Rango is a sheltered chameleon living as an ordinary family pet facing a major identity crisis. After all, how high can you aim when your whole purpose in life is to blend in? When Rango accidentally winds up in the gritty, gun-slinging town of Dirt — a lawless outpost populated by the desert’s most wily and whimsical creatures — the less-than-courageous lizard suddenly finds he stands out. Welcomed as the last hope the town has been waiting for, new Sheriff Rango (Johnny Depp) is forced to play his new role to the hilt… until he starts to become the hero he once only pretended to be.
MoviesOnline sat down with Rango castmembers Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, and director Gore Verbinski to talk about their new film. They told us about their unique approach to shooting the animated film; Johnny explained how he got in touch with his inner lizard; and Gore and Johnny talked about their unusual collaborative process. Justin Bieber also made a surprise appearance and crashed the “Rango” press conference to say ‘hello’ after he heard Johnny was a ‘Belieber.’
Q: I’ve heard that you fought tooth and nail to make sure that Rango wasn’t going to be in 3D. How do you all feel about 3D being such a big trend?
JD: I’m waiting for 5D. That’s what I want.
GV: I watched the movie; I don’t think there’s a dimension missing. I don’t watch it and go, “It’s flat,” or it’s missing anything. We talked about it early on and it just didn’t seem like we needed to go there.
IF: I think the glasses are really uncomfortable.
AB: It actually looks so lifelike anyway. I think that it looks like 3D; it looked like the animals were there anyway. It looked really cool, I thought. And 3D makes me dizzy.
Q: Johnny, can you talk about getting into your character? How did you go about finding your Rango?
JD: You know, early on, some of the talks that Gore and I had had about the character I mean, talk about two grown men, middle aged men, discussing the possibility of one of them being a lizard. It starts off on a surreal kind of note, anyway. But, you know, it was one of finding the voice or finding the character. It was like we talked about, when people in life, when they have a tendency to exaggerate or lie or whatever, you always notice that their voice goes up quite high. It goes to another, completely different register. Whereas, if I’m talking to you and speaking and babbling non-stop, and then suddenly I’m really nervous about telling you the truth – you know, but I’m lying – so that’s kind of where it came from, just this – you imagine the character to be an incredibly nervous wreck.
Q: For Johnny and Gore, you guys have obviously worked together a few times now. Could each of you comment on what you like so much about working with the other?
GV: I like the way he smells.
JD: I’ve been told I smell good. I mean, I don’t look like I smell good.
GV: I don’t know – because we have shorthand, talking and sound effects and unfinished sentences and –
GV: He seems to understand exactly what that means, and I get it back. And you know, a very, very complex direction, like more fuzz.
JD: More fuzz, yeah.
GV: More stink on this line, you know. Really, that’s about as intellectual as it gets.
JD: And it really is that, exactly, you know. “Ah, let’s make maybe some more fuzz. Let’s put some more fuzz on it.” “Okay. Gotcha.” I mean, working with Gore in three “Pirates” films and Rango certainly, there are no limits to what you could do, to the possibilities, I mean. He allows you to try all kinds of things, you know, that sometimes fail miserably.
GV: Yes, please.
JD: And other times, goes into this kind of weird – you’ve just arrived at some place that you know no one’s ever been to before. And he welcomes it and he creates an atmosphere that allows you to just go essentially ape. And yeah, it’s a blast. That’s really a fun part of the process.
GV: That’s really it. What’s great about Johnny is the trust that neither of us are going to make the other one look like an ass, you know. He has to trust that at the end of the day, we’re not going to use that stuff.
GV: Where we’ve tried something that didn’t work, but we’re going to try it because [there’s an] anomaly and we’ve got this sort of pursuit of finding the truly awkward moment, which is – you’re only going to get there by not knowing, and sort of venturing into the unknown. And so, I just think he’s incredibly brave, on top of being incredibly talented. It’s like you’ve got to kind of cross that threshold.
Q: Johnny, you’ve played a lot of characters that kids must love, from Edward Scissorhands to Captain Jack and Willy Wonka. What is your relationship with that audience, as opposed to the more grownup roles you’ve played?
