As the titular character in Gore Verbinski's The Lone Ranger, Armie Hammer, with the help of his buddy Tonto (Johnny Depp), brings masked, white horse-supported, vigilante justice to the Texas town of Colby. In this update on the TV classic, the Ranger is an unlikely lawman – he doesn't like to shoot guns, is more comfortable in the city than the country, and believes in the sanctity of government and due process, at least until the bad guys show. The film opens nationally July 3rd. Hammer spoke with Rolling Stone about playing mind games on Johnny Depp, his comfort on horseback and the importance of updating the old franchise, starting with the neckerchief.
Is your real-life relationship with Johnny Depp more like the old relationship where Tonto is the assistant and the Lone Ranger runs the show, or the new one, where Tonto is the wise one and you need all the help you can get?
Oh, no – he was my man-servant on set. He held my water for me. If I got hot he would fan me with his bird. We had a terrific sort of serf relationship. It was great to have a permanent helper.
How did you establish that?
Mind games. First strip all of his personal confidence, and then develop a co-dependent relationship. And once that kind of started to settle in, it all fell into place. Magnificently.
Is it true you guys bonded over guitars?
Yeah. I mean, kind of over everything. He's a really difficult dude to hate. He's one of the more interesting people I've met in my life.
He's much more normal than you would think. He's not what you would imagine Johnny Depp would be like. He's just what you'd imagine the coolest dude you know would be like. He's just got a terrific finger on the pulse of everything, you know, whether it's pop culture or literature, music, art – I mean, real estate . . . You can really talk to the guy about anything.
Did you grow up riding horses?
I did, yeah. I had that advantage. I mean, I grew up kind of trail riding and arena riding and stuff like that. But never on top of buildings, so a different kind of riding than we did in the movie.
I read that you met your wife when a skeet-shooting trip was rained out.
It wasn't just to shoot skeet, but that was going to be one of the things we were going to do. We were going to have an adventure day.
So unlike the Lone Ranger, you're comfortable shooting guns?
Yeah. It's fun getting to do all this with professional trainers, and then going out and shooting with your friends and being better than all of them.
You grew up in the Caymans the great-grandson of an oil tycoon. What was that like?
It wasn't terrible. I have nothing to compare it to, but I didn't hate it.
I sort of imagine you riding across the beach on a white horse, your golden locks flowing, and then they found you for this part as a result of that.
You're remarkably close. Jerry [Bruckheimer] happened to be in the Cayman Islands in 1997 and saw a little 13-year-old me and was like, "I'm gonna turn that into the Lone Ranger."
How did you want to update the old TV show?
The same way that you'd want to update a car. You know, it's like you could find a great Corvette from the Fifties. And you know, it's got its own aesthetic appeal, it's got its charm, it's got the things that make it specially that Corvette. But you don't build cars like that anymore. You can still take elements from that car, like four tires, engine block, transmission – all those things, and those things end up in a modern car, but you can't build it the same way.
What did you want to ditch?
I wasn't crazy about the bright blue Lycra top that they'd wear. And there was like this out-of-control neckerchief. And also, you know, the relationship with Tonto needed to change. In the original TV show, if you go back and watch it, Tonto is just there to be spoken at. "Tonto! Go get the horses!" "OK, me do." And then he'd come back a few scenes later and the Lone Ranger would say, "Tonto, the village is about to be raided. Go warn them!" He'd say, "OK, me do." And Tonto would be there just so that the audience would know, "Oh, the village is about to be raided." Especially if you've got Johnny Depp playing Tonto.
But you also embraced his goofy side, which I didn't see in the older episodes.
Well, it was partially just because we couldn't take ourselves too seriously. We're riding around in the desert on a white horse and, like, doing the Lone Ranger thing and having a ball, but we're not saving lives. The old show was great, and Clayton Moore was a terrific hero in a time when people needed a hero, right after World War II – you know, the Korean War conflict, all that stuff. America needed to deal with it, tune off and just watch a hero on television. So, you know, that doesn't excite the audiences anymore. We're more discerning now. Two hours of just watching a guy be a hero would bore the tears out of everybody, so we had to make it fun. We had to make it interesting.
Director Gore Verbinski isn't a big fan of green screens and CGI, and he had you actually doing all these stunts. Which ones do you never want to have to do again?
I don't like being dragged behind a horse. That's just unpleasant for everybody, except the horse.