LAWTON — On a blistering Friday afternoon, the asphalt outside the Carmike Cinemas in Lawton was covered in red carpet as the city got a major taste of Hollywood culture and the graciousness of one of its biggest stars.
Johnny Depp, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer arrived at the Carmike Cinemas for a premiere of “The Lone Ranger.”
The event was organized by the Comanche Nation, which provided technical, historical and cultural support for the new film, starring Depp as Tonto.
“To receive a welcome like this, to receive the support of Chairman Coffey and everybody is just beyond — above and beyond,” said Depp, referring to Comanche Nation Chairman Wallace Coffey. “It's everything to me.”
Due in theaters July 5, “The Lone Ranger” co-stars Armie Hammer (“The Social Network”) as the Lone Ranger, but the story is told through the eyes of Tonto. Verbinski, who directed Depp in the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, said that he felt a responsibility to set things right with this retelling of a classic Hollywood western.
“Hollywood has a long legacy of getting it wrong in representing Native Americans,” Verbinski said. “We thought telling the story from Tonto's perspective and making him much more than a sidekick would make it more relevant.”
Verbinski's corrective measure comes 80 years after “The Lone Ranger” made its first appearance in a radio serial on WXYZ-AM in Detroit. It became a popular television series in the 1940s and 1950s, starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. While Moore and Silverheels made the transition to film in two theatrical movies in the 1950s, a 1981 version titled “The Legend of the Lone Ranger” was a critical and commercial disaster.
But Bruckheimer, who produced the “Pirates” films as well as “Top Gun,” “Armageddon,” “Beverly Hills Cop” and other successful big-budget films, said the Lone Ranger and Tonto are classic American film heroes, and that the time was right to reintroduce them.
“We lost that Western genre,” Bruckheimer said. “We've got to bring it back.”
The event was attended by more than 1,000 fans as well as local and Comanche Nation leaders, featuring traditional Comanche dancers and drummers in full tribal regalia. Coffey said he lobbied hard with the Walt Disney Company, the film's studio, to bring the red carpet premiere to Lawton.
“It has a Comanche presence ... and Johnny plays an awesome role,” Coffey said.
Before entering the theater, Depp made the rounds among the fans, posing for photos, signing autographs and spending time talking to people who braved 95-degree temperatures to see him. He said that getting the character right and paying respect to the Comanches were his primary concerns, something he hoped the Lawton audience would see on the screen.
“It was with great respect for the native people,” Depp said. “That was first and foremost on the agenda.”