Nick has already posted a one-on-one chat with the great William Fichtner. Now it is time to hear from the rest of The Lone Ranger gang. I attended the Ranger international press conference, which – unsurprisingly – focused largely on one John Christopher Depp II.
The film has come under some critical fire for its heart-eating level of violence, but at the conference the topic didn’t really come up. Whether one liked or disliked Ranger, a topic most reporters were far more curious to explore was Depp’s portrayal of a Native America and his claims of Native ancestry. For the record, Depp has claimed some ambiguous percentage of Native genes since the early ’00s. So, unless he has been playing a ten-year long-con on us, this isn’t just something he pulled out of his ass so he could play Tonto. Which isn’t to say it is true. But I believe Depp believes it. Also for the record, Armie Hammer (who plays the Lone Ranger) says he thinks he has some Native American ancestry, but notes “…then again, I don’t know anyone in America who doesn’t also share that claim.” Depp first led himself into the topic when describing his make-up design for the film’s wrap-around subplot featuring an elderly Tonto telling the film’s story to a young boy:
“For the old man, I saw my grandmother you know – or my great-grandmother, excuse me, my great-grandmother who was uh, she did apparently have quite a bit of Indian blood and wore the braids and had the tobacco down her bosom, you know… that was the sort of idea was just to sculpt me into my great grandmother. And Joel Harlow, the magnificent uh makeup technician, killed it, just killed it, you know.
…the weird thing is – you’re only told that as a child. Like Armie said, everyone’s some part Cherokee. I was told I was Cherokee as a kid. I was told I was Creek as a kid. I was told – you know, Chickasaw, I mean so many different things in Kentucky.”
On the topic of his performance choice, and the inevitable criticism playing Tonto would receive…
“…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 what the Native American – how a Native American has been represented in film. So it was a kind of a trick in a weird way to sort of suck them in, and then switch them around, and-and take them on a different path. So in a way, I had to embrace what is deemed as cliché for Tonto, you know. You know uh, in terms of speech pattern or whatever um, but it was trickery yeah, on my part. I wanted to convey that the Native Americans were only deemed savages when Christopher Columbo hit the wrong fucking 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, you know, I mean that’s pretty fucking weird, seriously.
I still expect [the controversy], 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, there’s always gonna be naysayers. There’s always gonna be – everybody’s got an opinion, man, you know. You know, there’s a great Christopher Hitchins quote that he said that – everyone in the world has a book inside them, and that’s exactly where it should stay. So I mean you know, 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. “
Depp also alluded to being adopted as an honorary son by the Comanche Nation (Tonto is portrayed as a Comanche in the film), which happened during production of the film last year.
“…the Comanche, I mean you know, being not merely even welcomed as a part of the nation, but just really being adopted in what that means, and what it’s meant since that day had given me so much in my life, you know, I’m not a particularly spiritual person myself. But the only church I’ve ever seen that makes sense to me is a sweat lodge.”
For those who have followed Depp’s career, Ranger makes an interesting companion piece with 1995’s esoteric western Dead Man, in which Depp plays a white man shot, left for dead, and saved by a wise Native American (played by Gary Farmer).
“I will admit to not seeing the film, but I feel somehow that Jim Jarmusch made a great and amazing, and sort of epic poem of a western with Dead Man. Haven’t seen the film. 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.”
While the casting of Johnny Depp was clearly the fuel that pushed this project forward, the casting of The Social Network‘s Armie Hammer as our titular hero took some – myself included – by surprise. Director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer expounded on the subject:
Verbinksi: “We couldn’t get Jimmy Stewart, andyou know, he’s – 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. We had to collide these two guys together. Just look at them. I mean that’s – these are a pair of numbskulls, who doesn’t want to go ride into the west with both of those guys?”
Bruckheimer: “I just think his – for me, Armie’s optimism. We’re all cynical, jaded, veterans of you know, this experience and it’s day 93 and we’re just covered in dust, and it’s in our nose and our ears and – and our food. And the train doesn’t work and everything’s broken, and you’re frustrated and the crew’s down, and Armie walks in and he’s like “look what we get to do today! There’s a train and look at these horses!” And you kind of – you kind of just go wow, yeah, you know, that’s what we’re supposed – we’re really privileged, and this is what we’re here for, and we’re supposed to have fun. And he can remind you of that. And the character of The Lone Ranger had to have these kind of long forgotten belief systems of you know, there’s noble causes that he had to kind of ride into this – arrive on this train with these, with his – sort of blindly believing in things like justice, and kind of crash hard into Tonto, and to learn painfully.”
I’ll leave y’all with this delightful exchange between Depp and Hammer, when Hammer decided to interject with a joke he learned while on set.
Hammer: What do you call 64 Cherokee in a room?
Depp: Wow, this could get weird.
Hammer: Full blood!
Depp: Full blood.
Hammer: This was told me by a Comanche.
Hammer: Yeah, so I feel like it’s a safe joke.
Depp: How proud of Armie are we? Seriously, he told a safe joke.
Hammer: I’ve got unsafe jokes.