By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
SANTA FE, N.M.—In this dusty remote region of the U.S., you’d be very hard pressed to find anyone speaking with an English accent. And yet in a beige bungalow in the middle of this beautiful town in a state affectionately known as “Land of Enchantment” sits lovely Surrey, England native Ruth Wilson talking up her latest film, the American Western “The Lone Ranger.”
She plays Rebecca Reid, an 1860s frontierswoman, who learns that her lawman husband has been killed in an ambush. Like the actress herself, Rebecca is made of solid stuff. She is determined to protect her young son and her land from attackers. Emotionally, she is torn between the loss of her husband and her long-simmering attraction to his younger brother, John (Armie Hammer) an attorney who has returned to the Wild West to join his sibling as a Texas Ranger. Somehow, John manages to survive the attack that left his brother dead, and is rescued by an outcast Comanche Indian who calls himself Tonto (Johnny Depp). John isn’t the only one enamored with the beautiful widow. An unscrupulous railroad baron (Tom Wilkinson) also has his eye on her and things heat up from there.
The spectacular Western is directed by Gore Verbinski, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the same team that collaborated with Depp on the four “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Shot over a period of seven months, “The Lone Ranger” was shot in remote parts of New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and California.
The long and demanding shoot befitted a big-budget blockbuster Hollywood movie, with lots of horse riding stunts and action-packed set pieces. Wilson, herself, got in on the action, taking part in a climactic scene involving two runaway trains. She is very nearly thrown off the top of one of them by William Fichtner, who plays a ruthless outlaw called Butch Cavendish.
She recalls, “Bill spins me around and threatens to push me off the side of the train. So I’ve got one foot on and one foot off the train, going about 30 miles an hour.”
“It was exhilarating!” the 31-year-old beauty exclaims.
The goodly Rebecca is a far cry from Alice Morgan, the modern day sociopath she plays on the hit TV series “Luther,” alongside Idris Elba.
The fit and trim brunette is dressed for an interview in a sleeveless white blouse, black patterned slacks and high heels. Her usually long hair is in a short, wavy bob that’s just perfect on this hot summer day. She confides that after she finishes her round of interviews she plans to go horse riding. She’s still getting used to the Western versus English style of saddle, though.
Q: How does it feel to be back in New Mexico?
Wilson: It feels like I never left. I love all the beige buildings.
Q: This place is so different from England. What did you find interesting about shooting here?
Wilson: It’s always amazing and exciting to work somewhere new and to have an excuse to go somewhere you usually wouldn’t go. So to come to New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona and work in those environments and in the real landscapes, and not just the studio the whole time is really exciting. It put me straight into that world. I felt at one with the world we were projecting.
Q: Wearing that heavy period clothing must have taken a toll on you in this heat, didn’t it?
Wilson: Yeah. I had to wear a corset and layers and layers of skirts and the stockings. So it was definitely hot, and as a fair English rose, it was sometimes difficult to deal with but I find it much easier to act in those environments especially when you’re supposed to be in those environments, it’s an experience you wouldn’t want to pass up. I loved it.
Q: “The Lone Ranger” is an 80-year-old American institution. Is there an awareness of “The Lone Ranger” radio program and TV series and movies in the U.K.?
Wilson: Yes. Two generations ago, it was pretty big in the U.K. as well. I didn’t know much about it but it’s been passed down. I know the term “The Lone Ranger” and his catchphrase, “Hi-yo, Silver” and the William Tell Overture. Those are things that have been passed through the ether without me ever having seen it. Obviously, that is representative of something that was a cult classic that had a huge influence on the generation it spoke to, and still manages to have that influence now.
Q: How did shooting this work out with your schedule on “Luther?”
Wilson: It was all in-between. I was actually doing a play “Anna Christie” (in London) when I got the job (on “The Lone Ranger”) and then I went on to do (the film) “Anna Karenina.” I was supposed to do “The Lone Ranger” first, but it got shifted back a few months so I fit “Anna Karenina” in-between. I had to dye my eyebrows peroxide blond and wear a big wig, and then I went on to do “The Lone Ranger.” I’ve just shot the third series of “Luther” now. I came back (to England) and did that in January. So I was in and out—in terms of what I look like, what color my hair is. My hair keeps changing color but that’s OK.
Q: There was talk a while back that your character on “Luther” was going to be spun off into your own series. What’s happening with that?
Wilson: It could be a possibility. We haven’t actually sat down and talked about it but it’s a nice idea. I love that character. I love playing her. But it’s nothing set in stone and nothing’s been written. It’s an idea that’s been floated about by the writer who loves the character as much as I do. But whether it actually will happen, I don’t know.
Q: Armie Hammer, who plays the Lone Ranger, is 6-foot-five. How tall are you?
