By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist November 29, 2010 at 6:29AM
It's been in the works for a few years now , but Jerry Bruckheimer's Johnny Depp-toplining new version of classic pulp character "The Lone Ranger" is finally moving forward with Gore Verbinski, who previously worked with the producer and the star on the "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy, being officially announced as director on Tuesday.
There's no confirmed start date, but it seems likely to be Depp's next project after wrapping "Dark Shadows" with BFF Tim Burton, so it'll probably film in the second half of next year. But there's one big question: who'll be donning the mask and playing the title role?
When it was announced two years back that Depp would be playing Native American sidekick Tonto in the film, many were surprised -- after all, the actor's essentially the biggest movie star in the world right now (as of this year, he's the only actor with two films to have grossed over a billion dollars worldwide), and playing a part traditionally relegated to a sidekick seemed like an unusual move.
At the very least, it means that the film will have more of a buddy movie dynamic to it, and at the most, it means that, like the upcoming "Green Hornet" (a character from the same creator, and, as lore would have it, the great-nephew of the Lone Ranger), it'll feature a sidekick more competent than the main hero. Either way, we imagine that Disney will be keen to cast another biggish star opposite Depp -- otherwise they'll risk being overshadowed altogether. At the same time, Depp's probably getting a huge pay day, and casting someone with similar salary requirements -- a Brad Pitt or a Leonardo DiCaprio -- doesn't make financial sense.
Otherwise, one can guess that, as Terry Elliot and Ted Rossio, writers of all four "Pirates" movies, penned early drafts of the script, the tone'll be similar to the swashbuckling adventure of those films, and Bruckheimer confirmed a few years back that it'd share the 'supernatural' elements as well. At the same time, however, Justin Haythe ("Revolutionary Road") was brought on for a rewrite, so it may be safe to assume that the tone won't be quite as goofy as the Pirates films. We're not going to see Seth Rogen or Jack Black as the Ranger -- it's likely that the actor cast will be a more serious figure that Depp can play off.
Furthermore, in the source material, the Ranger and Tonto were childhood friends, so one can assume that they're looking for someone around the same age as the 47-year-old Depp. A rewrite of the mythology would be simple enough, but unless they really reshape the relationship and turn the Native American into a kind of mentor, we're unlikely to see someone like Zac Efron put the mask on.
So below are 10 names who could conceivably join Depp and Verbinski in the Old West, and the pros and cons for them becoming The Lone Ranger.
Why He Could Do It: Rumors have linked Clooney ever since the part was announced, although it was unclear whether there was ever any fire to the smoke -- it's possible that it was always just fancasting. After all, ever since he was burned by "Batman and Robin," Clooney's mostly avoided tentpoles and franchises outside the "Ocean's Eleven" films. But, as with many of these performances, the possibility of teaming with Depp has to be a sweetener, and Clooney's square jawed, old-timey look has surprisingly never quite been used in a Western context. Plus, with the "Ocean's" series dead, Clooney could use another series he can return to to balance out the riskier fare.
Why He Might Not: He's circling "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." with regular collaborator Steven Soderbergh, which would seem to be the principle obstacle here. It scratches that franchise itch for the actor and, dependent on Soderbergh's "Liberace," may even be shooting at the same time. Furthermore, we just can't see Clooney being interested in the part. For one, he hasn't shown any interest in anything except smart entertainment for grown-ups in a decade, and we're not sure him and Jerry Bruckheimer are natural matches. Furthermore, the character is kind of a goody two-shoes, and up against the morally conflicted likes of "Michael Clayton" and Ryan Bingham in "Up in the Air," we can't see it holding much appeal, particularly with Depp likely to have a far more interesting part as it is. We can't see Clooney signing on to this, somehow -- if he does, it's because he's suddenly got Wesley Snipes-style tax problems.
Why He Could Do It: Well, for one thing, it's rumored that he's the first choice of Bruckheimer & co - Badass Digest reported when Verbinski was confirmed that, at some point in the project's recent history, Vaughn was the name being sought. And in a way, it makes sense -- he's a name, for sure, but could have an interesting dynamic opposite Depp, and would certainly work in a more comedic take on the character. Furthermore, he's a reliable box office name, without his quote being too high -- even misfires like "Four Christmases" and "Couples Retreat" topped $100 million. Plus, having focused almost entirely on comedy of late, the star may be keen to extend his range.
Why He Might Not: For one thing, there's a reason Vaughn hasn't moved outside comedy in recent years -- some time not long after the turn of the century, he appeared to eat Patrick Van Horn and several other cast members from "Swingers" -- right now, it'll take a little time in the gym to convince as a former Texas Ranger. Furthermore, the actor's always been a contemporary kind of guy - he's rarely played period, and we can't see him as being anything other than anachronistic in this context. And frankly, we just don't see him working that well with Depp. Regardless of what the thinking was a couple of years back, we still think this is a long shot.
