Movie Magic

Why Does Johnny Depp Have a Bird On His Head in 'The Lone Ranger'?

Check out the painting that inspired the look

Why Does Johnny Depp Have a Bird On His Head in 'The Lone Ranger'?
"I Am Crow" painting by Kirby Sattler (left) and Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger
Photo: Kirby Sattler / Walt Disney Pictures

A reader recently pointed me to the website of artist Kirby Sattler whose painting titled "I Am Crow" (as seen on the left above) was the source of inspiration for Johnny Depp's costume as Tonto in The Lone Ranger.

Depp recently elaborated on the look with Entertainment Weekly saying, "I'd actually seen a painting by an artist named Kirby Sattler, and looked at the face of this warrior and thought: That's it. The stripes down the face and across the eyes... There's this very wise quarter, a very tortured and hurt section, an angry and rageful section, and a very understanding and unique side. I saw these parts, almost like dissecting a brain, these slivers of the individual. That makeup inspired me."

The most curious decision, however is the use of a dead crow as what appears to be an ornamental headdress, especially considering the crow isn't actually on the head of the subject in Sattler's painting. Depp explained:

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.

As for his role as Tonto in the film and why he took it, Depp said, "The whole reason I wanted to play Tonto is to try to [mess] around with the stereotype of the American Indian that has been laid out through history, or the history of cinema at the very least -- especially Tonto as the sidekick, The Lone Ranger's assistant. As you’ll see, it's most definitely not that."

Sattler licensed the image to the production and the title, "I Am Crow," and says it's a reference to the Crow peoples native to the northern part of the American Midwest. He also is sure to mention, "While being broadly based in a historical context, my paintings are not intended to be viewed as historically accurate. I used the combination of face paint and headdress as an artistic expression to symbolize the subject’s essence and his affinity to the Crow."

EW tells us that "in the new film, Tonto is technically a full-blooded Comanche, and Depp identifies in real life as part Cherokee and Creek Indian, based on a Kentucky great-grandmother's ancestry, so the character is proving to be less historically specific to one tribe than a blend of various cultures and influences."

Get more background on the matter right here.

The Lone Ranger is set to hit theaters on May 31, 2013 and is described as a thrilling adventure infused with action and humor, in which the famed masked hero is brought to life through new eyes. Native American spirit warrior Tonto (Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice—taking the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption.

The film is directed by PIrates of the Caribbean helmer Gore Verbinski and along with Depp and Hammer it co-stars Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Barry Pepper, Helena Bonham Carter and William Fichtner.

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  • Jeff

    Would this have been an inspiration for "The Crow" comic and film series? seems like it to me.

  • Steffen

    It's not historically accurate? Go figure. I guess it's more like "Pirates of the Caribbean" without water, boats and well pirates, but instead has deserts, horses and native americans? How amazing and clever.