‘Lone Ranger’: Johnny Depp won’t be traditional Tonto, director says [Updated]

Feb. 17, 2011 | 12:30 p.m.
johnny depp Lone Ranger: Johnny Depp wont be traditional Tonto, director says [Updated]

Johnny Depp at the British premiere of ”Public Enemies" (Max Nash / Getty Images)

Johnny Depp will play Tonto when the Disney version of “The Lone Ranger” finally gallops into theaters, but don’t expect him to be a typical second-saddle sidekick.

Director Gore Verbinski — who has made four films with Depp — said he’s interested in a sly, somewhat subversive version of the classic Old West adventure that presents the “faithful Indian companion” as the wry central voice of the story.

lone ranger1 Lone Ranger: Johnny Depp wont be traditional Tonto, director says [Updated]

Masked in the past: Klinton Spilsbury and Michael Horse met the press in March 1980 (Associated Press)

“The only version of ‘The Lone Ranger’ I’m interested in doing is ‘Don Quixote’ told from Sancho Panza’s point of view,” Verbinski said Tuesday. “And hence I was honest early on with Johnny that Tonto is the part. We’re not going to do it [straight], everyone knows that story. I don’t want to tell that story.”

I visited Verbinski’s office on the Universal lot to talk about “Rango,” the animated film that arrives on March 4 with Depp in the title role and surrounded by a dream team of character actors (Bill Nighy, Ray Winstone, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Harry Dean Stanton, Isla Fisher, Stephen Root, Timothy Olyphant and Abigail Breslin), and you’ll see a lot more about that ambitious project here at Hero Complex in the weeks to come. But I also had to ask the “Pirates of the Caribbean” director about his still-forming plans for the Lone Ranger, a hero that dates back to the 1933 radio adventures that galloped out of the imagination of Fran Striker.

lone Lone Ranger: Johnny Depp wont be traditional Tonto, director says [Updated]

Masked in the past: Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels made television history in "The Lone Ranger" (Los Angeles Times archives)

Instead of Striker, though, Verbinski cited Cervantes and seemed eager to put Depp into a character that (like Jack Sparrow)  is good in a fight but also a bit slippery compared to some of the boy-scout personalities around him.  The 46-year-old director explained: “I want the version from the untrustworthy narrator who might be a little crazy — but somehow the question is, is he crazy or is the world crazy? That, I find fascinating.”

Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer have been talking about a Lone Ranger feature film for years and announced in 2008 that Depp would be on board.  The project has been slow to the screen, though, with Depp’s dense schedule and the emphasis by the studio, producer and star on their massively successful “Pirates” franchise, which has pulled in $2.68 billion in worldwide box office with three films and has a fourth scheduled for release this summer. [FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post misstated the franchise box office total.]

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” which opens May 20, marks the handoff of the maritime adventure franchise to director Rob Marshall (“Chicago“). Verbinski was officially announced as the director on “The Lone Ranger” in late November.

In Verbinski’s office, one high shelf behind his desk has a solitary book on it — a hardcover history of the Texas Rangers. He’s in promotion mode now for “Rango” — he’ll be in Europe for events this weekend — but “The Lone Ranger” is moving up on his list of time priorities.

“It’s just at the primordial stage,” Verbinski said. “We’re working on the screenplay but if we can pull that off — find that story I want to tell — then it will be worth doing.”

I asked Verbinski if he had ever seen the classic Lone Ranger gag from “The Far Side,” the loopy single-panel cartoon by Gary Larson. He shook his head, so I explained that it showed an elderly, retired Lone Ranger looking up the English translation “kemosabe” and making the unpleasant discovery that it means “horse’s rear end.” Verbinski chuckled. “Well, that’s kind of the world we want to be in. It’s an odd couple, the two of them together. Getting that tone right is going to be a blast.”

— Geoff Boucher


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75 Responses to ‘Lone Ranger’: Johnny Depp won’t be traditional Tonto, director says [Updated]

  1. emacee says:

    This must be Get George Trendell Week. First they mess up the Green Hornet (the Lone Ranger's grand-nephew) and now they mess up the Ranger himself. Why? Because some idiot director does not respect the source material and thinks he's too clever for it. You've convinced me. I won't be going to see this one either.

  2. maldiction says:

    Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Certainly no Native American actor could play that role. Better to bring in the "21 Jumpstreet" vet to add real legitimacy to the film.

  3. Joe says:

    Well, Depp ruined the role of Willy Wonka by making him a creepy Michael Jackson-like freak, so I'm sure he'll be perfect to turn Tonto into another creepy, cynical, snickering, and totally uninteresting character.

    What would be really "sly and subversive" would be to stop turning existing stories into extended Saturday Night Live skits, and instead focus on real storytelling and character development. But if Disney is making the movie, you can kiss that idea goodbye.

  4. johnrj08 says:

    This film is going to make the 1980 version look like Gone With The Wind. They're going to try to turn the Lone Ranger into Adam West's Batman. Nobody wants to see these iconic figures laughed at anymore. They've become the mythology of the country. The studio is making a huge miscalculation here. The calamity called "The Green Hornet" is proof of that.

  5. guest says:

    Anyone bother to look up what 'Tonto' means? I grew knowing that I didn't want to be called one by my parents and older family members. Loosely translates = 'dummy'.

  6. Patty Fong says:

    Are you kidding me? They couldn't find a Native American actor to play this role and infuse it with real dignity?

  7. the learning machine says:

    you idiots have no idea what you're talking about. go see Rango then come back here and tell me their Lone Ranger won't get all of your money. it will blow your feeble little minds.

  8. Laer Carroll says:

    Looking forward to it a lot. Looking forward to a somewhat Jack Sparrow Tonto. But only if we see some good action, instead of the campy action others have complained of.

  9. James says:

    This seems to be a case of making the character fit the actor instead of the actor fitting the character. Does Depp always have to be "quirky" to make a successful film? I don't want to see Tonto with a crazy wig and gold teeth or in Kabuki make-up which seems to be what Depp does best. Just not feeling it.

  10. Lynn says:

    Depp is part Native American. I feel certain he will go to great lengths to honor them with his portrayal.

  11. jj hily says:

    i think johnny depp is perfect for this role cuz he is funny

  12. Elyse N says:

    I seriously doubt ANYONE wants to see an old-fashioned corny Lone Ranger. This sounds like a wonderful spin to put on the traditional tale. Obviously, if you don’t care for Depp’s interpretation, no one is forcing you to see it. think it sounds exactly like a movie I would pay to see!

  13. John Reid says:

    Here is another example of how Hollywood looks down its nose at genre. Has anyone TRIED to gently guide director Verbinski or producer Bruckheimer to the current Dynamite Comics that feature a terrific retelling of the Lone Ranger and Tonto legend? It is filled with strong characterization that builds the Lone Ranger as a dedicated man seeking to bring law and a form of justice to harsh times and who is strongly aided in that journey of discovery by his equal and tough Indian friend (their friendship is not given at first, but EARNED). That is the story to do and the tone to take in bringing these classic characters to film today.

    If they go the campy route they'll spend a lot of money (like they did on the new GREEN HORNET film) and they'll make some quick money off the youth market (but that won't be so much in light of the film's high costs) but nothing like they COULD generate in revenue if they made a respectful and entertaining version (like the Dynamite Comics) that brought out both the youth and the "older" crowd like what happened when Sam Raimi made the first SPIDER-MAN film. I remember getting into a conversation at an airport stop-over in Dallas once with a rural woman in her 70s. Spider-Man was out at the time and to my shock she had seen it and liked it. Not only that but she said her husband saw it (on recommendations from friends) and liked it. "First time he hasn't fallen asleep in a theater in over 15 years!"

    If only Bruckheimer and Verbinski went for playing this grand Western fantasy straight and found humor in its story that allowed us to laugh WITH our characters and not AT them. That is the key to creating a huge box office success and if they create a great story, then the merchandising and toys will follow. How many toys are they selling of the GREEN HORNET? Where are the kids dressing up in Hornet costumes? Buying the caps and lunch boxes with the Green Hornet symbols/logos? Where are the kids having fun while PLAYING as the characters? The Lone Ranger and Tonto could be a huge financial success beyond just the box office and cross several generations of fans ready to buy the nostalgic merchandise but not if this film makes the story and characters into the butt of disrespectful jokes and shot down by heartless millionaire elitists pointing their guns down their noses from within the Hollywood Cavendish Gang.

  14. carey says:

    who's going to play the lone ranger. that part of the formula will make these characters hit or miss… HEy MAtt Dillon should play the Lone Ranger!!!

  15. Olden Atwoody says:

    “Pirates of the Old West”

    Boringly predictable, but thankfully there are *zero* Native Americans who can act.

    Nice, safe casting!

  16. Lone Ranger fan says:

    I'd much rather see The Lone Ranger done in the style of Mask of Zorro than that disasterous Green Hornet.

  17. Jason Allen says:

    There’s only one actor born to play the Lone Ranger here and that’s Josh Holloway. Remember Sawyer’s rivalry with Sayid in the early days of Lost? Holloway is totally switched-on when he’s acting in those frienemy-esque dynamics. His cocky tough guy would tee-up some great moments for Johnny’s Tonto to exploit!

