Johnny Depp Talks Tonto in ‘Lone Ranger’; New Set Photos

Published 3 years ago by , Updated May 9th, 2013 at 9:27 am,

One of the sources for the controversy surrounding Disney’s Lone Ranger reboot has been the decision to feature Johnny Depp as the titular hero’s American Indian sidekick, Tonto. Reactions have ranged from supportive – including leaders of the Navajo Nation – to skepticism about Depp’s asserted Cherokee/Creek heritage – and even outcries that Depp playing Tonto is tantamount to the actor going “Redface.”

The first image of Depp as Tonto didn’t help, especially given the surface similarities between Depp’s Lone Ranger getup and his well-known Jack Sparrow costume. However, it was quickly pointed out that Depp’s look was more than simply another example of the A-lister’s artistic eccentricities; instead, it’s seemingly inspired by “I Am Crow”, an artistic representation of the Crow people from the American midwest, painted by Kirby Sattler.

Depp has confirmed that as being true to EW, elaborating on the logic behind his decision in the process:

“I’d actually seen a painting by an artist named Kirby Sattler, and looked at the face of this warrior and thought: That’s it. The stripes down the face and across the eyes … it seemed to me like you could almost see the separate sections of the individual, if you know what I mean… There’s this very wise quarter, a very tortured and hurt section, an angry and rageful section, and a very understanding and unique side. I saw these parts, almost like dissecting a brain, these slivers of the individual. That makeup inspired me.

“It just so happened Sattler had painted a bird flying directly behind the warrior’s head. It looked to me like it was sitting on top. I thought: Tonto’s got a bird on his head. It’s his spirit guide in a way. It’s dead to others, but it’s not dead to him. It’s very much alive.”


nativeamericanart1 280x170 Johnny Depp Talks Tonto in Lone Ranger; New Set Photos

The actor also re-iterated his own previous statement(s) on why he wanted to portray Tonto, saying he aims “to [mess] around with the stereotype of the American Indian that has been laid out through history, or the history of cinema at the very least — especially Tonto as the sidekick, The Lone Ranger’s assistant. As you’ll see, it’s most definitely not that.”

Depp’s claims echo those of director Gore Verbinski, who likewise has expressed an intent to subvert the traditional Lone Ranger mythos in the upcoming reboot. Their approach to said task (so far) looks to include making Tonto the narrator who recounts “the true story” about the eponymous masked cowboy’s adventures – and incorporating elements of American Indian mysticism that gave rise to the much-ballyhooed werewolf rumors – all brought to life in a “photo-real” representation of the Old West, as detailed in recent photos leaked from the Lone Ranger‘s “set” in the New Mexico desert (see below):


Whether or not Depp and Verbinski – working from a screenplay originally penned by Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road), then reworked by Pirates of the Caribbean series writers Ted Eliott and Terry Rossio – will ultimately manage to pull off the task they’ve set for themselves… well, we’re all curious to find out the answer to that question.

The actor and director team managed to create a memorably odd inversion of the Western genre with last year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar-winner Rango, while their success at reinvigorating the swashbuckling adventure genre with the Pirates series is well-documented – to say nothing of Verbinski’s previous (successful?) attempts to infuse some new life into the crime/caper genre with The Mexican and integrate Japanese horror elements into an American context with The Ring.

That’s all to say: Lone Ranger should likewise be an “interesting” demonstration from Verbinski in how to dust off an old-fashioned (outdated?) approach to storytelling – and refurbish it for the 21st century.

Lone Ranger rides into theaters around the U.S. on May 31st, 2013.


Source: EW, The Daily Mail

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  1. love everything with Johnny Depp!

  2. I see a lot of tonto halloween costumes selling out.

  3. Tonto was not a side-kick. He was a blood brother.
    A warrior and scout who brought a specialized skill
    set to being an equal partner in the fight for justice.

    Depp and Verbinski seem to think they are abandoning
    stereotypes yet it is they who engage in stereotypical
    thinking about who Tonto was and what he represented.

    • Whoa! Take it easy! I don’t think he used the term sidekick as a way to belittle Tonto’s role. I mean Robin is the iconic sidekick of Batman, but every fan knows he’s MORE than just a tag along (at least in most depictions and media), but is more of an adopted son. And from watching the Moore/Silverheel episodes, Tonto’s role wasn’t much different than Robin’s

      Sure “partner” might be a better word to use, but I don’t think that just because they use the term sidekick is some kind of clear indication that he’s going to have a hardly useful role.

      • My comment was based upon the totality of
        statements to date by Depp and Verbinski
        of which virtually all have been clueless.

        • So are you saying that Tonto has not usually been portrayed as a sidekick in past incarnations?

