'The Lone Ranger' wild ride for Armie Hammer
Hammer stars as iconic character opposite Depp's Tonto
It didn't take long for acclaimed actor Armie Hammer to decide after being cast in the title role of "The Lone Ranger" that in addition to playing the part, he was going to make it a way of life.
"That was best part about this whole thing -- we all got to live it," Hammer told me in a recent interview. "We camped and worked together, and at night we'd have bonfires and karaoke parties, then go to bed and start again the next morning at sunrise."
And then, of course, there were the physical demands of the role, which include riding on horseback, running on top of moving trains and wobbling atop the film's "Spirit Platform," which towered over a canyon in Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah, with a 2,000 foot drop.
Oh, and that was the easy stuff.
"The role also included a combination of being thrown off horses and dragged behind stuff," Hammer enthused.
Opening in theaters nationwide Wednesday, "The Lone Ranger" tracks the origins of the famed masked man as told through the point of view of Tonto (Johnny Depp), his faithful partner on the Western trail. Beginning the film as John Reid, a man of law, an extraordinary series of events unfold to transform Hammer's character into the Lone Ranger, a legend of justice.
"The Lone Ranger," of course, has incredibly rich history, starting as a radio serial in 1933 on WXYZ Radio in Detroit. Becoming a national phenomenon, the radio series ran for 21 years, producing nearly 3,000 episodes.
The character became more popular than ever, though, with "The Lone Ranger" TV series starring Clayton Moore in the title role and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. Running from 1949 until 1957, "The Lone Ranger" also spawned two movies and a character that would become a pop culture icon.
Hammer said the major difference between "The Lone Ranger" radio and TV series in comparison to the new movie is how instrumental Tonto -- a lone Cherokee Indian warrior who helps revives Reid after deadly shoot-out -- is to the overall story.
"We take the stance in our movie that, 'Without Tonto, there would be no Lone Ranger.' It's very similar in the television show because without Tonto, the Lone Ranger, would have died out there in the canyons," Hammer explained. "But with our story, Tonto teaches John Reid how to become the Lone Ranger, instead of rescuing the man who is the Lone Ranger."
Of course, Hammer didn't officially become the Lone Ranger until he started wearing the mask, which effectively introduced him to a whole new set of sensibilities as an actor.
"What I didn't think about before hand was, 'As an actor, I emote with my face,' only to realize, 'I'm going to put on this mask, which effectively hides my face and keeps people from seeing what I'm thinking,'" Hammer explained. "So you have to learn to act all over again. You have to use body language and different things to get your ideas across."
Of course, a big part of acting is reacting, and Hammer said Depp couldn't have made his job any easier.
"He makes it the easiest thing in the entire world," Hammer said. "I was pleasantly surprised by how normal he was. He was so approachable and so much more easygoing than he would have to be, need to be or could be."
Hammer got to experience Depp extrapolated, in a sense, by working with director Gore Verbinski, who was at the helm of three of the actor's "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, as well as "Rango."
"Gore's just confident and in control," Hammer said. "He was the leader of the ship, there was no doubt about it."
In a separate interview, Verbinski told me Hammer perfectly embodied the quality of a classic actor that he was looking for to play the Lone Ranger.
"By design, I couldn't get Jimmy Stewart for the role, so I wanted to find somebody for this movie who had classical bones and a little out of time, because I wanted to throw the character of John Reid against Tonto and against Johnny," Verbinski explained. "So I needed somebody like Stewart in 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance' who you could really believe in everything he's saying."
The main thing that won Verbinski over with Hammer was the positive demeanor of "The Social Network" and "J. Edgar" star.
"When Armie came in to see me about the role, I noticed he had an amazing enthusiasm and optimism, and he is a little out of time. He didn't grow up in Hollywood, and he didn't have the cynical attitude that you get with so many young actors these days. He was genuinely enthused," Verbinski recalled. "Once we put the hat and mask on his and had him read a few lines, it was obvious that he had the ingredient that I wanted against Tonto."
While Verbinski put Hammer through the paces with some rigorous physical demands for the film, Hammer said he did have one advantage going in: His time atop the iconic horse, Silver, wasn't his first ride.
"I grew up riding and hung out around ranches all of my life," recalled Hammer, 26. "If any, the movie was like, 'Oh, I get to hang out around a ranch all day? Great! It sounds like a wonderful way to get paid."
Equine experience aside, Hammer was still required to attend "Cowboy Camp" on location in New Mexico with his fellow collaborators to learn the Western way of doing things.
"They loaded all of the actors up in a van when we got there and took us out to a horse ranch. They said they were going to leave us out there until they 'beat the city out of us,'" Hammer said with a laugh.
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