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Johnny Depp reveals why Tonto puts a bird on it

Meriah Doty
Movie Talk
April 23, 2012

No, he was not inspired by the "Portlandia" skit. And we cannot confirm he was even inspired by Marilyn Manson.

Johnny Depp has revealed his visual inspiration for his role in "The Lone Ranger," which is intended to be in stark contrast to the original 1950s television Tonto. He recently told EW in an interview:

"I'd actually seen a painting by an artist named Kirby Sattler [pictured upper-left], and looked at the face of this warrior and thought: That's it... The stripes down the face and across the eyes … it seemed to me like you could almost see the separate sections of the individual..."

And, as you can see, there's that bird atop Depp's head:

"It just so happened Sattler had painted a bird flying directly behind the warrior's head. It looked to me like it was sitting on top... 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."

Depp also stars in heavy makeup as Barnabas Collins in "Dark Shadows," in theaters May 11th. For "Lone," in theaters next year, he plays a Jack Sparrow-caliber Tonto as he and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are collaborating yet again in a big-budget Disney film (*cough* "Pirates of the Caribbean" series.)

[PHOTOS: "Dark Shadows"]

Bruckheimer tweeted a first photo of the Western-genre film last month (based on the popular '50s television show), which revolves around a silver-bullet-shooting, masked vigilante the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) and his Native American comrade Tonto (Depp).

But before Depp fans get their feathers ruffled, they should know that this Tonto is a super-sized sidekick: "I was honest early on with Johnny that Tonto is the part," director Gore Verbinski told the L.A. Times before the film went into production. (Verbinski has worked with Depp on multiple films including Academy Award-winning "Rango" and the aforementioned megahit franchise "Pirates.")

Known for pleasing crowds with his taste for the absurd, Depp has told CNN he developed a funny and original take on Tonto that will be on par with his famous Captain Jack Sparrow. (Though I'm sure Keith Richards will be left out of this one.)

Depp, who has said he is part Native American, has also told EW in a past interview, "I always felt Native Americans were badly portrayed in Hollywood films over the decades. It's a real opportunity for me to give a salute to them. Tonto was a sidekick in all the 'Lone Ranger' series. [This film] is a very different approach to that partnership. And a funny one I think."

[RELATED: Recent Johnny Depp Stories On OMG]

This isn't the first time Depp has explored such subject matter. In seminal 1995 indie film "Dead Man," by Jim Jarmusch, Depp plays opposite a peculiar and comical Native American man Nobody (Gary Farmer). In the film, Depp's character, William Blake, finds himself on an unexpected journey with Nobody—who leads Blake into "the spiritual world."

Still filming,  "The Lone Ranger" has experienced several false starts and studio budget concerns. Its release will further test the winning equation Disney, Depp, Bruckheimer and Verbinski have solved with their multi-billion dollar "Pirates" franchise.

Disney is willing to buck an anti-Western view Hollywood has taken in recent years with "Lone." And if it's any indication, "Pirates" beat the genre odds that were set against it when it first came out.  Disney is betting "Lone" will do the same.

Watch 'Dark Shadows' Trailer:

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