Johnny Depp Talks the Inspiration Behind His Tonto in 'Lone Ranger'
Ever since Johnny Depp was linked to the role of Tonto in Disney's big screen take on The Lone Ranger starring Armie Hammer as the titular hero, there's been a lot of naysaying because Depp isn't really an authentic Native American (though he does have Cherokee and Creek Indian blood in his veins). However, my complaints have come from the fact that Depp simply looks like a Native American Jack Sparrow, complete with a crow on his head and a seemingly grumpy demeanor from the first look photo that debuted not too long ago. But Depp might open our eyes as he reveals this inspiration for his take on Tonto.
First of all, it's important to know that Depp's take on the character is based on a painting by Kirby Sattler called I Am Crow. We've put the painting and the official first look at Depp as Tonto side-by-side right here:
Though the painting is a reference to the Crow native to the Northern part of the Midwest, in the film, Tonto is a full-blooded Comanche, based on a Kentucky great-grandmother’s ancestry. Therefore, the character himself isn't necessarily meant to be an accurate depiction of any specific tribe. If that doesn't quell any criticism of Depp's ability to play a Native American, along with his bloodline, try to remember that he's an actor, and that's kind of what this profession is all about. So let's get down to Depp's process for bringing this character to life and how Sattler's painting helped inform his creative process.
In speaking with EW, where all this information came to light, Depp says:
I’d actually seen a painting by an artist named Kirby Sattler, and looked at the face of this warrior and thought: That’s it. The stripes down the face and across the eyes … it seemed to me like you could almost see the separate sections of the individual, if you know what I mean. There’s this very wise quarter, a very tortured and hurt section, an angry and rageful section, and a very understanding and unique side. I saw these parts, almost like dissecting a brain, these slivers of the individual. That make-up inspired me.
And if the addition of the bird hat seems more silly than necessary, it's a bit of both. Depp elaborates:
It just so happened Sattler had painted a bird flying directly behind the warrior’s head. It looked to me like it was sitting on top. I thought: Tonto’s got a bird on his head. It’s his spirit guide in a way. It’s dead to others, but it’s not dead to him. It’s very much alive.
That's an interesting interpretation of the painting, and should make for some comedy in the film as well (though I'm betting the spirit guide also comes through at an integral part of the film as well). In the end though, Depp wants to reassure everyone that this will not be another stereotypical or offensive portrayal of Native Americans that have been brought to the big screen before. The actor says, "The whole reason I wanted to play Tonto is to try to [mess] around with the stereotype of the American Indian that has been laid out through history, or the history of cinema at the very least — especially Tonto as the sidekick, The Lone Ranger’s assistant. As you’ll see, it’s most definitely not that." Hopefully Depp does not disappoint.