Disney and Verbinski had a history of sparring over budgets: famously, the original "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," which was a notorious project openly mocked by much of Hollywood for being based on a theme park ride, completed filming only four months before it was scheduled to hit theaters. In James B. Stewart's essential book "DisneyWar," he recounts that Verbinski "quit or came close to quitting at least four times, and there was talk on the set that Disney would fire him." One meeting between Verbinski, Bruckheimer, and Disney brass, ended in a screaming match. According to Stewart, "Bruckheimer told Verbinski it was the worst meeting he'd ever endured as a producer." The budget soared to $150 million and post-production was so tight that the studio only had time for a single test screening, in Anaheim, just outside of the theme park that birthed the movie.
Verbinski's somewhat contentious history with the studio, along with the iffy overseas prospects of a big budget western (a genre that doesn't always travel well abroad) and a huge production budget, were enough to give Disney cold feet. But those close to the project remained optimistic about its return. At the D23 Expo, a kind of Comic Con for Disney that was held later that August, Disney president Rich Ross told Deadline, “I’m hoping to do it. I’m certainly hoping. I think it’s a compelling story and no one wants to work with Jerry and Johnny more than me, so we’ll see how it works.” The statement was notable for the fact that it didn't include any mention of Verbinski, only Bruckheimer and Depp (at the time Disney had four movies in the all time Top 10 list – Depp starred in three of them). Soon after Bruckheimer and Depp got behind Verbinski, as all parties slashed their asking prices and stipulated that they would not get paid until after the movie broke even. Talks continued.
Verbinski, for his part, said that this kind of drama is par for the course in Hollywood. "Every movie gets shut down these days," he told us. He then described the back-and-forth: "You turn in your budget and they say, 'Cut 30%.' And you say, 'No.' And they say, 'You have to.' And you say, 'We can't.' And then they shut you down. So you go in and start slicing and dicing." Verbinski went on to say that the version of the movie before it got shut down and the version of the movie that returned to production were virtually identical: "It was the same story. There was a big action set piece in the middle of the movie that we had to take out."
Bruckheimer told us that the sequence was "really spectacular," but that they cut it for good reason. "Gore pulled it out because it was off plot and chances are it wouldn't have made it into the movie in the end because it didn't push the story forward," Bruckheimer explained.
The experience for Armie Hammer, who beat out people like Ryan Gosling for the role of The Lone Ranger, was particularly bittersweet, given the fact that he had once been cast in another iconic role, when he won the role of Batman for George Miller's proposed "Justice League" movie, a part he described as being "painfully close" to a go (yes, he got into the costume and everything). "But everything works out exactly as it's supposed to… If I had done that I probably wouldn't be sitting here now," Hammer told us. When we brought up the possibility that he signed on to the Lone Ranger because he was so close to playing another superhero, he said, "I didn't even connect the two."
Hammer was one of the last people to join the production, seemingly the last puzzle piece to snap into place before the entire puzzle was thrown away. "I was involved for a couple of days before it got shut down," Hammer told us. Not that he was ever worried. "I had the inside line. I got a phone call from somebody – Gore – who was like, 'Look, this is what's going on – you're probably going to hear that our movie is getting shut down. Don't worry about it. This is just Disney. They're playing hardball. They're negotiating. This is how they want us to do this. But we're going to make this movie. It's come too far, it's going to happen.'" Hammer didn't seem phased. "Ostensibly, yes, we were shut down but the inside track was this is just part of the negotiations."
When quizzed about whether or not his character change from before the shutdown to after, Hammer became even more defiant. "Nothing changed, at all, about the entire movie," Hammer told us. Before adding: "Checkmate, Disney."