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Talking Johnny Depp's Oscar-Nominated Makeup and Hair in 'The Lone Ranger'

Interviews
by Bill Desowitz
February 7, 2014 2:28 PM
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When it came to Johnny Depp's trippy Tonto in "The Lone Ranger," there were two makeup and hair challenges: the middle-aged Native American as well as the old man (a tribute to legendary Dick Smith's Jack Crabb from "Little Big Man"). We get the lowdown from Oscar-nominees Joel Harlow, who's become Depp's go-to makeup guy, and hairstylist Gloria Casny.

Jumping in just two months before principal photography, the makeup team performed full upper-body aging (including arms and torso for the shirtless Tonto), which is rarely attempted, according to Harlow. They chose a full prosthetic glue-in rather than a suit and the challenge was maintaining sculptural consistency and to avoid any strange wrinkling around the shoulder and elbows.

"The old Tonto was a series of 17 overlapping silicone prosthetics with pre-hair punched into them, all pre-painted so they'd have the same translucency," explains Oscar winner Harlow (J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek"). "Once they went on, the contact lenses were two sets of lenses in each eye to make his eyes a little more watery and to drop his lower lid, which often happens when you get that old.

"The sculptural phase began a month and a half before the initial test. There were still some elements that I thought could be improved on, so the second makeup that actually appears in the film was sculpted in about a week because we were under such a time constraint. But I wanted to make him a little more sympathetic, so it was a little thinner so he could emote through it."

Younger Tonto was discovered when they were on "The Rum Diary" in 2009. "I was pulling images of faces and one was a painting 'I am Crow' by Kirby Sattler. Johnny saw it and suggested that we put it aside as a possibility for Tonto down the road. At the time it had been shelved when they were having [script and budget problems]. Johnny has Native American ancestry (mostly Cherokee) and we wanted to push it subtly with a prosthetic. 

"Then, when we were testing in Puerto Rico, I wanted something a little more visually interesting and give it a three-dimensional quality, so I consulted with our Comanche expert to make sure that we were accurate and respectful. He said that what that white face makeup would've been was clay from a river bottom. So I decided to sculpt a series of seven prosthetics for the face and another four for the body that looked like cracked earth that was smeared on wet and when it was dry it cracked. Continuity would've been a nightmare had it been applied traditionally. And there were half a dozen colors used to get the right pale face that they were after."

Meanwhile, the attachment for the crow was a design that Harlow came up with early on because the bird had to stay attached to Depp's head while being on top of a train car moving 40 miles per hour. It had a tendency to want to jump off his head so they made a vacu-form scull cap with some nylon-threaded bolts on it. The real wig went on top of that and the bird went on to the bolts and was tightened on from an access chamber on top of the bird's back. And in all of that action the bird never came off.

For Casny, it was a crazy, manic road trip, driving 2,300 miles between locations in five states for eight months. One scene was a continuity nightmare because of weather fluctuations (from snow to 130 degrees). "The scene where they ran from the mine through that tunnel and jumped in the water, they ran to the mine in Utah, they ran through the mine in Albuquerque, they jumped out of it into the water in California, and they came up out of the water in Utah.


"We had to keep the hair on his head. It was about keeping the hair on their heads when there was so much at stake, shooting a scene with so many people and so many elements. It was about trial and error working with Johnny and the wig maker. Johnny liked the heavy gray streak on the side and it was a matter of stressing everything that we had already created for the young Tonto. The old Tonto was much easier because he was in a studio setting."

Still, the category's become the battle of old men between Tonto and "Bad Grandpa's" Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville), courtesy of Steve Prouty's makeup job.

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