When Johnny Depp works with a director he likes, he'll work with him again and again. His most notable and long-running collaboration remains his partnership with director Tim Burton, but he's also teamed up with "Brazil" director Terry Gilliam a few times. Depp's most recent ongoing pairing has been with Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. ("Chicago" helmer Rob Marshall took over for the latest installment, "On Stranger Tides.") Depp voiced the title character in next year's Verbinski-directed animated film "Rango," and the two just announced that they're getting together yet again to do a big-screen adaptation of the Lone Ranger. The interesting thing? Depp's gonna play Tonto.
Deadline broke the news yesterday that Verbinski had committed to the project, which will find him not just reuniting with Depp but also "Pirates" producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The exact plot isn't yet known, but HitFix explained the background of the Lone Ranger character for all of us who didn't grow up playing cowboys and Indians. In the original story, the Lone Ranger was part of a group of Texas Rangers who were ambushed. Barely surviving, he was rescued by Tonto, who became his sidekick. On paper, the story is really a precursor to superheroes like Batman who donned a mask to fight evil after a horrific experience. Frankly, with the glut of dark origin stories that have popped up in superhero movies over the last five years, it's kind of amazing no one hasn't made a new Lone Ranger film yet.
But, really, the big news is that Johnny Depp is going to play Tonto. At a time when different minority groups have (rightly) been annoyed that famous white people have portrayed them in major films, this Lone Ranger project is courting controversy even before anyone has seen a single second of the finished film. HitFix's Drew McWeeny notes, "only someone as beloved as Depp could even think about [playing Tonto]," which is probably true, but it's going to take mountains of good will for some people to be OK with this casting choice. The worst-case scenario is that Depp goes for one of his deeply "quirky" Mad Hatter/Willy Wonka performances, which will sure feel like cultural insensitivity if it's disastrous. To get around this problem, we propose a rather radical idea: Cast a non-white actor to play the Lone Ranger. If the producers are willing to think outside the box for their Tonto, why not do the same for his kemosabe?