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THE LONE RANGER

Back to School... Cowboy School
The cast and background players of "The Lone Ranger" discovered that if you want to be a cowboy, gunslinger, or railroad builder on screen, you've got to go back to school and be properly taught. "Cowboy Boot Camp" began three weeks before Gore Verbinski called "Action" for the first time and was attended by the vast majority of the primary cast at the Horses Unlimited ranch in Albuquerque. Their teachers included stuntmen, horse wranglers, the prop master, and armorers, and nobody was cut an easy break -- not even the guy playing the film's eponymous character.

"Cowboy Boot Camp is basically all the actors running around like six-year-old boys," says Armie Hammer. "Riding horses for two hours a day, throwing lassos for an hour, shooting guns, riding in a wagon, putting on a saddle and taking it off. It was like an immersion project. After just a few days of boot camp, I did more riding than I cumulatively had in my entire life."

"What Gore wanted," explains stunt coordinator Tommy Harper, "was to have a Cowboy Boot Camp where we basically teach each actor how to shoot a gun, how to saddle and ride a horse, along with other training. This way we get to know the actors, what their abilities are, and how to keep them safe. The main thing for me is to make sure that at the end of the movie they've done as much as they can do safely, and end the movie being completely healthy." Although boot camp started before filming actually began, Harper points out that the actors' training went "all the way to the end. Just when you think you know everything, something backfires on you, so we never let them get too comfortable."

Clearly, it was crucial for the actors to learn the correct handling of firearms, and for that they were under the expert tutelage of armorer Harry Lu. "Even though they're shooting blanks," notes Harper, "it's still a dangerous piece of equipment that they're working with, and we have to make sure that they know every bit of handling and how to look correct doing it."

William Fichtner, who as ultimate badass outlaw Butch Cavendish had to feel absolutely secure with his weaponry, was glad to put himself in the safe hands of the experts. "With Mr. Harry Lu around, I'm comfortable with anything when it comes to firearms," says the actor. "It's hard... the first time you hold that heavy gun in your hand. But every time I would arrive on set and see Harry, I would ask him if I could handle the gun for a little bit, and he would always show me something new to practice, then show me a little more." After a time, Fichtner was doing dangerously cool flips and twirls with the gun, which were captured on film during shooting in Creede, Colorado. "You know why you try so hard with things like that?" asks Fichtner. "Because as an actor, you want little moments to equal everything else that's happening on this film. I wanted that gun move to be as good as the amazing backdrop and set we were shooting on in Creede."

Schooling the talent on horsemanship was the film's crack wrangling team under the supervision of head horse wrangler Clay M. Lilley and wrangler gang boss Norman Mull. "A horseman can look at an actor and know that person can't ride a horse," says Harper. "You can just tell by how they walk up to it, or how they mount and dismount. So teaching them how to look correct was really important." Adds Norman Mull, "What we're trying to do in boot camp is to get the actors comfortable with horses, pick horses for them, and teach them whatever we need to make sure they can ride. Some of the actors had some previous experience, including Armie Hammer and Ruth Wilson. "I've fallen off a few horses before," says Wilson with a laugh, "so I thought this was a good place to start learning properly." Wilson enjoyed being the only woman at boot camp. "Yeah, I loved it, surrounded by cowboys, it was quite fun. It was a really nice way of understanding the world of the movie."

The normally fearless Hammer, however, was actually a little nervous. "I'd been on horses before, but I thought, 'This animal thinks for itself, and that makes me a little nervous. What is it going to do if it sees a bunny?' But they don't give you a choice; they just stick you on a horse and say, 'Go ride.' It was nonstop fun for three weeks."

The other principal actors also had a blast at boot camp, although they acknowledged the rigors involved. James Badge Dale, the New Yorker who plays tough Texas Ranger Dan Reid in the film, had to come clean about his riding skills when he first met with Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski. "I didn't have the job yet, and I met with the two of them. Jerry was just sitting quietly, as he often does, observing and listening carefully. Gore asked me if I knew how to ride a horse. I went back and forth with some story, and finally said, 'Gore, I'm sorry, I have no idea how to ride a horse. I'm from New York City!' Then Jerry suddenly starts laughing, and said, 'You're the first person who's come in here and told us the truth!' Then Gore added, 'Well, you're going to learn.' And I did. I learned things about horses that I never thought I would. These wranglers are very good at what they do. They love their horses and they teach you to respect them."

Also making an important contribution to boot camp was Kris Peck's prop department, since it was responsible for providing the period-correct tack for the actors' horses. They custom-made upwards of 80 Western saddles, 25 U.S. Cavalry saddles and 30 Native American saddles. "We have to teach the actors how to take off all their props and look as if they know what they're doing," explains assistant prop master Curtis Akin. "They have all kinds of stuff that they're going to use for the camp scenes, so when they ride up they're going to get off their horses, pull all this stuff out, lay their saddles around the campfire, and lay their bedrolls out to make camp for the night."

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