hope is to try to almost, in a weird way, embrace the cliché so that it’s recognized by people who’ve been conditioned to how a native American has been represented in film.

It was kind of a trick in a weird way to suck them in and switch it off and take them on a different path.

I’ve learned through the great mentor/father/friend that I had in Marlon Brando that in the history of cinema, the native American has been portrayed as a savage or as something lesser, and it was important to me to take a good shot at erasing that. We all approached it that way.

Lone Ranger – Tonto (Johnny Depp) ©Disney Enterprises and Jerry Bruckheimer, photo by Peter Mountain

Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg will be directing the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Why are they a good fit?

I met the fellas and they seemed to have a pretty good understanding and have followed and appreciated everything that Gore had established. And [they] had this direction to go in where Gore had established where we should go.

They seem to have a good handle on it and it seemed like they understood the importance for absolute and total irreverence and irresponsibility on my part.

That’s why I like them. I can basically just do what I want and nobody can say anything.

If Captain Jack Sparrow and Tonto had a fight, who would win?

It’s all over for Tonto. Captain Jack is far too dark. It wouldn’t take long, and it would be unpleasant.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane