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©Disney / Tonto in 'The Lone Ranger'
© Disney / Tonto in 'The Lone Ranger'
'Lone Ranger' aims to take Tonto beyond sidekick
By HANNAH DREIER , Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) — To watch a snippet of "The Lone Ranger" is to empathize with the stoic looks of concern its star, Johnny Depp, deadpans throughout the action film.

A white man playing Tonto, one of the most famous American Indian stereotypes of all time, might work. Then again, trouble might be coming.

In director Gore Verbinski's remake of the popular 1950s Western television series, Depp speaks in broken English, chants prayers, and wears feathers, face paint and — for some reason — a stuffed crow headdress.

But he also loses the subservience that helped make the original Tonto, played by Canadian Mohawk Jay Silverheels, such a problematic sidekick to the masked hero.

Bing: Eyebrows raised at Depp playing Tonto

The Disney remake has Tonto in the role of coach to John Reid, the idealistic law school graduate who finds himself out of his depth when he returns to his hometown and eventually becomes the Lone Ranger.

On Wednesday, Verbinski framed the film as a buddy picture with a zany Western edge during a teaser screening at the movie theater convention CinemaCon in Las Vegas.

"The movie is an origin story," he said before showing about 20 minutes of material. "You'll get a sense about the delicate partnership that's arranged between these two guys, and their wildly diverse sense of justice."

Armie Hammer, who plays the square-jawed ranger, made a brief appearance with Depp, who was in full movie-star mode, sporting a cowboy hat, four gold necklaces, expensively ripped jeans and a bandanna hanging to his knees.

"Armie is very tall. Which means that we're not short," Depp told the industry crowd.

"Anything to add to that?" Verbinski asked.

"No," Depp responded, hoisting his microphone to the ceiling like a rock star and then strutting back off stage.

He might have been saving his voice for a fan question-and-answer session scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at a nearby Las Vegas theater.

At that appearance, the 49-year-old actor said he wanted his portrayal of Tonto "to give as much back to the human beings, the Native Americans as possible; to show that they have a fantastic sense of humor, very dry."

"The goal was to try to, in my own small way, right the many wrongs that have been done to those people and to show Tonto not only as a proud warrior but also as a man outside, just a bit outside," Depp said.

Verbinski also directed "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, and in "The Lone Ranger," Depp appears to be reprising some elements of his flamboyant Jack Sparrow character, including what could be the same head scarf.

Depp is not quite donning "red face," as he wears a mask of white and black paint through the film. That heavy eye makeup sets off the whites of his eyes, which he widens to comic effect when confronted with handcuffs, rifles and hurtling trains.

The film, set for release July 3, is Hollywood's first attempt to modernize the Lone Ranger franchise, which has gathered dust for several generations.

Today's viewers might not feel a shiver of recognition when John Reid's brother tosses him a Texas Ranger pin, or when Tonto first calls him "kemosabe."

And that might be a good thing.


Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Apr 18, 2013 8:06AM
"The original Tonto, played by a Canadian Mohawk" What??? Because he was Canadian or because he was a Mohawk you don't feel the need to name him??? His name Was Jay Silverheels you ignorant jerks!
Apr 18, 2013 8:02AM
The author fails to note that Mr. Depp is indeed part Native American. Looking forward to this new take on the Lone Ranger!
Apr 18, 2013 8:07AM
johnny depp may not be a "bona fide" Native to some (identity is endlessly debatable) but I take exception / most correct the author's characterization of him as a "white" actor. Johnny Depp is one of a few celebrities who has consistently identified himself as a mixed-blood Kentuckian of Cherokee ancestry, which is widely accepted as fact. Further, Depp has consistently reached out to and participated with Native community causes and events, even as an international celebrity. His words about honoring the human beings are demonstrative of that. Also, his interpretation of Tonto is based on an illustration by Kirby Sattler, called "I am Crow." From what I've seen it looks like Depp is doing things right, even if he isn't as "Indian" as Adam Beach. If they had Adam Beach, people would complain he wasn't from the right tribe.... frankly, the author didn't do their homework.
Apr 18, 2013 8:16AM

Jay Silverheels "was a brave and handsome hero in his own right" and he yes he did give Native Americans a "positive image". So did Iron Eyes Cody, Chief Dan George, Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse (Dances With Wolves), Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves), Rodney A Grant (Dances With Wolves) who is one of the most handsome Native Americans, ever. In the series, if not for Tonto there would never have been a Lone Ranger. This series shed new light on the fact that a Native America and a white man could be friends with honor and trust between them. Being of Native American descent is an honor, Jay Silverheels was one of my favorite actors growing up and still today watching reruns of he Lone Ranger and movies with Jay Silverheels, which there are many. If  what you imply in your last comment was said, hopefully you are the first and hopefully, the last.

Apr 18, 2013 8:07AM


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