Why He Could Do It: Another name that's already come up in conversation (partly, well, our own,) Hamm seems to be following a similar career path to Clooney -- becoming a heartthrob on a zeitgeisty TV show (in this case, AMC's hugely acclaimed "Mad Men"), before displaying some mean leading-man chops in relatively small scale roles -- for Hamm, "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and "The Town" rather than "One Fine Day" and "The Peacemaker." He's demonstrated his comic skills, should they be required, on "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock," he's appropriately square-jawed, and could do period with his eyes closed. Plus, that TV role means he's virtually a household name, but his quote won't be too high yet and it could serve as a decent consolation prize for the "Superman" role that everyone tipped him for, but not even Hamm himself thought he had a chance of landing.
Why He Might Not: There's no word on the future for "Mad Men" (the show still hasn't technically been renewed for a fifth season, although it's surely only a matter of time), but assuming it continues on into a sixth series, Hamm may be counted out. Furthermore, Bruckheimer & co may decide that he's not quite a big enough name -- after all, despite his entertaining supporting role in sleeper hit "The Town," he's relatively unproven in the movie world. Still, he's a decent choice.
Why He Could Do It: Something of a nearly-man for over a decade, ever since his breakthrough in Neil LaBute's "In The Company Of Men," Eckhart has almost always given strong performances (especially in Jason Reitman's "Thank You For Smoking," but was too often marred by patchy material, with lead roles in misfires like "The Core" and "Suspect Zero" taking him nowhere. But 2008 saw him play Harvey Dent/Two-Face in the megahit "The Dark Knight," and suddenly Eckhart (who's performance in Nolan's film is in many ways underrated) was a bona fide leading man. He's apparently excellent in "Rabbit Hole" and he's the lead in "Battle: Los Angeles," which could well be a big hit early next year, so he's in vogue, without being too expensive. And, he's worked alongside Depp in the upcoming Hunter S. Thompson adaptation "The Rum Diary" -- unless they hated each other, that could see Eckhart leapfrog to the front of the queue.
Why They Might Not: Well, the actor is signed on to the CIA drama "The Expatriate," although there's no word on when it might start. Unless it does clash directly, Eckhart seems like a really solid choice -- he's acquitted himself well in Westerns in the past, in Ron Howard's "The Missing," and has already embodied the kind of morality and decency that the Lone Ranger's always represented. But, if "Battle: Los Angeles" tanks, he may be off the table.
Why He Could Do It: He may have become a punchline in recent years, but once upon a time, before the unconvincing tan and the terrible rom-coms, Matthew McConaughey looked like he could be a force to be reckoned with, in the likes of "Dazed and Confused" and "A Time To Kill." And, after years of rubbish, it looks like he's finally on his way back -- his 2011 slate of "The Lincoln Lawyer," Richard Linklater's "Bernie" and William Friedkin's "Killer Joe," is extremely promising, and, for the first time in a while, he's a possible prospect for this kind of role. And in fact, he's never really had a franchise like this -- "Sahara" was his big hope, but history relates how that one turned out...
Why They Might Not: McConaughey has a lot of baggage to get over with a certain audience still -- no amount of guest spots on "Eastbound and Down" will erase the memory of his smug, semi-baked performances in the likes of "Fool's Gold." We're optimistic, particularly with the promise of his upcoming slate, and a part like "Lone Star" means we're sure that he could pull off the role. The biggest question is of his chemistry with Depp - we just don't Depp and Verbinski picking McConaughey out. But we're happy to be proven wrong.
Why He Could Do It: If Bale's recent Esquire interview proved anything, it's that you can't pick a Chris Farley fan out of a crowd. Also, that Bale is one of the most interesting, prickly, infuriating and exciting talents out there. After David O Russell's "The Fighter," he's heading to an locked-in Oscar nomination (and he's the front-runner to win), and next year will see him take on Batman for the final time in "The Dark Knight Rises." He showed decent chemistry with Depp in their only scene in "Public Enemies," and put in a good show in the Western genre in "3.10 To Yuma." Plus, "Terminator: Salvation" showed he isn't above taking a paycheck gig from time to time.
Why He Might Not: Well, with "The Dark Knight Rises" set to film from May to November, he's pretty much out of the running, even if he was interested. And frankly, we suspect that he wouldn't be -- one masked hero per career is enough for most actors (bar Ryan Reynolds, it seems), and The Lone Ranger would seem like something of a trade down from Batman. Plus, the actor's somewhat dour persona wouldn't work well trading quips with Depp, we imagine. Stranger things have happened, but don't hold your breath for this one.
