"The Lone Ranger": More woe than "Heigh Ho"?
It's been a long, hard road to delivering Disney's big summer tentpole this year. The production was delayed several times as the studio tried to lower the already gargantuan budget -- a budget that ended up going past what it was originally estimated to be before the delays. And then cameras actually started rolling in front of what many of the higher-ups involved refer to as a cinematic "circus," one plagued with bad weather, the occasional uncooperative locals and a train that didn't want to work half the time.
The journey is finally coming to a close as "The Lone Ranger" is set to hit theaters in July, with the cast or crew emerging more or less intact. Disney hopes to have a new "Pirates of the Caribbean"-sized franchise on their hands with this rollicking western adventure based on the beloved radio and television character, though stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski seem still a little too tired to get excited about it just yet.
The "Lone Ranger" quartet participated in an exclusive Q&A with Yahoo! Movies at CinemaCon in Las Vegas to discuss the near-insurmountable endeavor they took on in the sweltering deserts and bitter cold mountains across five states.
"It's an enormous, gigantic production," said uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who worked with both Verbinski and Depp on the first three "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. "We built trains and trekked them over five states ... we had horses and wranglers; moving this whole caravan was an ordeal. We shot from February until October -- it was long but wonderful."
Director Gore Verbinski isn't so sure about the "wonderful" part.
"It rained, it snowed, it was 145 degrees ... this was the hardest film ever," said Verbinski -- and that's saying something coming from the guy who directed all those big "Pirates" movies. "The train never worked. It was nuts. It was insane."
The production was so hard on Verbinski that he couldn't think of anything when asked if the process had any particularly memorable moments -- it was all hardship, all the time.
"Working in the editing room brings back memories of pain and torture," said Verbinski, though admittedly rather good-naturedly. "The weather was horrendous. The process is insane, it's madness."
However, Verbinski is particularly proud of the hands-on approach he took with the film, using as little green screen and CG as possible to really capture the dangerous, rugged terrain of the film's environment.
"I tried to actually put people on trains, on horses, under horses, in the dirt," said Verbinski. "I tried to make it feel like all of it actually occurred. We were a very large production, but lo-fi."
That lo-fi approach made it a particularly hair-raising experience for Depp.
"This is definitely the most dangerous movie I've ever done, and I've worked with Michael Mann," said Depp, referring to his portrayal of gangster John Dillinger in Mann's "Public Enemies" (2009). "Staying alive on a horse that's moving at high speed ... that was the greatest challenge."
Armie Hammer agrees with Verbinski in that the production was a grueling one, though he feels his experience working with David Fincher on "The Social Network" prepared him for the difficulties of working on any film -- and he wouldn't have it any other way.
"What I took from 'The Social Network' is that this job is really, really hard," said Hammer. "You shoot 17-, 18-hour days ... but I love it. It's not an easy job but there's no job that's worth it more."
Depp also appreciates the comradery that comes from working on such a "circus" of a film.
"When you're in the muck and everyone's working hard on the same thing, it's like a family -- every day was fun and funny ... and miserable, at times."
Depp was also appreciative of the "shorthand" he shares with director Verbinski, as "The Lone Ranger" marks their fifth collaboration following the first three "Pirates" films and the animated western, "Rango" (2011).
"With Gore, it's always a pleasure, always an adventure -- not just in a physical sense but into the character," said Depp. "There's a respect for absurdity and irreverence, which is the only way to go through life."
Depp has made a career out of playing somewhat absurd characters, though he had a rather serious agenda when it came to playing Tonto.
"I didn't understand on the TV show why Tonto was the sidekick," said Depp. "I wanted to show Tonto as a proud warrior, as a man just a bit on the outside. I did a lot of research on the history of the Comanche and Navajo tribes; I wanted to right the many wrongs that had been done to those people. I wanted to give as much back to the Native Americans as possible ... and show that they have a fantastic sense of humor."
Depp is also no stranger to playing characters that require an extensive makeup process, though the elaborate Tonto design didn't take too long to apply. It did, however, present its own unique challenges in other ways.
"We got it down to an hour and a half, two hours," said Depp. "I slept in the makeup a number of times, and after that you really can't go into a restaurant at that point. And it smells."
Lucky for us, then, that the film isn't in 4-D. "The Lone Ranger" opens July 3.
See the trailer for 'The Lone Ranger':