JD: I think kids, in general as an audience, are the way forward because they’re not sullied by intellectual expectation or this or that. It’s a very pure kind of response to the work. And the great luck that I had, for example, before “Pirates 1” I had a daughter. And for about four years, all I watched was cartoons, you know – just cartoons. And I realized at that point that the parameters were far away from what we do in normal, everyday movies, and that you can get away with a lot more. Kids accept a lot more, and they buy it, because they’re free. So for me, that was everything, in terms of coming up with what Captain Jack would be. So yeah, I trust kids far more than I do adults. Kids give you the honest opinion. They tell the truth.
Q: For Gore, is it weird to see trailers for a new “Pirates” movie coming out?
GV: No, I want to go see it.
Q: Johnny, there’s obviously the call back to Raoul Duke in the film, a character you played before. But part of your character also reminded me a lot of William Blake in Dead Man, and I wondered if that was conscious at all?
JD: No, it wasn’t conscious, but I can see what you’re saying. Yeah, I mean this sort of journey, this sojourn, this spiritual quest that William Blake was on, I can definitely see that. But no, I didn’t consciously connect the two, not really.
Q: For Johnny, you’re a very physical actor and the process for making this film was different than most animated films where you’re in a booth. You actually acted this out. Did that help you?
JD: Well, yeah. I mean, ultimately, it was everything; though, there were times when you didn’t feel that, when you were doing it – you’d rather have been – because, well, we’re lazy. At least I am. And I’d sort of rather just sit in front of a microphone and do the thing. However –
GV: That’s exactly the point.
JD: The process that we did, that Gore created this sort of atmosphere that was really, truly ludicrous; I mean, just ridiculous. It was like just regional theater at its worst. And somehow, because of – not the idea of motion capture, but emotion capture, you know; certain gestures, body language, movement, something you might have done with your eyes – all those guys, these animators took it and put it in there. So, it was very strange. I mean, for Harry Dean Stanton to walk up to me one afternoon – because I’ve known him for a million years – and he walks up to me and says, “This is a weird gig, man.” And I went, “Oh, yeah. You’ve just started. You just wait.” You know. But ultimately, it was the right thing to do. And that was his vision, and we saw it through.
Q: What did you think, Isla?
IF: I think the characters had humanity because we were interacting with each other, and more chemistry; and so it felt more organic and real. What do you think, Abigail?
AB: You know, when you’re in just a booth by yourself, it’s very isolating, and you don’t really have anything to play off of except one take of one line, and then a beep. So this was I think, for me at least, a lot more fun. Although I did wear a wig, like a black wig and I got a really bad rash on my neck from it, and so that was a little unfortunate.
IF: And you were carrying a gun.
AB: I was.
IF: Which was weird, to see Abigail with a massive gun.
AB: It was so bizarre, because there were actually guns going, and you don’t think that there are firearms in an animated movie. And it’s live. That’s all I thought about it.
JD: Gore always travels with guns.
GV: Absolutely. Keep people from going to sleep.
Q: Sometimes we assume because it’s animated, it’s a kids’ film but you’re getting into existential issues and metaphor. Is this a kids’ movie, or are we kind of blinded by the fact that it’s just beautiful animation?
GV: I think it’s a kids’ movie. I mean, I know my kids like it. I mean my kids like “The Holy Grail” and so it depends on your kid, I suppose. We’ve shown the movie for 500 kids and you know, they seem to be absolutely mesmerized and enjoying it. And there’s hilarity. And then when we get into the existential moments, I think they’re not seeing it, you know. Their frontal lobe doesn’t operate in that way, but they’re kind of the heart. And they know, “Why is he leaving now? Why isn’t he facing Jake? Why is he…? Where’s he going?” And you see, they’re not squirming. You should watch it with a bunch of kids because it’s quite fascinating. They seem to have a kids’ dream. They have a dream logic, you know, that we seem to not appreciate, as adults; we kind of take everything on face value. And certainly there’s stuff in there for adults so that we get to have a good time, as well. But they really stick with it. And I think people constantly underestimate what they can handle.
Q: There are a lot of references to Westerns. What is everyone’s favorite Western?
JD: Oh, boy.
GV: Wow, that’s a tough one.
AB: I’ve never seen a Western besides this one.
GV: Perfect answer. I love that.
AB: That’s really bad. But this is the only one I’ve ever seen. But my dad loves them and he told me that to be a smart person, I have to watch them.
