The Lone Ranger director reflects on what he's learned from playing the studio game.
Once a punk-rocker who sold his guitar to buy his first movie camera, Gore Verbinski is now a filmmaker who’s made Hollywood nearly three billion dollars in box-office. But even after a blockbustering trilogy of Pirates Of The Caribbean films, the now-49-year-old has never lost his anarchic spirit. He remade iconic J-horror The Ring in arty, terrifying style, he won an Oscar for animated weirdo-western Rango and says his most personal film is the only one that ever lost money. Now he’s back at Disney, who are hoping he can do the same thing for a vintage TV show that he did for a theme park ride. This being Verbinski, The Lone Ranger isn’t quite your average Disney flick...
LWLies: There’s a scene in The Lone Ranger where the villain cuts out someone’s heart and eats it...
Verbinski: Yeah, I’m mean, he’s a cannibal assassin.
But isn’t this a Disney movie?
Well, you don’t see it. You actually don’t see it. If it was a Warner Bros movie, we’d probably see it...
Was Disney okay with the violence?
Well, it’s a PG-13 movie. You can get away with a lot. You can make it scary. It’s all about managing the ebb and flow of that. We don’t wallow in it. There’s a level of reality that comes from the genre. Pirates was the first PG-13 movie I ever made for the Disney brand.
What did you learn from the Pirates movies?
I don’t really know the answers to these questions! Um, to keep tinkering. That’s all we did. We tinkered — and it blew up. You don’t wanna analyse it — we tried to get back to that spirit of not knowing. I don’t think the audience thinks about the budget. It’s the storytelling. If you go to a restaurant, you don’t ask how much it cost to make the meal. You know, the ticket prices are the same. You go to the movies for a worthwhile experience.
John Huston used to say that he made one movie for them and one for him. Do you ever feel like that?
No, I more sort of feel like every movie’s my last movie. That’s my approach. No, I don’t really ever do one for them. That would be, for me, too miserable. John Huston made 10 movies a year.
So what’s your most personal movie?
Probably The Weather Man. It was off the radar, it doesn’t fall into any category.
Do you have a dream project?
A dream project? For me, it’s really more about ‘What do I not know?’ I did three Pirates movies and certainly by the third one, I wasn’t learning anything. Making an animated film was an experience. Making a horror film was an experience. I’m very lucky to have a paid education. When you get too comfortable, you lose something. It’s just good to try things. I try to go with an intuitive response to things rather than being overly calculated.
What was it about The Lone Ranger that hooked you?
I was just intrigued by these two guys, a Native American and a cop, handcuffed together, on a quest as their worlds collide. And how to make the film feel relevant.
Can you remember a film you saw when you were young that had a massive impact on you?
I can remember [Sergio] Leone’s Duck, You Sucker [A Fistful Of Dynamite]. When I was 11 years old, in the theatre. Just these two guys who just want to rob a bank caught up in this revolution! The combination of real emotion and action and absurdity. And some bold, comic-book subtext. That was a real invitation into that world. And it was age-inappropriate, which made it more exciting. A friend and I snuck in and came out singing that Morricone theme. I was such a blank canvas and it flashed across my brain. That really, really stuck. I show it to friends and they’re like, ‘What?’ I’m like, ‘Look, he’s peeing on ants!’
What do you love about movies?
Well, for me, I get to enjoy many facets of things I love. There’s something novelistic, there’s absurdity, there’s music, there’s photography, the performing, the sound... For me, it’s an area where I can enjoy all these things at once and orchestrate them and use them to tell stories. I hope that answers your question... That’s the soundbite version!