How ‘Lone Ranger’ Star Johnny Depp Reinvented Tonto

'He created this character unbeknownst to us, and then came to us,' recalls producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

From Edward Scissorhands to Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp has crafted a cadre of iconic characters over the course of his 30-year career. And with this week’s release of Gore Verbinski’s “The Lone Ranger,” he’ll add another in the form of stoic sidekick Tonto.

As producer Jerry Bruckheimer told MTV News, Depp had strong ideas about how best to portray the Lone Ranger’s trusted friend — long before he was even cast in the role.

“Well, we were filming ‘Pirates,’ and I told him we had the rights to ‘The Long Ranger.’ And he went off and did ‘Alice,’ and while he was doing ‘Alice,’ he called me and said, ‘I want to come see you,’ ” Bruckheimer recalled. “He handed me this picture, and it was a picture of a Native American. He had a white face on, and he had these black lines drawn on his face, and he had a bird on his head. I said, ‘Who’s this?’ And he said, ‘That’s Tonto.’ And I said, ‘Who’s going to play — who’s the photograph of?’ And he said, ‘It’s me.’ He created this character unbeknownst to us, and then came to us. I sent this picture to Disney, and they got really excited about it. And that started the road to production.”

And, as Bruckheimer explained it, the character has remained largely unchanged from Depp’s original vision.

“He had a real good beat on it from the very beginning,” Bruckheimer said. “He was always feeding the bird. He knew how the character was. Of course you embellish it during filming, but he had a really strong character in mind who he was going to play.”

Depp himself confirmed as much, adding that he tried be respectful of how he portrayed the Native American, who has historically been seen as something of a stereotype.

“It was something I felt a pretty intense passion for, for a long time,” Depp said. “Just taking into consideration the way that Native Americans have been portrayed in old-school TV series as sidekicks or savages. I just thought it was a way to flip it completely on its head and an opportunity to send great respect and thanks to the Native Americans for all they’ve lived through and went through in their existence. I guess it was to portray the Native American with the integrity and dignity that they deserve.”

“The Lone Ranger” is in theaters now.

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