JD: I mean, certainly, I was always a fan, as Gore, I know, was of the great old spaghetti Westerns, the Sergio Leone films. But the one that always sticks with me, that I just thought was brilliant and perfect is “Cat Ballou,” you know, Lee Marvin in “Cat Ballou.”
JD: I mean, he just reinvented some form of acting there.
GV: Yeah. For me, I think it’s probably, “Duck, You Sucker” – Leone movie when I was very young – totally age inappropriate. I snuck in and saw that movie in the theater. And it felt like I was viewing some forbidden world. I just entered the Western from this sort of post-modern Western – Leone and Peckinpah and the myths are dying and the railroad’s coming, and the gunfighter’s a dying breed and progress is inevitable for us. And what do they do, you know. And sort of the silhouette becoming less visible because of all the clutter that comes with progress. So I was always fascinated with those. And I got into John Ford later; I mean, I kind of came in through those movies. Not – not Western.
Q: For everyone, what projects do you have coming up next and do you have any desire to do another animated film in the future?
IF: I’m actually doing an animated movie now – “The Rise of the Guardians” – and I’m playing Tinkerbelle, which is a really different voice from Bean’s. And I’m really enjoying that. But I’m in an isolated booth.
AB: Yeah, I mean, I love animated movies, so yeah, I’d love to do one again, for sure. But I liked doing it like this, and I don’t think that they do many animated movies like that. But I suppose I’d be in an isolated booth, too, if it was a cool movie.
JD: But you’d still wear the wig and the gun and stuff.
AB: I’d still; I’d still; I’d still come completely, full out in the character’s costume.
Q: Johnny, how do your kids feel about their dad playing a lizard? Were they down with it? Did it work for them?
JD: They actually call me the Lizard King. My children – they do. I’ve forced them to address me like that since they were tykes. Yeah – no, it was an odd sort of thing, you know. “Where you going, Daddy?” “Ah, I gotta go to work.” “What are you doing?” “Well, I’m playing a lizard.” “Okay.” You know, it’d literally be that kind of thing. You drop your kids off at school, give them a kiss and it was, “Oh yeah, now I’m gonna go be a lizard.” Or, you know, the things that I’ve done that my kids have been sort of privy to, I mean, Willy Wonka and all – they don’t – it doesn’t register. They’re far more interested in “Family Guy” or Justin Bieber.
Q: Are you a Belieber?
JD: A Belieber? Wow. I’ve actually never heard that one.
Q: Ask your kids.
JD: And that is my favorite. And you know what? Yes. I am a Belieber. I am. And I shall remain so.
Q: For Gore, why the mariachis?
GV: Well, early on in the development process, it became apparent that we needed a – the movie is very much a film within a film. I mean, the protagonist is an actor looking for an audience. So we just felt like we needed one more layer, that kind of Greek chorus. And Crash McCreary early on was doing some character designs, and he drew a mariachi owl. And it was just – I saw the drawing and said, “Okay, we need to work this into the script.” And we just started getting some guitars out and writing a narrative using the mariachis as a kind of absurdist Greek chorus somewhere between a little bit of “Cat Ballou,” a little bit of – I was kind of like those guys that follow Sir Robin with the coconuts, singing of adventures. And then just the idea of kind of the – all good legends must die, you know, some horrific dance. So that was a key. And then talking to Hans Zimmer, and trying to describe emotionally the soundtrack for the film, but babbling for 15 minutes. And then he just said, “Schadenflamer, that’s what you’re saying.” You know, it’s like this delight in this character’s pain, and only the Germans would have a word for that. But that sort of celebration of the great demise of this guy; and it’s looming, following him throughout the film. It just seemed like good fun.
Q: Johnny, Rango’s character told lies to people to get through a critical situation. Could you share with us your experience at lying?
JD: I actually tell lies for a living. Exactly. I mean, that’s what acting is, really.
GV: That was a lie.
JD: Yeah, I was lying. I’m sorry.
Q: Your voice didn’t go up.
JD: No. It’s kind of stuck at the moment in this register. Yeah, there are certain – I mean, you know, I felt having kids and stuff like that, I had horrific guilt for many years, playing along with the Santa Claus thing. Do you know what I mean? And waiting for that moment to arrive where — because you’re never going to bring it up to them — they’re going to arrive and say, “Hey, you’ve been telling me a lie for my entire life. What are you prepared to do about that?” I mean, it’s like that kind of thing. So yeah, I had horrific guilt. And we’re now kind of just on the outskirts of that, so I feel okay. But no, these are lies that society tells you – you must keep these lies going – these kind of myths. Yeah, and I feel guilt about it. I still do.
