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LAS VEGAS — While other Westerns — such as 2011’s Cowboys & Aliens and 1999’s Wild Wild West — have suffered at the box office in the past, The Lone Ranger director Gore Verbinski says that the odd friendship between Tonto (Johnny Depp) and the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) will make a great tale that audiences will want to see.
“It’s really about telling a good story. What I always latched on to was this relationship story between these two guys, and I think that makes it contemporary,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter after presenting new footage at Disney’s CinemaCon presentation on Wednesday.
Verbinski s ays he jumped at the chance to helm the project when producer Jerry Bruckheimer told him that he had acquired the rights.
PHOTOS: ‘The Lone Ranger’ Character Posters Send Johnny Depp to Wild West
“I was sort of born and raised on Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, so for me it was just a great opportunity,” he says. “You don’t get that phone call very often, like ‘Hey, we’re going to make a Western.’”
The story of the masked ex-Texas Ranger will be familiar to older audiences, who listened to the radio show or watched the TV show that ran in the ‘40s and ‘50s, but to many, the story might be completely new, a fact that Verbinski is very aware of.
“With my kids, they don’t even know who the Lone Ranger is,” he says to THR. “So in a way, we’re just making a movie, starting from scratch. It’s really about telling a good story.”
Verbinski says he had mentioned the possibility of Depp playing Tonto to him while they were shooting Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, but that it wasn’t until 2010 when Depp sent him a photo of himself dressed as Tonto that Verbinski really hunkered down to write an outline and tell this story.
“I think he’s really struggled to keep it authentic, but also a very entertaining character,” says Verbinski of Depp’s portrayal.
As for Hammer, he says he was aware of The Lone Ranger show because his father had been a fan of the series and they would watch re-runs on TV.
PHOTOS: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Through the Years
He tells THR of taking on the iconic role: “I think my only concern was doing a good job and not pissing anyone off.”
Backstage after the presentation — which featured appearances by Depp and Hammer — both Verbinski and Bruckheimer were quick to point out that bringing a Western to the big screen is no different than the challenges they faced with bringing a pirate movie to theaters.
“Pirate movies hadn’t done well for years and then we made Pirates and it did very well,” Bruckheimer tells THR. “You tell a good story with compelling characters and a good plot and themes and great direction, great writing, people are going to come and watch it.”
The Pirates franchise has grossed north of $3.7 billion worldwide with the four films in the series. Bruckheimer says that he, of course, hopes that The Lone Ranger, which cost over $250 million to make, has similar success at the box office when it hits theaters on July 3.
“We always want our pictures to make money, so we can keep making more of them. If the studios don’t return with a profit, I won’t be doing this much longer,” he adds with a smile.
Email: Rebecca.Ford@thr.com; Twitter: @Beccamford
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