The Lone Ranger - Johnny Depp interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
JOHNNY Depp talks about the importance of playing Tonto in The Lone Ranger and why he was involved in the development of the film from an early stage.
He also reflects on his own career, why his children remain his greatest achievement and how he went about creating his latest look for his character. He was speaking at a UK press conference for the film…
Q. This was an important role for you because there’s an important message behind all the comedy and fun that goes on, there’s a message that it was important for you to get out there…
Johnny Depp: Yeah, it was very important to me. As Gore and Jerry and I discussed early, early on, when there was just the very seedling of a story, or a screenplay, an idea basically, we all agreed that first and foremost that the native Americans must be represented with the dignity and the integrity that we know them to have. To try and show what crimes were committed against them, especially at that time, as progress was bashing its way westward. It was important to also take the way the native Americans have been portrayed in cinema for however long cinema’s been around, to take that idea of them, the cliché of them as savages, and flip that on its head.
Q. How much do you personalise and shape your character after you read the script?
Johnny Depp: When I read a screenplay, somewhere within the first 10 pages something hits you, something grabs you and you know that somehow you’re invested. What happens to me is that character, as I read through the script, I start to get images of things. On Edward Scissorhands one of the strongest influences on the character was the dog that I had when I was a kid. It could be anything like that in terms of inspiration. You add as much as you can get away with basically, and I’ve been pretty lucky.
Q. What research did you undertake Johnny? And who were your idols growing up?
Johnny Depp: Let’s see. What was the first question? The second one is so much easier: Marlon Brando, I think, is probably the greatest influence on, I think, the majority of actors – 98% of actors throughout the world from about 1948 on. It was no mistake, he revolutionised acting. So, Marlon Brando.
And then the other part of the question… what inspired me was to try to at least attempt to get a couple of shots in on the dragon, attempting to slay the dragon of the cliché of the native American as a savage, or lesser than the white man, or in this particular case as the sidekick of the Lone Ranger, of the cowboy. And to portray what they call themselves, what they were called before Columbus made his faulty remark that he thought he’d landed in India and named them Indians. They were called the Human Beings, and that’s how they should be represented I think. A great culture, a great people, with unbelievable humour. If you think Tonto was eccentric, spend some time [with them], they’re funny people man.
Q. You created a great character for Disney with Jack Sparrow, and you spoke at the time of studio concerns about what you were doing. After that turned out to be such a great success was there a lot more trust coming into this? And can you tell us about the time you spent with the native American community…
Johnny Depp: Certainly, when we did the first Pirates of the Caribbean they wanted to fire me so bad they could taste it. And when I spoke to one of the executives at the time I said: “You’re right, you should fire me. But you’ll have to pay me for my time.” It was something that they couldn’t quite figure out or get a handle on. They didn’t know what to do or how to market that character, they wanted to put subtitles on and all that stuff. When you take part in something like that, at the time it was nothing particularly new for me. I’ve always approached the characters the same way. Captain Jack just happened to get a little more attention, and then what happens is, we were talking about images of the character start to come to you, you find these things and put them together.
So, Tonto for me was an opportunity… I’d seen this image of a warrior with stripes down his face, black bars down his face. To me it looked as if you were dissecting the man in quarters. There was the damaged child on this side, and here was the great warrior…. so that was the inspiration for the character. It’s one of those things, you get away with it or you don’t, and I feel like my intention was good with the character and I feel happy with it.
Q. What would your 10-year-old self have thought of you playing out a western on this scale? And was that your earliest taste of acting?
Johnny Depp: I don’t think I’ve developed a taste for acting yet [smiles]. I’m not sure I ever will, to be honest. I’ve had worse jobs. A lot worse. There may be something in the fact that when I was a little kid I’d been told growing up that we had some degree of native American blood in us, I always found that a point of pride. So, when it came to cowboys and Indians I most certainly did not want to be John Wayne. I wanted to be one of the Indians.
Q. Were there particular inspirations for Tonto, in the same way as you say a dog inspired Edward Scissorhands?
Johnny Depp: Well, I would say the thing that inspired me most was being able to spend time with some of the elders of the Commanche nation, who were very, very kind not only to us but to me. The Navajo, spending time with those people, talking about their history from their perspective – which is the real perspective because history is always written by the winners, isn’t it. That in itself was everything to me, just being welcomed into that world.
Q. What special training did you have to do for your roles, or were you already super fit to start with?
Johnny Depp: Yeah, I felt it was important to train for the role of Tonto, first because it’s a film of Gore and Jerry, and you know there’s going to be a lot of physical activity so you want to be prepared for that. It takes us a while to shoot some of these sequences, so you wanted to be ready for all that. Plus, I’m old. Before things start to go completely south you want to try and maintain some sort of physical… you don’t want to weep every morning when you wake up. And also the idea that Tonto had to be taken seriously as a warrior. So I couldn’t wander in there like some skinny, junkie looking guy.
Q. You became 50 last month – congratulations! What things are you most proud of so far in your career and your life in general?
Johnny Depp: My kids. My daughter, Lily Rose, who’s 14, and my boy Jack who’s 11. There’s nothing I’ve done in terms of anything else in my existence that come close. The kids are most important. The work is the work, it’s just a strange job for a grown man.
Q. You were executive producer on this film, what sort of benefits did this bring in terms of decision making?
Johnny Depp: Yeah, I got a chair. And a trailer. Coffee, occasionally. The executive producer credit was a beautiful gesture from Jerry, just out of the kindness of his heart to hand me over that title. Primarily because we were all in it from the very beginning, as I said before, from the very seed of this project we were all there in all the script meetings and whatnot. That, for me, was plenty. That was beautiful, to be welcomed into that part of the process, but then for Jerry to give me that title was quite a shock. So, basically what I’m saying is I didn’t do anything.