  4. I don’t know if he’s crazy or he’s a genius…probably both!

  5. In classic fashion, small boxed-in minds follow lamely behind artists. Remember when the little suits at Disney all had heart attacks when they saw Depp channeling Keith in the first Pirates? You could hear the collective “oy! he’s lost his mind! We don’t know from this swishy makeup schtick!!” halfway across LA.. clearly because they (unlike 99% of the population, who got it instantly) had no reference in their bourgeoise all-about-the-dollar mindsets for Keith Richards or the Stones iconic ’72 tour (where Depp pulled the clothes/makeup from, intact)… only AFTER it was carefully explained to them and they all made gazillions, did they exclaim “oh, haha yeah, KEITH, oh of COURSE we knew all along, heheh.. that johnny’s a genius, lemme tell ya, hahah..” so… now we have a native american role in the hands of someone who actually is a portion native american (despite the journalist’s passive-aggressive “skepticism” snark in the first paragraph), an actor who has a huge brain, a sophisticated worldview and perceptive politics… do ya’ll think he’s gonna play Tonto like some musty sid ceasar/imogene coca “HOW… UGG.. ME HEAP BIG INDIAN” cheap-laughs vaudeville 50s insult? Again… small minds (suits and the journalists who submit to them) are always left to sniff the ground that artists walked on weeks before, cluelessly looking for clues to the Real Thing.

    • I haven’t really gotten the impression that the majority of people believe Depp is going to play (as you put it) Tonto as a “musty sid ceasar/imogene coca “HOW… UGG.. ME HEAP BIG INDIAN” cheap-laughs vaudeville 50s insult.” The main concern I’ve seen expressed by most people has to do with how the Ranger himself is going to be portrayed.

      Also, my article makes it crystal clear that Depp’s intent is to portray the complete opposite of an American Indian stereotype (something he has support from certain tribal leaders to do). Apparently, you were too busy insulting me and other “small minds” to bother really reading the very article you decided to comment on. Otherwise, I assume you would’ve caught that.

    • I second everything Sandy has said.

      And your insult of Sandy was unjustified and out
      of order and below the standards of Screen Rant.

      Otherwise your rambling judgmental condescending post
      can accurately be characterized as essentially incoherent
      and only succeeds in imparting your sense of self-importance.

  6. I would like johnny depp to do an bio pic of howard hughes, with chris nolan director,going off rumors here about nolan doing a period piece after TDKR, and he was thinking of dusting an old script based off “citizen hughes” he wrote back in 2004. and was planning on being release in 2014

  7. Does he have to look like a Freak Weirdo in every singe Friking Movie? OMG!

  8. My 4 year old son (who has watched a lot of the Clayton Moore Lone Ranger episodes) just walked in and, pointing at Johny Depp, said, “Who is that?”
    I said, “Tonto in the new movie they’re making.”
    He said in a drawled out, high pitched four year old voice, “He looks pretty strange.”
    I bet there are a lot of people thinking the same thing.

    I’m a little bit reserved in my enthusiasm but am looking forward to seeing the movie. The Lone Ranger has long been a favorite of mine. I don’t think this can be worse than the “Legend of the Lone Ranger” movie they did in the ’80s. Even if it’s not good we still have the old TV show to watch.
    I will be glad to see the “Me Tonto” pidgin English excised. Even if Tonto is the brains behind the operation, as long as the Lone Ranger is genuinely heroic in his actions I’ll be satisfied.

  9. Would this not be the first western Depp has starred in since Jim Jarmuch’s “Dead Man?”

    • rango

  10. Im personally bothered by Depp playing Tonto at this point I have a hard time believing hes native american. Ok and yes I know someone in Depps family was native american…give me a break. Im half black, half Italian but I dont believe I have any business playing Martin Luther King Jr. Or Tony Soprano lol. not trying to turn this into a racial discussion but its the same prob fanboys have with a comic character being turned from one race to another for the sake of selling the movie to other races.

  11. I predict a huge flop. You are taking an iconic American hero for the 19th century and trying to turn him into someone from the 21st century wearing a Lone Ranger outfit. Mess with the character and ruin him and your messing with your box office. The Lone Ranger is NOT a comedy.

  12. Personally I support Depp. I have always enjoyed his acting versatility and hope he will do nothing but bring honor to the role of Tonto.

    My only concern has always been that this movie will be done like the Green Hornet update and the “sidekick” is actually the competent one, upstaging the supposedly “star” of the film at every turn. As long as both are equally adept at their own special field and fight along aide each other as equals, that’s all I would desire.

  13. I just have one question. In this day and age, what with there being Native American actors out there like Adam Beach and Wes Studi, what moron decided that Depp was right for this part? I would have preferred Adam Beach.