  18. Daniel T says:

    Johnny Depp can't be wrong…..HE'S RICH

  19. Jeanette says:

    I so disagree with the comment made by Olden Atwoody, who says, there are zero Native Americans who can act. That is such a racist comment. Here, put this in your hat, olden , we are very tired of Non-native actors attempting to act as a Native American, painted with face make-up to look like an Indian. it is time for native American actors to come forward on the big screen.

  20. Harriet Bee says:

    Only Native Americans should play Native Americans. Only gays should play gays. Only surfers should play surfers. Only auto mechanics should play auto mechanics. Only auto mechanics who work on foreign cars should play auto mechanics who work on foreign cars.

  21. Fran says:

    The movie is going to be a hit,Johnny Depp is perfect for the role.

  22. Arthur says:

    Wes Studi is a very good and powerful Native American actor. Enough of the
    nearsighted racist nonsense.

  23. rachel says:

    Johnny Depp is part native american…and he is the best actor ,the sexiest and the coolest guy ever !! ah,..and he is rich… he can do whatever he wants…so Shut up fools!!

  24. sophie says:

    It's interesting. I've read somewhere that Johnny Depp is part Cherokee, but I don't see it anywhere on his Wikipedia page (not that that's some authority). Never heard this Navajo thing before. He looks pretty white to me, but yes that doesn't preclude people from playing different roles. However, considering the state of the affairs with roles for minority actors (no Depp is not a minority actor), I think it's not good for such an iconic role to not be offered at least to new breakout talent.

    I'm actually getting tired of Johnny Depp's schtick. The quirky weirdness is just old. I thought Charlie and Chocolate Factory was just annoying to watch. Same with Alice in WOnderland. But then I'm 41. And I remember the guy from 21 Jump Street.

  25. Cooday says:

    Johnny Depp is a 1/4 Cherokee. He is a friend of Gary Farmer. Movie fans remember both in a
    Scene from Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man" starring Johnny Depp as "William Blake" and Gary Farmer as "Nobody"

    Hat Scene

    I would like to share with you a Tonto and Lone Ranger joke by a good friend A.I.Seth. In this joke Tonto doesn't speak in the American Indian stereotype which makes us cringe —

    A.I. Seth’s Tonto and Lone Ranger joke –

    The Lone Ranger and Tonto went camping in the desert. After they got their tent all set up, both men fell sound asleep. Some hours later, Tonto wakes the Lone Ranger and says,

    “Kemo Sabe, look towards the sky, what do you see?”

    The Lone Ranger replies, “I see millions of stars.”

    “What does that tell you?” asked Tonto.

    The Lone Ranger ponders for a minute then says, “Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.

    Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, it’s evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant.

    Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What’s it tell you, Tonto?”

    Tonto is silent for a moment, then says, “Kemo Sabe, your dumber then a buffalo chip. Someone has stolen the tent.”

  26. Doubleukay says:

    Fellas. Fellas! The Lone Ranger? Really? Let me get this straight. No media of any type in the sparesly populated old west , and this guy needed to wear a mask? A Texas Ranger with a Native as a friend? Really? You might well make a hero out of a Klansman with Nat Turner as his sidekick!!!! (Acutaly, this platform would produce an authentic "new take", rather than a two gun Tarzan on horseback Then again, sign Depp for series of movies. Next? Johhny Depp as Charlie Chan, or Depp as The Jazz Singer (1927)?

  27. JDA says:

    Why is it necessary to take the childhood idol of millions, and reinvent the story and characters just for the sake of appeasing one megalomaniac director?

    The story you've described Mr. Verbinski is not "The Lone Ranger". If you'd like to tell your story without paying true homage to the decades loved source material, than develop your own characters and tell that story. Don't borrow on the equity of already established characters for your inane enjoyment. It's degrading. Not only to the fans who are aching for a quality modern re-telling of this fantastic western fable, but to society as a whole. Tear down our roots, destroy our heroes…what's next? Who's next?

    The recent travesty, "The Green Hornet", is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Taking an established character and mythos and taking a dump on it. That movie was horrible,,,worse than horrible. And failed in the box office because we the public recognized it for the utter failure that it was. It's a slap in the face to the true fans out here who are waiting with baited breath for a writer/producer to helm up the challenge of producing a quality product and remaining true to the source material.

    Why is it such a challenge? It's what we want!

  28. Gelintor says:

    Actually what Tonto said was Teamosabe not Keamosabe. Which means I love you you know in mixed western border spanish.

  29. Haig Tufankjian says:

    I grew up with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, and for the record they are the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Funny the original TV series cast a native american as a native american. Go figure. I suggest Depp and the rest find another project.
    The Ranger and Tonto are two childhood friends. Years later they meet again by chance when the Ranger, his brother and the rest of the Ranger troupe are ambushed and left for dead.

