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June 1, 2013   Articles No Comments

Title: Return of the Native

Author: Holly Grigg-Spall

Publication: Total Film

Issue: Summer 2013

 

Photo1Johnny Depp does not watch himself on screen. Ever. Something about preferring to be ignorant of the results of his work. That once it’s cut and locked, it’s none of his business. But he’s not ignorant to the fact that he’s raged against the machine on numerous projects. “Somebody once put together a reel of various bits of different films that I have done,” he admits in his trademark quiet drawl, while sipping a sneaky beer in Vegas. “When I saw all the characters lined up in a row like that, I thought it was amazing that I was able to get away with it. I still feel lucky to be in the game… well, to be in the game without having to play the game too awful much, you know?”

Getting away with it is something Depp has turned from a career reinvention (wilfully rejecting easy heartthrob fame in favour of the weird and wonderful wilderness) into a billion-dollar franchise cash cow. Cast as Jack Sparrow in Pirates Of The Caribbean back in 2003, Depp horrified studio bosses during filming with his decision to play Sparrow as a sozzled, seafaring Keith Richards replete with dreads and guyliner. (“I think it was Michael Eisner, the head of Disney at the time, who was quoted as saying, ‘He’s ruining the movie’,” Depp recalled gleefully in 2010.) The gamble paid off – the Pirates franchise has netted nearly $4bn to date – and Depp’s quirky approach to characterisation is what those same honchos now pay top dollar for. Want an outlaw to play an outlaw? Heeeere’s Johnny…

Which is why Total Film has braved the desert heat of Las Vegas to see a sneak peek of western romp The Lone Ranger at Caesars Palace and catch up with the cast and crew about the making of Disney’s big summer tentpole hope. “I get this picture of this Indian with a crow on his head and it came from Johnny,” recalls producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who never met a money-spinning franchise possibility he didn’t like and had been looking to reboot The Lone Ranger for a couple of years. “And I said, ‘well, who’s the actor? Who’s doing this?’ [Johnny said] ‘It’s me.’ I think that’s what attracted everybody, including Disney.”

Yep, Depp, with his battered trilby, ragged brown leather jacket and unassuming air may seem like the reluctant power player, but he’s the catalyst for this project -inspiring a corporation to put millions behind the revival of a dormant radio and TV cowboy and his loyal sidekick via his usual unorthodox methods. Take the pitch; director Gore Verbinski had turned down every version of the script shown to him by Bruckheimer – including several more supernaturally-inspired incarnations – over a four-year period. It was only when Depp presented Verbinski with a photo of himself in character with black and white stripes down his face and that dead black crow (Depp’s spirit guide, apparently), as they were hanging out on the beach while Verbinski directed Depp in Pirates 2, that the director decided to take another look. And to look at it from a more sympathetically ethnic perspective than previous incarnations where a Wild West ranger goes rogue in the pursuit of truth and justice while his subservient, clichéd and stereotypical ‘Indian’, Tonto, skivvies for him.

“Since cinema has been around, Native Americans have been treated very poorly by Hollywood,” says Depp. “What I wanted to do was play Tonto not as a sidekick – like ‘go fetch a soda for me, boy!” – but as a warrior with integrity and dignity. It’s my small sliver of a contribution to try to right the wrongs of the past.” Plus, for Depp, this time it’s personal. “I’m probably one sixteenth Native American, but of course that’s hard to trace. Basically that means it’s likely that, somewhere along the line, you were a product of rape.”

“No one had heard the Lone Ranger story from Tonto’s perspective,” Verbinski tells TF enthusiastically, dismissing the ’40s and ’50s TV series as ‘squaresville and very cheesy’. “This film, it could be called ‘Tonto and the Masked Man’. We kept all the archetypes – the white hat, the silver bullet, the white horse, but we created them through the thread of Tonto.” He rubs his beard and furrows his brow, “This is an origin story and it was Tonto that created the Lone Ranger. That’s what made this project interesting to me.”

That origin story sees Texas Ranger John Reid rescued by Tonto after baddie Butch Cavendish kills five ranger colleagues, including Reid’s own brother. “The Lone Ranger believes in the laws of man and Tonto believes in the laws of Nature. Their worlds are colliding as the Transcontinental railroad makes its way through Indian territory and the cavalry and Comanche fight over the land,” describes Verbinski. “We take the Native American and the cop and force them together, have them make a pact for justice when they each have their own idea of what that means. It makes for good buddy movie math and it’s an opportunity to tell an epic tale.” Essentially, what Verbinski envisioned was giving Depp the chance to play Sancho Panza to the Lone Ranger’s Don Quixote, a role he had taken on for Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

Bringing on Revolutionary Road writer Justin Haythe to update the script, both Depp and Verbinski were keen not to merely repeat their previous success with the fantastical but not necessarily critic-endorsed Pirates movies. “The Lone Ranger deals with more gravitas,” Verbinski insists. “You’re talking about the plight of the Native American. It’s called The Lone Ranger because six of the seven rangers are killed, including his own brother. The characters are borne out of tragic events and you don’t want to be cavalier about that.”

While Depp immersed himself in Comanche culture in preparation for the role – even getting ‘adopted’ by Native American activist LaDonna Harris and welcomed into the Comanche Nation – Verbinski sought his ranger, a partner to Tonto but also an actor who could match Depp on screen while wearing a mask most of the time. Bruckheimer, Verbinski and Depp all agreed on the statuesque Armie Hammer (“Armie has this great, blind optimism – we needed someone who you could believe could have old-fashioned ideas,” says Bruckheimer) and he wasn’t about to turn down the franchise power trifecta.