AB: Santa’s not real?
JD: No, no, he is. No, he is. He is.
AB: Thank God.
JD: No, I had to lie and tell her that he’s not. It was horrible.
Q: For Gore, the ILM guys just did a presentation showing how you guys did the reference video on some of the sets, and then some of the animators did their own reference videos for the performances. Did you ever have to discipline the ILM guys for overacting?
GV: Oh consistently. But what that’s about – yeah. Obviously, one of the biggest, one of the things early on is like, you’re an animator; you’re animating. And what about the pause? What about – and don’t be afraid to do nothing for sixteen frames, is a very, very early on discussion. No, we’ve never made an animated movie before. People keep saying,“For an animated movie, this…” and “For an animated movie, that…” It’s like it’s some kind of genre. It’s just a technique to tell a story. So early on, we just felt like we’re not going to think of this as an animated movie. We’re going to think about this is a six foot tall lizard and I’ve got a camera on my shoulder, and I’m photographing him perform this scene with these other people. And so, there was a great fear about multiple iterations destroying that, and things becoming clinical or homogenized by virtue of, you have discussions about why is he blinking on frame 38; it should be blinking at frame 34, or whatever, it just becomes minutiae, minutiae, minutiae. So trying to get out of the animators a sense that they’re your cast, as well, and that they’re performing. And moving away from the concept of the shot, and discussing the concept of the scene and where is Rango coming from or going to; or what’s Bean’s feeling now; or the reaction shot. So there was that, and sometimes we have to just get a camera out because it can’t be frontal lobe anymore, it’s got to be intuitive. And that whole emotion capture sort of live action record was really – people say, “Well, it’s an animated movie; this is how they do it. They get a microphone and an actor.” And I just thought that sounded so crazy to me. Like, why, I’ve got Harry Dean Stanton and I’ve got Johnny Depp. I want to see them together. I mean, it’s acting, it’s reacting. So all of those things were just trying to create, trying to keep it. We had a mantra up at ILM, which was ‘fabricate anomaly wherever possible’ – just you’ve got to fabricate it because otherwise, it’s not going to feel honest. So that, yeah, encouraging them but then yeah, absolutely – noose, zipper mask, strap.
Q: Johnny, I heard that you’re set to work with Kusturica on “Pancho Villa.” Can you tell me how you plan on segueing from Rango into Pancho, and if you’re brushing up on your Spanish for that?
JD: Well, that’s really a project that I think is a little bit up in the air, you know. Kusturica is an old friend, and certainly a filmmaker that I admire greatly. From the first second that we spoke about it, I always had a bit of a problem. My dilemma is just the fact that it’s Pancho Villa. It is Pancho Villa, and it’s one of the great heroes of Mexico. And for me, I feel like it should be played by a Mexican, and not some, you know –
GV: Charlton Heston.
JD: Yeah. Not some mutt from Kentucky, you know what I mean. I think I still feel very strongly about that. And so yeah, it’s sort of floating at the moment. But it’s a great character and Kusturica is a great filmmaker. I’m sure he’s going to do something very special.
Q: Congratulations on your Golden Globe nomination that you got earlier in the year.
JD: Oh, thank you very much.
Q: Have you had a chance to look at any of the screeners for the films for the Oscar this year, and what do you think?
JD: I have. I don’t do well with modern films, to be honest. I just, I don’t know – opening credits, and I’m just gone. And it’s not about people make great films. I just don’t have the eyes to watch them. But there’s a film that I was really, really impressed with, that I absolutely adored, and I’ve seen it a few times now. It’s called “Exit Through the Gift Shop” by Banksy. And I thought it was a very brave film, and a very honest film. And for me, I’m all the way with that film.
Q: Johnny, you say that you trust more in the kids. What do you think when you get that attention from other people, especially from the women?
JD: I do trust kids. I do. And kids trust me.
GV: Do you trust women, basically?
