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Johnny Depp Talks the Inspiration Behind His Tonto in 'Lone Ranger'

by
April 23, 2012
Source: EW

The Lone Ranger / Tonto

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:

The Lone Ranger - First LookThe Lone Ranger - Kirby Sattler Painting

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.

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Reader Feedback - 10 Comments

1

Depp is brilliant. 

VVS on Apr 23, 2012

2

There's a problem with Depp playing a Native american?Didn't he play one in "The Brave" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118768/ ?

Puzzled on Apr 23, 2012

3

He gets a pass from me. He's damn good at his craft.

ur_babys_daddy on Apr 23, 2012

4

I think it looks interesting.  The only bit that puts me off is the wide headband. Yes, I know the native americans wore them, but it looks just like Captain Jack.

greedo on Apr 23, 2012

5

i cant help but think that's exactly what people will compare him too the entire time......

Jericho on Apr 23, 2012

6

Depp is greater than his movies or his movies is greater than him? I don't know, but I know he is very talented likable guy that work with unique directors. I don't Wana another Dances with wolves but I wana swim in abyss of that period in America, I hate the clishe that Indians was wild and sinful for their works, I Wana real west story in size of lord of rings. I Wana live Rango in middle of dances with wolves Can't wait

Ehsan Davodi on Apr 24, 2012

7

 Yes it just screams Captain Jack again.. the lines look better in the painting.

Me on Apr 24, 2012

8

Disney will need a shaman to keep this movie from becoming another John Carter failure.

Max Renn on Apr 24, 2012

9

 John Carter didn't have Johnny Depp. Box Office Gold

Adam Lubicz on Apr 26, 2012

10

Mr. Depp is, of course, a talented actor, and he may well have a (small) percentage of native American DNA coursing through his veins.  But even if he were 50% non-Caucasian, he has lived his entire life as a privileged white man and has never had to put up with the prejudice that actual and for-real native Americans have had to put up with.  He views his ancestry with lively interest, for him a mere point of conversation, with none of the weight of history to pull him down.  As such, it's wrong of him to co-opt one of the most famous native American characters in our culture for himself.  An actual native American actor should have played the role. It's funny how characters played in blackface are a no-no to the point where scenes in certain old movies have become unwatchable (they colorized away the "blackface" number in the ironically named "White Christmas", for instance), but at this point in time we, as a society, are okay with yellowface and redface, excusing the practice away with the ridiculous assertion that "hey, it's what this 'acting' thing is all about!"  I suspect this movie will not age well, as succeeding generations will probably feel as skeevy about white men doing "redface" acting as we feel about blackface.

teenygozer on Apr 24, 2012

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