Depp swaps pirates for wild west in 'Lone Ranger'
Johnny Depp and the makers of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise have swapped the high seas for the wild west in "The Lone Ranger," as they seek to reboot an American pop culture icon.
Having earned more than $3.6 billion at the box office with the "Pirates" blockbusters, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and studio giant Disney wanted to give a new take on the traditional western adventure.
The Lone Ranger, a masked crusader who rights wrongs in the name of justice, was born on the radio in 1933 before being turned into a popular US television series from 1949-1957.
The film, out Wednesday in the United States for the July 4 national holiday, is the fourth big-screen adaptation of the story of the mythical hero and his faithful sidekick Tonto.
Depp -- whose "Pirates" character Captain Jack Sparrow was famously inspired by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards -- plays the native American Tonto with his usual quirky brio.
He personally insisted on Tonto's idiosyncratic look, notably basing the make-up on a painting by native American artist Kirby Sattler, with a winged crow as a hat.
The title role is played by Armie Hammer, the 26-year-old actor who played the Winklevoss twins -- with a little computer-generated imagery (CGI) help -- in the 2010 Facebook movie "The Social Network."
Hammer admits he didn't know much about the iconic character before he made the movie.
"The character is before my time. The only reason I was familiar with the Lone Ranger character at all was because my dad was such a big fan," he told AFP ahead of the film's release.
"He would enjoy watching the show on re-runs every now and then, stuff like that. I watched it a little bit with him but I was very loosely, loosely, aware of Lone Ranger."
In typically explosive Bruckheimer style -- and with a budget estimated at over $200 million -- the film tells the story of why lawyer John Reid swapped his suit for a black mask and white hat, to become the anonymous hero.
Hammer says he was intensely aware of the iconic nature of the character. "There's a sense of respect, more than anything else. I know that this character means a lot to a lot of people," he said.
"A lot of people grew up with him in their home, and trusted the Lone Ranger enough to make him part of their life, and we wanted to be sensitive about that. We wanted to show those people that we do appreciate their nostalgia."
He added: "I wanted original elements of the character in there. His value of human life, his hesitance to kill anybody, his very strict moral code, all of those things from the TV show I wanted all those things."
But to resonate with a modern audience -- notably young movie-goers targeted by Bruckheimer and the studio behind the movie -- the filmmakers had to add in some modern touches.
When the original radio show aired, America "had just come out of the Great Depression, and for the TV show we just finished World War II and were starting the Korean War conflict," said the actor.
"So people just wanted a hero, they wanted to be able to turn on the television and not worry about anything and just see somebody do the right thing and be a good hero -- a good American good guy.
"That doesn't work for audiences these days. Audiences now are much more discerning, so we wanted to make him human, we wanted to give him a struggle," he added.
The young actor said he learned a lot from Bruckheimer, Depp, and director Gore Verbinski, who won an Oscar for 2011 animated film "Rango," which also starred his 50-year-old A-list co-star, in voice at least.
"From Jerry I learned: stay calm, you'll figure it out, it'll be OK," he said.
"From Johnny I learned to pay attention to everything that's going on around you and remember it. And from Gore, I learned that anything can be done, it just might take a little more hard work than you think," he said.