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One of the reasons that Johnny Depp was long dedicated to updating the seminal western series The Lone Ranger was his interest in re-defining the role of Tonto, the masked Texas lawman’s loyal Indian sidekick. Depp already claimed a sliver of Native American heritage (Cherokee or Creek), and now, he’s got a much bigger stake in the transformation.
Last week, Depp was formally adopted by the Comanche Indian tribe, a New Mexico-based group of Indians to which Depp’s Tonto belongs. LaDonna Harris, a Comanche and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity, heard about his film role and invited him to join the tribe.
“I reached out, and Johnny was very receptive to the idea,” she told the website Indian Country. He seemed proud to receive the invitation, and we were honored that he so enthusiastically agreed.”
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The ceremony took place at Harris’s home, and Depp gave gifts to the attendees, as per tradition.
“Welcoming Johnny into the family in the traditional way was so fitting,” Harris said. “He’s a very thoughtful human being, and throughout his life and career, he has exhibited traits that are aligned with the values and worldview that Indigenous peoples share.”
The first photos of Depp as Tonto (alongside the titular hero, played by Armie Hammer) have drawn a mixed reaction; with full face paint and a crow on his head, they are far from the original, Jay Silverheels version. As it turns out, the look came from a painting by an artist named Kirby Satler, and while the bird was flying behind the head of the portrait’s subject, Depp decided it worked better as headware.
“I thought: Tonto’s got a bird on his head. It’s his spirit guide in a way. It’s dead to others, but it’s not dead to him. It’s very much alive,” he told Entertainment Weekly.
The Lone Ranger, directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, is set for a May 31, 2013 release.
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