Why He Could Do It: Once the unchallenged box-office champion, it feels that Smith's crown has lost a little of its luster in the last few years with the relative failure of "Seven Pounds" and the near four-year gap between that film and the Summer 2012 release of "Men In Black 3," when we'll next see the actor. So what better way to put yourself back on top than by returning to the stable of Jerry Bruckheimer, who launched your career with "Bad Boys," and teaming up with the other biggest star around -- a Redford/Newman pairing for the 21st century. Smith obviously has the charisma and range to pull this one off, and could make a fun pairing with Depp. Plus, casting an African-American as the Lone Ranger would be a pretty good way to balance out criticism for casting a white actor (albeit one with Cherokee blood) as a Native American.
Why He Might Not: Principally, Smith's almost certainly too expensive -- like we said, Depp'll be costing a pretty penny, and will have a healthy back-end deal too (and we imagine Verbinski's deal is equally costly). Star egos being what they are, Smith is unlikely to settle for anything less than what his co-star's getting, and we can't see that being financially viable. Also, Smith may have taken a couple of knocks of late, but one flop and a few years away doesn't make him desperate and we imagine, particularly after having only just completed a cash-in sequel, he'd rather plough his own furrow in 2011.
Why He Could Do It: OK, this might sound a little odd, but bear with us. Like Smith, Cruise is no longer the untouchable star he once was -- sure, he can drag even the risky likes of "Valkyrie" over the $100 million barrier, but then something like "Night & Day," once his bread and butter, tanks fairly significantly. He's shown a willingness to take a pay cut, working on "Mission: Impossible --Ghost Protocol" for scale, and, outside of a tiny, unrecognizable cameo in "Young Guns," he's never worked in the Western genre, but is surely keen to. He could pull off the kind of honorable boy scout role that the Lone Ranger amounts to with his eyes closed as well. If we were Cruise's agent, we'd be chasing this hard -- teaming with Depp on something like this could see a real turnaround in his career. Plus, he's expected to reteam with producer Jerry Bruckheimer next year as it is on "Top Gun 2."
Why He Might Not: Well, there's no news on when the "Top Gun" sequel might come together, but there could be a direct clash there. More importantly, Cruise has rarely showed a tendency to play well with others on screen -- outside of cameos in the likes of "Tropic Thunder," his films tend to be vehicles for him, and other stars, particularly male ones, rarely get a look in (although this has changed of late -- particularly if the rumors of Jeremy Renner being a co-lead in "Mission Impossible" are true, and if Ben Stiller buddy movie "The Hardy Men" ever comes off). Would he really be willing to take a pay cut to play straight man in Johnny Depp's movie? Almost certainly not.
Why He Could Do It: While we love Damon's pick of roles for the most part, and his commitment to working with top-class helmers, he's another actor who could really use a hit. Outside of the Bourne franchise, he's never really been a box office draw on his own, and recent films like "The Informant!," "Invictus," "Green Zone" and "Hereafter" have all performed significantly below expectations. With no return to the Bourne series likely any time soon, he's another actor who could use a fresh franchise. He was meant to team with Depp once before on Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm" before Depp overran on the original "Pirates of the Caribbean," and we can see their comic sensibilities gelling nicely, while Damon could still easily play the honorable, moral justice-seeking side of the character.
Why He Might Not: For one thing, the character strikes us as a less interesting, less-gloriously-mutton-chopped version of Damon's role in Joel and Ethan Coen's imminent "True Grit," and we can't see Damon wanting to retrace his steps that quickly. Plus, he's got two films coming up in 2011, "Contagion" and "Cameron Crowe's "We Bought A Zoo," which have genuine commercial potential, so again, things aren't exactly desperate for Damon. He's always had more integrity than your average star, and even his more commercial gigs seem to have been dictated by a desire to work with interesting directors like Gilliam or Doug Liman. We don't see "The Lone Ranger" with Gore Verbinski scratching that itch, somehow.
Why He Could Do It: Arguably the only non A-lister on our list, and certainly the wild card in the pack, Olyphant has two big pluses going for him. Firstly, with his TV work on "Deadwood" and, most recently, FX's Elmore Leonard adaptation "Justified," he's more than won his spurs in the Western world -- either of those roles could be seen as somewhat darker warm-ups for "The Lone Ranger." Furthermore, he crops up in Verbinski's upcoming animation "Rango," which toplines Depp, in an apparently scene-stealing role, so he may be in the good-books of his potential director and co-star. He's certainly going to be one of the cheaper options, but thanks to his villain role in "Live Free and Die Hard," is probably recognizable enough to the general public. For what it's worth, he's got enough charisma and talent that he wouldn't necessarily be overshadowed by his more famous co-star. Of everyone, he gets The Playlist seal of approval. (He also has Bruckheimer form, as a cop in "Gone in 60 Seconds")
Why He Might Not: Most importantly, he may just be not a big enough name -- while Depp could obviously carry the film on his own, Disney will obviously be keen to pair with him someone with a little name recognition. Furthermore, a second series of "Justified" is on the way and set to air in January. If it continues to pick up acclaim and viewers, a third season may see a schedule clash that would put him out of the running.