Verbinski is in the middle of shooting Disney's big budget big screen "Lone Ranger," starring Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the titular masked hero. Given the movie's tumultuous past (including a start/stop last summer that left the project in an uncomfortable limbo for several months), we were curious how that was going. "It's going great. It's going to be photo-real and it's going to be interesting in its own way but it's a complete stepping back over the fence from 'Rango,'" Verbinski said. When we pressed for whether or not the supernatural elements of the script would be maintained or jettison at the behest of budget overwrites (at one point it was said to feature a monstrous Wendigo as well as a pack of werewolves), Verbinski took the opportunity to clarify reports. "I don't know where this idea of werewolves came from. It's never been in any draft I've worked on," Verbinski explained. "But there's a kind of Native American overlay of omens and other things happening that we don't fully understand."
Another rumored setpiece also apparently included "the greatest train chase ever," but Verbinski played his cards close to the chest about how that sequence may materialize in the film.
And while he's eager to make another animated film, he probably won't stray from the core team that he brought together for "Rango." "I think I'd want to put the band back together," Verbinski said. "We had such a blast and we all felt like there's so much more to do. So we've got some deep seeds that are germinating but I want to go off and shoot this live action movie and if they sprout, we'll return."
With big animated movies and even bigger live action movies, we wondered if Verbinski had any interest returning to a more modestly budgeted film like his Nicolas Cage dark comedy "The Weather Man." "I think 'The Weather Man' is one of my favorite experiences just because when you work on a film that costs a lot less money you get to say, 'Hey, this movie isn't for you, and it's not for you either. And it's okay that you don't like it.' Because you don't spend $100 million and you don't need everybody to like your movie. And I think that's incredibly liberating. People talk about four quadrant movies all the time but those used to be accidents, like, 'Wow 12-year-olds are going and 26-year-olds are going!' Now it's an algorithm."
One project that won't be seeing the light of day is a heist thriller Verbinksi was set to produce with Nicolas Winding Refn directing and his longtime collaborator Mads Mikkelsen starring. "No, I think Nic certainly covered that material with 'Drive.'" More promising is a science fiction film by "Sin Nombre"/"Jane Eyre" filmmaker Cary Fukunaga called "Spaceless." Based on an original script by Jeff Vintar, it's about an intergalactic assassin who wakes up in a space suit that's running out of air and little memory of how he got there. "It's a movie I've been trying to direct for 15 years, off and on," Verbinski said. "It's a really great script and I think Cary is the best up-and-coming young director of actors. To have him be interested in a science fiction film, well, we're really, really lucky to have him. All the stuff in the script, all the cleverness, will be intact but you will care a lot about these guys, more than if it was done by anybody else." Verbinski says that the film is very much a go, noting that Fukunaga is "doing a rewrite and we're starting to do a budget breakdown."
After last week's cancelation of the Universal/Hasbro deal, one project that remains in question is Verbinski's take on classic board game "Clue" (originated as a kind of goofy, choose-your-own-adventure mystery/drama in 1985). "I actually don't know what's going on with that," Verbinski said, quite honestly. "I think that [Hasbro] had a deal at Universal and then Universal kept 'Battleship,' I guess, and let the rest of the things go?"
But for now, Verbinski is focused on "The Lone Ranger," and it will be interesting to see what he brings to the big screen version of the beloved western series. And in just a couple of short weeks, Verbinski will take a break from the set of the film and head to the Kodak Theater in a tux, where if all goes according to plan, he'll be receiving an Oscar for "Rango." And if you haven't seen it, the film is available on DVD and BluRay right now.