JD: I do, I do. I do trust women. I have a lot of women in my life. I have a mother. I have a woman, I have a – yeah, there’s a lot of women around me. And I do trust them and they trust me, as far as I know. But I mean, attention – attention is a strange sort of being, anyway, the idea of attention for – if someone appreciates your work, it’s always nice that someone appreciates your work. But I’ve never quite understood any of the other bits, you know. Whatever – you know, where they – somehow you’ve been voted some thing for a magazine and it’s a complete mystery to me. I wake up and I have to look at that head when I brush my teeth every morning, you know. And it’s weird. And it’s unpleasant at times. So I don’t know about the attention thing. Thank you.
Q: For Johnny and Gore, I noticed, looking through the Rango movie storybook, that he has a continuing adventure and goes to another town. Can we hope that there might be a Rango 2?
JD: I think that means yes.
GV: I don’t know. Let’s see if people like Rango – Rango. I’m not even going to call it Rango I.
JD: Rango 1.
Q: So there’s a possibility?
GV: Currently, not talking about it. I mean, if you just had a kid, would people say, “How about twins?” “We’re still recovering.”
Q: Isla, can you tell us a little bit about creating the voice of Beans, and if you feel like having to cover your accent so frequently in films made it easier to do the characterization?
IF: I kind of imagine Beans, if Clint Eastwood and Holly Hunter would have a love child, that would be Beans. And Gore, obviously -
JD: I’d like to watch that.
IF: If you were around. No, and then the physicality of the character had already been created. I’d already seen – Gore presented me with 20 minutes of the movie, just linear drawings. So I knew how she moved. And then Gore was with me every step of the way vocally, and he was very specific about what he wanted. And no one ever wants to hire an Australian, so I’m just used to never doing my own voice, ever. I mean, they do want to hire – oh, that came out wrong. They do want to hire Australians, obviously, but …
Q: For all the actors, how much of your characters did you get to see in terms of the artwork before you started playing with them?
AB: I saw a picture of Priscilla. And I would have done it based on [that]. I mean, let’s face it, she’s a glamour girl. So she’s kind of gorgeous. But I thought she was adorable. So I would have done it based on that. But yeah, I thought all the characters were pretty cute in a strange way, odd, but you know, cute. They’re not cuddly. It’s not like you want to hold them, but yeah.
Q: Johnny, in the past you’ve said that you’ve always chosen characters that you had a personal connection with. What was your connection with this character?
JD: You mean a lizard.
JD: Yeah. I don’t know. I always had an affinity for lizards; I’ve always felt somewhat close to them. They’re reptile- feeling somewhat reptilian myself at times. No, oddly, I think, Gore might even, he might disagree. But I feel like when we were doing “Pirates” one, two and three, at times when Jack Sparrow had to run, there was this very specific run that I wanted. And it was from seeing – I saw this footage of a lizard running across the water. And it was like the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. And so I said, “Gore, he’s got to be the lizard running across,” and he’s like, “Oh, yeah, absolutely.” So that was the whole thing. It was always – and so whenever we were in that situation, “Okay, it’s time to…you know, let’s…”
GV: Get in touch with the lizard.
JD: Yeah, get in touch with the lizard. And we did it. So I actually think that Rango was somehow planted in Gore’s brain from that run, from that lizard run. And when he actually called me and said, “I want you to play a lizard,” I thought, “Well, God, I’m halfway there.” I know what I’m doing.
[Justin Bieber surprises everyone when he joins the press conference unexpectedly]
Q: Justin Bieber!
JD: Hey, Man. We just established that I’m a Belieber.
JUSTIN BIEBER: You know, and I’m a big fan of you so I had to come support you.
JD: Bless you, man.
JUSTIN BIEBER: Awesome.
JUSTIN BIEBER: I had to come say hi. I heard you were in the building.
JD: Bless you.
JUSTIN BIEBER: You’re a Belieber and I’m a big fan of him.
JD: By the way, Justin Bieber. Well done, Man, thank you. Okay, now, who’s not a Belieber now? You know what I mean? Aren’t we all Beliebers? Bless him.
[Justin Bieber leaves as suddenly as he arrived.]
GV: My kids are gonna freak out.
JD: Yeah. I know. How am I going to explain this to my daughter?
GV: Who was that – was that…?
JD: No, that was the Beatles.
“Rango” opens in theaters on March 4th.