Gore Verbinski started out with a small-but-interesting little film called Mouse Hunt. It amounted to a live action Tom and Jerry cartoon, quickly establishing the director’s knack for gleefully choreographed mayhem. A string of huge hits followed, including The Ring, the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films and Rango, which won him an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Four of those five films starred Johnny Depp, who returned to the director’s side to film this week’s revamp of The Lone Ranger. He spoke to the press about the project, his love of westerns, and what makes this Ranger different from the ones that came before it.
Question: To what extent did making Rango initiate making a full-fledged live-action western?
Gore Verbinski: I actually think we did it backwards. This was the movie that Rango is making fun of. It was never supposed to happen this way. I’m a huge fan of the western genre, and the opportunity to actually go out and do one live – not where you’re drawing, but where you’re actually out there in the dust with guys on top of trains – was too much to pass up.
It’s really hard and dangerous to make a western, and I’ve found my respect expanding for the crew and the stunt people who worked on these great westerns in the past. It was kind of a lost art, going back to John Ford and John Wayne. Guys had to learn how to fall off horses without getting hurt. It’s dangerous; you can look at shots like guys jumping from trains to horses, and see it in 100 movies, but when you have to go out to do it, you realize how dangerous it is. I never really appreciated that until I started work on this one.
Q: Tell us about the decision to tell this from Tonto’s perspective.
GV: A story like this needs to have a Native American perspective in the narrative. Things like the landscape become very important. They become characters in the movie. So do the trains, these representatives of progress that draw a line into the landscape. Suddenly, the land is parceled and sold. And the Native American concept of our relationship to the earth wasn’t anything like that. We jumped on this algorithm of progress, and we’re all living with the fruits of it. I think the movie takes a moment from time to say, at what cost? We have all these things, but we’ve kind of lost our connection to the earth. That’s important for us, and it’s important to see that from Native American eyes.
Q: How does that tie into the Lone Ranger as a character?
GV: It gives us a great dramatic conflict. The Lone Ranger in this film has a belief system about the law as a tool for good. And then you have Tonto, who has great faith in the laws of nature. They both kind of collide, and then they both then join forces to address this imbalance that is threatening them both. You have these noble ideas of justice and civilization that don’t work in this world. They don’t work in this place and time where we’re swimming in grey. These two characters take a journey to explore what’s happening in this time of monumental change, and take a serious look at the cost of their respective paths. And they’re both tribeless at the end of the movie.
Q: What was it about Armie Hammer that made him the Lone Ranger?
GV: Well, we couldn’t get Jimmy Stewart, and Armie’s just a brilliant actor. He’s tall, good-looking, and handsome. Who doesn't want to put that in a meat grinder and chew it up and see what happens? He’s ready for anything. Throw him on top of a train, underneath a train, trample him with a horse, he’ll do it. Who doesn't want to go ride into the west with that guy?