Photo2“Gore, Johnny and Jerry – if you have the opportunity to work with the dream team, you do it,” smiles Hammer. Though the 6ft 5in 26-year-old actor had worked on prestigious projects (Fincher’s The Social Network and Eastwood’s J. Edgar), this was his BIG movie – big-ass budget, huge location sets in Albuquerque, massive stunts and set-pieces… Hammer had to try hard not to compete with the size of what was going on around him and believe in himself as that masked man. “Just because the set-pieces are big doesn’t mean your acting should be,” he explains earnestly. “There’s a constant streamer in my head going, ‘What are you doing here? This is their job not yours. Why should you be here?'” He looks up, lets out a kind of frustrated ‘bleurgh’ sound, and then laughs; “I had to just think that I’m obviously here because they want me to be. I’ll do the best I can and if they don’t like it they can fire me and I’ll do something else.”

Part of Hammer’s discomfort, he admits, served the banter between Tonto and the Lone Ranger. “A lot of the humour is situational and based off the difference in world view or difference in opinion of how a situation should be handled. There’s a lot of rub in the relationship –  how do they live together? How do they stay buddies and work together? What’s their process? You don’t see that in the TV show.”

“It’s nice to take a character who believes in right and wrong and throw him in a soup that’s all grey and he can’t find purchase in that soup,” laughs Verbinski. “Westerns have had relationship movies like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and this is just a much more dysfunctional one!”

So maverick characters all at sea – figuratively against a period backdrop, a sprinkling of comedy, big set-pieces and the real possibilities of this being a set-up for further Tonto and Ranger adventures, but definitely not Pirates, right? “The Pirates movie is based on an amusement park ride –  it’s fanciful and it’s supernatural,” Hammer says firmly. “This movie is none of that as it’s grounded in reality and it is supposed to feel like that.”

But that’s not to say ‘event movie’ is a dirty word. “We’re just gonna give you a big, expansive experience,” promises Depp. “Which is what I wanted when I was a kid – to go to a summer movie that really enthralled me, excited me and moved me, and that’s what The Lone Ranger does.” He pauses, looks over his glasses and smiles conspiratorially. “And well, outlaws are fun,” he grins. “They get to do things that we can’t, y’know? Yeah, they break the rules. So there is that vicarious thrill.” Well, he would know…

May 31, 2013   Appearances Gallery No Comments

Johnny Depp stopped by at the Chevron gas station in California to pump some gas and took pictures with two lucky sisters. One of the girls commented “He’s just pumping gas at my dads work. He’s such a nice guy”.

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Source: Kyla Sessum.

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May 30, 2013   News Projects No Comments

Deadline broke news last night that Johnny Depp was teetering toward the exit door on Black Mass, the Barry Levinson-directed story of Whitey Bulger, with Joel Edgerton playing his disgraced FBI pal John Connolly.

Click here to read more about it!

May 30, 2013   Appearances Projects No Comments

While the US Lone Ranger Premiere is known to be June 22, the date for the UK premiere date is still unknown. But what  we already know is, that Jonathan Massahi, our latest  crew member and our site’s photojournalist, will be there for us, in the press corner, going to ask Johnny some questions*

If you have suggestions about questions that Jonathan Massahi should ask Johnny, post them in the comments or drop him a mail

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May 30, 2013   Movies News Projects No Comments

Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg may have stepped off Legendary’s Spectral, but the duo is hardly adrift.

The acclaimed directors of last year’s adventure movie Kon-Tiki have nabbed the high-profile assignment of directing the fifth installment of Disney’s multibillion-dollar Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, starring Johnny Depp.

Read more: here

May 29, 2013   Appearances News No Comments

Walt Disney Studios Chairman, Alan Horn, announced today that ticket sales from the highly anticipated World Premiere of Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ The Lone Ranger will benefit the American Indian College Fund. The event will take place on Saturday, June 22, at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California. A giant red carpet down the Park’s iconic Hollywood Boulevard will be lined with thousands of park guests cheering for the film’s stars, filmmakers and the many Hollywood celebrities in attendance. The Lone Ranger’s horse Silver will make an appearance and an actual train engine built for the film will be on display.

Read more: here

May 29, 2013   Movies News No Comments

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals wanted to capture the right spirit for The Lone Ranger: Wanted, so the Vermont folk-rockers reached back in time to immerse themselves in The Lone Ranger’s origins as a radio show. When the band looked back on that history, they found an old country gem in “Devil’s Train” and set to work on an adaptation.

Click here to listen to it!

May 29, 2013   Movies News Transcendence No Comments

Downtown Albuquerque is transforming into downtown Berkeley for a few days as part of an upcoming Johnny Depp film, shooting in Albuquerque this week.

A bike store, yogurt shop, clothing store and other shops seemed to spring up overnight on Gold Street.

The awnings of local shops are made to look like Berkeley shops for a few days.

Click here to read more and watch a video!

May 28, 2013   Movies News Transcendence No Comments

Johnny Depp has reportedly hired a couple of homeless people as extras for his latest film.

The actor is said to have convinced a casting director for upcoming sci-fi Transcendence to hire two people living on the streets after he spotted them in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Read more: here

May 28, 2013   General News Projects No Comments

The Hookah Lounge Vol 1 is a new compilation of urban music that features a surprise guest appearance from Johnny Depp , the highest paid actor in Hollywood and the only actor to star in three films that have crossed the 1 billion mark globally.

Clickhereto read more about it!