Johnny Depp tries to demolish old portrayals of Native Americans on film in "The Lone Ranger." Credit: Peter Mountain Johnny Depp tries to demolish old portrayals of Native Americans on film in "The Lone Ranger."
Credit: Peter Mountain

"The Lone Ranger" may be the biggest western to come out of Hollywood in years, but it's not star Johnny Depp's first venture into the frontier. In 1995, Depp starred as an out-of-his-depths city slicker in Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man" — not that he's seen it. "I feel somehow that Jim Jarmusch made a great and amazing sort of epic poem of a western with 'Dead Man,'" Depp says. "Haven't seen the film, but I love Jim, and I know what he’s capable of, and from what I’ve heard, it’s — and I did read the script by the way, and it was — it was wonderful."

Now, about that "Lone Ranger." In taking on such the iconic character of Tonto in such an iconic property, Depp — who spearheaded and executive-produced the project — saw "The Lone Ranger" as a chance to reverse a lot of Hollywood's past mistakes. "In the history of cinema, the Native American has been portrayed as a savage or as something lesser than. And it was important to me to at least take a good shot at erasing that," he says.

On a more personal level, there's also the way Tonto himself — the Lone Ranger's stoic sidekick — had been portrayed. "As a very young child, I was always perturbed by the idea of Tonto being a sidekick. That just didn't register properly in my head," Depp explains. "I just thought it was potentially an opportunity to right the wrong, you know?"

 

And it's not just Hollywood's treatment of Native Americans that needs addressing, Depp insists. There are centuries of injustice and stereotypes he hopes his flashy summer blockbuster can help diminish. "I wanted to convey that the Native Americans were only deemed savages when Christopher Columbus hit the wrong f—ing place, and decided that he’d hit India," Depp says. "That's our history. He thought he hit India, and called the people Indians. That's our history, you know? I mean, that's pretty f—ing weird, seriously."

Tonto is another addition to Johnny Depp's coterie of kooky characters, including the Mad Hatter, Hunter S. Thompson and Edward Scissorhands. But perhaps the Grand Poobah of Depp's alter egos is "Pirates of the Caribbean" mainstay Captain Jack Sparrow. So between the rakish pirate and the wily Comanche warrior, who would win in a fight?

"It's over for Tonto," Depp says with a weary shake of his head. "Yeah, it's over for Tonto. Captain Jack is far too dark. It wouldn't take long and it would be unpleasant."

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