Redesigning an Icon: Our Q&A with ‘The Lone Ranger’ Costume Designer Penny Rose

Credit: Peter Mountain/Walt Disney

Disney’s $225 million blockbuster The Lone Ranger may have tanked on its opening weekend, but there’s no denying it was quite visually beautiful. Before the film’s July release, spoke with one of the masterminds who brought the movie’s look to life: costume designer Penny Rose. Rose has made a name for herself in the wardrobe world with her work on films like The Parent Trap, Evita, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Here’s what she had to say about the new Western:

What were your influences in creating the wardrobe for this film?  
I tried to do it authentically: 1850, mid-America. I might have exaggerated a bit, i.e. Helena Bonham Carter’s character, but I would say I’ve done it authentically.

How was designing for such an iconic character?
I just started from scratch to be honest. When they cast Armie Hammer, that tells me a lot because he’s a handsome young man, six foot six. I hope we have created the 2013 iconic Lone Ranger, because he’s different. He doesn’t bare any resemblance to the original television version. Even our mask is a new and improved mask in every way. The two things are like like chalk and cheese. 

What was the process of designing the mask?
Joel Harlow, the makeup designer, has to take all the credit for the mask. Instead of using a kind of joke shop Halloween mask, we have a mask that’s molded to his face. There was obviously a lot of discussion about a long action movie with an actor whose face you hardly ever see, so it was a complex and involved process because we wanted it to be sexy and attractive.

Credit: Peter Mountain/Walt Disney

How was working with Johnny Depp again?
It’s always a great pleasure.

There was a little bit of controversy over the casting of Johnny Depp as a Native American. Did that affect the way you chose to dress his character?
First of all, he does have Native American blood, and secondly, he was adopted by the tribe during filming. I have to say, during the whole year we worked on the movie, I never heard a whisper of it, so I’m surprised it’s reared its head now. I don’t think any controversy is legitimate. He’s an actor playing a part, so that would like be like saying Sir Ben Kingsley can’t play Gandhi because he’s not an Indian. I mean an Indian from India, not a Native American Indian.

Were you involved very much in the makeup design?
We worked together, but I have to say he does deserve all the credit because Joel Harlow is a genius. You may quote me.

How long did it take to transform Johnny Depp into Tonto?  
Some days an hour, some days a bit longer. If he was working consecutive days, I don’t think they took it all off, so the next day they kind of had to go over it rather than start from the beginning. 

Credit: Peter Mountain/Walt Disney

Was there a lot of work in choosing the cowboy hat design?
Yes, but based on logistics rather than anything else, because the set of rules in front of us were: handsome man, in a mask, with a hat. So if you take those three environments we had to work with, the hat couldn’t be too wide. It couldn’t be too tall because of his height. I didn’t want the hat to wear him — I wanted him to wear the hat, so we tried on maybe 20. And we ended up with this hat from Stetson because the color was right, the fabric was right, they were really helpful in getting the shape right, and it worked with the mask.

Were there any other logistical problems, shooting in the desert for example?
Well, there’s always a logistical problem about keeping the actors cool. Clearly, in 1850 people didn’t have summer wear and winter wear, so when you see the Lone Ranger, he kind of needs to have his jacket on. He doesn’t look as powerful and interesting in shirt sleeves. So then I made an effort to make the jacket really, really lightweight. With Tonto, it’s slightly the reverse because at one point when we were shooting it was below two, which meant that he was bare chested in very cold conditions. It’s really the climatical difficulties, that I want the actors to be comfortable.

Were there a lot of extras to outfit for this movie?
Yes, I don’t know the grand total but maybe a couple of thousand. We had between four and five hundred on a third of the days.

This new version of the Lone Ranger seems a little less colorful than the original? Is that a decision that went into the costuming as well?
We took the position that we wanted to make our own Lone Ranger, so I didn’t decide that I wanted to make it not colorful — it just turned out that it was simpler because it looked more elegant. 

The original Lone Ranger wears a bright red scarf, for example.
Well, Armie wears a red scarf but it’s more wine-colored than bright red, and that was nothing to do with the two things, it’s just the way it worked. 

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