WSJ.COM – In the coming summer film “The Lone Ranger,” actor Armie Hammer reinterprets the classic Western hero.
Hammer, 26 years old, was too young to know the television show starring Clayton Moore as the masked Texas ranger who fights injustices in the West with Native American warrior Tonto.
“What I knew was just that my dad called me “Kemosabe.” He was like, “Come on, Kemosabe!” Hammer said, referring to Tonto’s nickname for the Lone Ranger.
Hammer said his Lone Ranger is more conflicted. In the film we first meet him as lawyer John Reid. As the younger brother to tough ranger Dan, John went east to study law and took to the ideals of John Locke. He returns to his hometown in the West with a strong sense of justice and due process.
“He quickly realizes that his chosen methods aren’t going to work,” Hammer said. “He’s like, ‘Look, he stole your horse. It’s okay, you don’t have to shoot him.’ And then [gunshot noise] someone pops him, he’s like ‘Good god, what’s going on around here?’ and then you see him transformed.”
The July 3 film stars Johnny Depp as Tonto and is directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. The production was about five months long and included such locations as Monument Valley and Moab in Utah; Creede, Colorado; and Four Corners, Arizona.
“It was 125 degrees some days when we were shooting. I’m wearing that three-piece wool suit the entire time,” Hammer said last night at a special 20-minute “Lone Ranger” preview in New York. “But it was the most fun I’ve ever had, running around shooting guns, riding horses, throwing lassoes. Being a cowboy. Who doesn’t love that?”
The actor also said that he just found out yesterday about his next project (first reported by Deadline) — he will star opposite Tom Cruise in another remake of a classic television series, “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” He said he couldn’t discuss it further, only that “I’m excited about it.”
Read an edited transcript of the interview with Hammer.
It seems like this film is a little old school, in terms of Westerns.
The writing in this script specifically was what really spoke to me, because Justin Haythe wrote the script. Justin Haythe is one of the best writers that I’m convinced is out there. So the movie has a strong sense of heart and it’s very deep, but then at the same time, Gore [Verbinski] is able to take a movie that is both large in scale and serious, and put these tiny moments of levity in there. For example, we’re going to throw this massive train off this cliff and it’s going to blow up, and I want you two to look at each other like, “Uh oh.” It takes it from feeling like a large effects-driven movie to something that feels personal, and that you’re right there with these guys.
Was it hard to take Johnny Depp seriously at times as Tonto?
You know what, it’s so funny because the whole thing with the look, there’s a lot of symbolism behind it that comes through in the movie in terms of where the lines [on his face] came from, where the face paint came from. It’s all explained in the movie so to us it made total sense. It wasn’t until people saw pictures later and they were like, “That guy has a bird on his head!” that we were like, “Oh I guess it does kind of look funny, but don’t worry, they’ll get it.”
How was living and filming in the desert for five months?
We smelled exactly like we looked. It was the most fun we ever had. We camped out there. I’d stay out there on locations when we were in Monument Valley or Moab or any of those places. I’d just camp. It’d end up where we would film all day and then at night, we would have bonfires and karaoke parties. The transport captain had a karaoke machine and a projector, and he would shoot the image of the karaoke onto the walls of the canyon. We’d have a bonfire going. I’m never going to make another movie again. I’m spoiled at this point.
Johnny Depp became an honorary member of the Comanche tribe. How much time did you spend time with them?
We had a good amount of Comanches who were working on the movie. A good amount of Blackfoot Indians. Had some Navajo. We had a couple of Sac and Fox from northern Michigan. The Native American part plays a huge part in this movie. I would almost say there are more Native actors in this movie than there are white people.
What were some of the rituals you participated in or observed?
Each time we went to a new reservation, the tribe would welcome us for the ceremony and then they would bless the production. It was really interesting seeing how each ceremony varied. So, the Navajo ceremony that we did specifically was two medicine men sitting in chairs in a Hogan [traditional sacred home] right before the sun came up, one of them praying and chanting and the other one infrequently translating. That one was one of the more breathtaking ones because you felt like it wasn’t a show. These people have been doing this exact same thing for 10 to 12,000 years and now here we are getting a chance to watch it happen.
The Comanches had a very involved ceremony. Dancing is a part of it and they would have lances in the ground and they would blow whistles made of eagle bones in the four directions and bless everybody with smoke and cleanse them. It was amazing.
You also had rangers on set. How did the two groups get along?
We were sitting around the trailers one day and I had a bale of hay with a bullhead you practice throwing the lasso at. So we would all hang out in front of my trailer, just throw lassos and everyone would show off their lasso tricks. And the conversation, it came down to immigration. Because we were close to the border at one point. Something had just happened where near the border, shots were fired back into the U.S. And one of the rangers, he was real gruff, a wad of tobacco in his mouth the size of a grapefruit. He was like, “You know man, I just don’t get why we let all these illegal aliens come into this country. Look at what they’re doing. There’s nothing good.” And one of the Native guys, he was a Blackfoot, his name was Danny. He just started laughing. He goes, “You’re the illegal alien.” And he walked away. You could just see [the ranger] go, “I have no retort. You win.”
April 27, 2013