    Together they take on the bad guys and right wrongs in the old west. Westerns have uncomplicated clear cut good verses evil story lines. Same as any super hero story except here they have no super powers, just real people trying to solve real problems. You also need actors who know how to ride horses, and have a director who can put the camera on a truck and get the heroic images of men and women on horseback riding at heroic speed. The images are always rousing and sadly folks today forget that element when they make westerns.

    If you you are going to tell the story of the Ranger and Tonto, why not simply pick up their partnership after a short period of retirement. Have someone in search of the legendary Masked Rider of the Plains because criminals are taking over their town. He finds Tonto. Tonto says the Ranger has left fighting for law and order to younger men and women. But the boy persuades Tonto to take him to the Ranger. The boy tells the ranger his story and the Ranger and Tonto reluctantly agree for one last ride.
    So there, you keep the basic characters, be politically correct, have a Native American play a Native American and let the audience rediscover the special relationship these two people have as they try to make the American west a better place to live. Why not?

  30. Tina says:

    If anyone who is a Johnny Depp fan would understand is that Johnny emulated as a child the role of Tonto when he and friends would play cowboy's and indians together. Johnny stated that he has the greatest respect for the Native American partly due to his own heritage and also due to them being forced to give up everything to the "white man." I personally do not pre-judge anyone who is willing to take on a role in anything before I have a chance to witness the end result first, uhm I think that would be called presumptious to jude first and watch later. If your not a fan of JD don't watch it, but if you are and unsure about how he will do in this film? You do it and than see how many come to see you. In the meantime sit back with a big bowl of popcorn while the lights go out and enjoy a modern cowboy and indian movie. When the original was made that acting was all serious but in this day and age acting is all emotion. Why not incorporate a little laughter to off set the seriousness? American Indians can make people laugh too. Just enjoy it. It is something different.

  31. scarr says:

    Depp is part Native American his grandfather was full blooded Cherokee indian and he is perfect for the part!!

  32. tamms says:

    johnny is whoever he wants to be in my book and i can't see him not taking this seriously…he does serious roles great too….he played Dillenger and took the role very seriously…he knows what he is doing….

  33. Selenerrita says:



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  34. NA Fan says:

    Johnny's first tattoo honors his grandfather's Native American blood. He will play this role with dignity for NA's, which is what will make this a tribute. He's done so much more than many of you give him credit for – really check out more of him than the "pretty boy" or "quirky" one. He throws himself into roles completely and will awe with this one!

  35. Sharon Athey says:

    I think johnny depp will make a wondeful tonto he is going to make the character different and better than the first tonto. Johnny takes a character and make it better to the way tonto should be and honor all the native american and show how they should be respect on the life they have lived.And johnny will also tell how awful the army and the white people had treaded them. The native american shouldn't have never been treated that awful by white americans it is a discrase. Because I think they should of been treated the same way as everyone else they are human being and we should love them and respect them just like God does. So good for you johnny make you granfather and all your other past relative proud and show the world you are proud to be part cheeroke and navajo. I know you will make a great movie and I can't wait till it comes out so I can see it at the theater and buy it when it comes out in stores. Love Sharon Athey

  36. Sharon Athey says:

    Why wasn't my comments about Johnny Depp playing Tonto in the lone ranger approved by the site admistration. I did not say any thing bad about Johnny Depp and I never will.I love johnny Depp and all is movies and he is a great actor an I would never say any thing about him ever. Sharon Athey

  37. Sharon Athey says:

    I'm gone to complain to who the site admistrater is and tell him. I don't thing it was fair I couldn't post my comment and everyone else was allowed to. I didnot say anything bad about Johnny Depp and I never will I love Johnny and he is my favorite actor and I love all his movies and go to the theater and buy them all. And if you don't answer me and tell me why i couldn't post my comment. I am going to write a letter to johnny's agent and tell her about this. Sharon Athey

  38. BeBe says:

    OMG…..lighten up….its a movie

  39. Wan says:

    Johnny Depp!!! I am a Native (Navajo) and was voted Best Actress in High School (Shiprock High). What would I give to work with or near Johnny Depp. OMG – Hope goes extremely well for Johnny (Tonto). Looking forward to seeing him act.

  40. -V- says:

    I hear Emerson Joe will also be co starring with Depp. I kinda like the short "Black Gold 2051".

  41. Chux says:

    Marlon Brando is rolling in his grave…guess JD didn't pick up any wisdom from the old hammy hack…then again, Brando didn't do sequels…

  42. nina says:

    oh john john…he is funny & kind. thats all i care about..nina m. agora

  43. julian says:

    Who's Johnny Depp?

  44. Hortensia White says:

    by the way that was a racist comment.,and Johnny is part Cherokee . And he does look it. I personally feel he is the best. Johnny can and always pulls it off. An absolutely brilliant man. I love you Johnny .

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