    Another problem I have is that Depp completely ruined Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I have a nasty feeling he’ll do the same here.

    • Damn right!

  14. Awesome! I think Depp will make a great Tonto. Next, they should cast Mel Gibson as Obama.

  15. For all those that defend Depp in this role. Even if it is actually good and they make fun of the stereotypes, which is not proven so far, there is still the fact that they cast Johnny Depp. Saying that Depp is native because he has native ancestry would be the same as saying Puschkin was black because he has African ancestry. Actually by that line of thinking all people on this planet are black because we all have African ancestors.
    But back to the point at hand. Had an actual Native played this role, someone not looking like the stereotypical European, and who has actually grown up in one of the Native Cultures, for this film preferably Comanche, the impact would be much greater as well as the effect to make fun of stereotypes. And no one can say that there aren’t male Native actors who could have done it. They could have cast one of the Spears brothers, they are known, or even one of those in Twilight, this is Disney so these names would definitely draw attention. But nooooo they had cast Johnny Depp, which is also bad because apparently they need big names to get peoples’ attention and it hinders new actors becoming famous. For every white actor playing in red face there is one less Native actor getting a chance.

    • i imagine people tried out and johny depp was funnier. tonoto being native american does not mean the actor has to be native american. the only thing that matters is who brings disney more money and they obviously decided depp would. if disney did anything else than they would not be doing their duty to their stockholders. the only responsibility a corporation has is to make money for the stockholders. that is not a moral problem it is just a reality of the fact that the people hired by a corporation oh their loyalty to the stockholder above all else.

  16. Love everything he does. I’m really looking forward to seeing this, it was filmed in my home state!

  17. wais020800

  18. I am so happy Django was produced. I wished Tanto could be a real native american as well. And I like Johnny Depp’s acting but that is certainly not the place. Redface, so rude, it’s the equivalent to blackface.

  19. I understand where Depp is coming from with Tonto and it will be tricky, but the thing is that he isn’t one-sided, nor multi-sided; he doesnt have sides because he portrays whole people. from the comments I get the idea that most people are afraid his character will be “flat foolish”, “flat sidekick” or “flat european guy trying to play a native american” but Depp isnt known for playing flat, and I think therefor we don’t need to worry as much about him as Arnie Hammer’s portrayal of John Reid. I’m afraid he might miss hitting the plank in his attempt to follow Depp with heroic but funny and will, actually, merge into a sidekick whom Tonto has to basically push into becoming the actual hero instead of guiding, you know? like you would do to a spoiled child or a.. angry chihuahua of some sort.

    but thats just my opinion. we’ll see tomorrow, right?

  20. Towards the end of the opening prologue to the original show, they described Tonto as “…his faithful Indian companion, Tonto…” Never mention what tribe Tonto is supposed to be from. During different episodes, maybe 4 or 5, they say he’s a Canadian Native, say hes Crow, Lakota, Comanche. I bring this up because to me, a real Native American KNOWS his roots. We KNOW what tribe we’re from, what band, what village, what camp – and we have strong ties to our culture, for the most part, we do know our identity, it just gets confusing when a lot of us have conflicting images of how that Native Identity plays out in the current day. Hollywoods portrayal of us on the silver screen if about 90% wrong. I feel that what makes this statistic true, is that when a character is supposed to be Native, its not always said WHAT tribe is being represented. Good writers who understand our struggle, Native or not, usually do put a tribal recognition in the script. Most Hollywood writers don’t.

    I think a big thing to point out is that a movies roots start with an idea. To me, the problem with this Lone Ranger/ Tonto idea is the original idea of Tonto. The Lone Ranger, operative word being “LONE” suggests that there was probably never originally a plan to have a long lasting side kick for him. In that first episode, any type of person could have come to the Lone Rangers aid and nursed him back to life. When demographics came out around then, they realized that “HEY, Indians like this story too!” So Tonto it was. But Tonto never had roots, as I said before, when mentioned, he was always from a different area.

    Even if Tonto was centered around ONE tribe, THAT tribe would have its outcry about how the character is being utilized, while the rest of Native America was hunky dory, as long as a Native was cast.

    Before I leave, I’d also like to point out that the script was written and taken around to people. Johnny Depp took a deep personal interest in the script. I think it went through 2 different studios (even having started production on one of them) when for whatever reason, they pulled out. It was Johnny Depp who kept this film alive, and yes – he ALWAYS wanted to play Tonto. Maybe Depp DOES have a deeper understanding of the tribe he was ADOPTED into and want to really steer away from what he understands as stereotypes. I don’t think he realizes the repercussions that will follow his every decision of his portrayal.

    That said, i can’t wait to see the film.

  21. I did not really like the movie

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