Wilson: Yeah, he’s pretty tall. I’m about 5-foot-6-inches. I’ve got heels on today so I’m a bit taller.
Q: How was it shooting scenes with him? Did you have to stand on a box?
Wilson: It’s fine. Did I ever have to stand on a box? I think I might have done that. I really don’t remember. There may have been a moment when I had to stand on a box. Of course, there were moments when I had to be on a box. He’s tall, so that means either he had to stand in a ditch or I had to stand on a box but it wasn’t too bad. It’s kind of good to have that difference in height for the players. For the comedy, it’s great as well.
Q: Your character isn’t just a damsel in distress. You get to be part of the action, including a harrowing scene where you’re nearly thrown off the train by William Fichtner’s character.
Wilson: It’s really important for me to be involved in the action. Me myself, I’m not a damsel in distress so it was important for me to not represent that. (Having to be rescued) is not interesting to me. So I was quite keen on making Rebecca a bit tougher and having a bit more grit and fight back, as she would and as I would. I loved all the action stuff I got to do and to be able to show all the strength that she shows. I really enjoyed all that stuff, actually—the stunts.
Q: You were here in the American Southwest for seven months. How do you avoid getting homesickness while on location?
Wilson: You don’t. You can’t avoid homesickness, especially on a shoot that long. It’s quite hard. But I was very intent. I asked for a personal trainer because I love exercising so that was the one thing I asked for in the contract. (She laughs.) It was so I wouldn’t lose my mind. So I had this personal trainer that I would work with on my days off to go and exercise. Then, I’d also go on excursions. I went up to Taos (New Mexico) and visited the pueblos, and I went on road trips with some of the other actors. When I was in Moab (Utah), we went all around there. It’s beautiful. We went canoeing down the rivers. There were loads of activities we could do and I did do on my days off. I was on a ranch for a week and went horse riding in Colorado. So I made the most of my time in the places I was in. That’s the only way you can deal with (homesickness) really.
Q: Did friends or family come and visit you?
Wilson: Yeah. And I could go home sometimes when I had a certain amount of time off. I had a month off during that time so I went home then. And my mum and dad came out to see me in Colorado. That’s when I stayed at the ranch. I have friends in LA and New York so I couldn’t pop over there. I had the most amazing experience, really, and saw a beautiful part of the world while making an amazing, big film. It was an amazing and ambitious film to be part of.
Q: You don’t share a lot of screen time with Johnny Depp but did you get a chance to get to know each other off camera?
Wilson: There were a few moments. There was one, actually, where I was putting myself on tape to do another film of his, which actually isn’t happening anymore. But the makeup team and the wardrobe people got me all dressed up. It was for a sort-of 1940s period film. So I was dressed up completely opposite of Rebecca, and put myself on tape to work with Johnny. But he had to film (on “The Lone Ranger”) that day so he came and knocked on my door, and we chatted about it afterwards. He was lovely. We did cross paths on set and he was always really welcoming and lovely and chatty about various things. He’s got a whole team around him of Brits, so he’s kind of used to British people and mixing with them.
Q: You’ve got quite a number of films coming up including “A Walk Among the Tombstones” with Liam Neeson and “Locke” with Tom Hardy. So what can you tell me about those films?
Wilson: “A Walk Among the Tombstones” is written and directed by Scott Franks who wrote “Minority Report” and “Out of Sight.” It’s all set in the early 1990s in New York. I play a New York cop who used to work alongside Liam Neeson’s character but he’s gone off the radar because he’s an alcoholic and is dealing with stuff in his life. He comes back (to the NYPD) and gets embroiled in an undercover drug deal bust thing, and I’m there as his sort of his support network, and we’re feeding information to each other. There’s a past history between our characters. So all my scenes are just with Liam, and that’s really exciting. It’s lovely to play that kind of character—a modern, New York tough. “Locke” is an experimental piece really. (British director) Steven Knight wrote it. He wrote “Eastern Promises.” It’s about this fellow Locke, and the breakdown of his life over the course of an hour and a half journey in a car. There are always people in his life, like his wife, his colleague and his boss, who are all part of the breakdown of his life. So you see this man’s downfall in an hour and a half. So I’m working with a lot of writer-directors actually. And John Lee Hancock, who directed me in “Saving Mr. Banks,” (the film about “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers.)
Q: Whom do you play in “Saving Mr. Banks?”
Wilson: I play Travers’ mother and Colin Farrell plays her father (as a youngster). So it’s kind of about her relationship with her parents, and how that inspired her to write “Mary Poppins.”
Q: Is your character a little off?
Wilson: (She chuckles.) I’m a little depressed.
Q: You’ve played a sociopath on “Luther,” so it’s all in a day’s work, right?
Wilson: That’s right.