LOS ANGELES – On a recent installment of TBS’ “Conan” with Conan O’Brien, sidekick Andy Richter was sent to Santa Fe, N.M., for the press junket for “The Lone Ranger,” but stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer had better things to do than talk to him.
Perhaps that was just as well, because faster than you can say “hi-yo,” Richter was cozying up to the film’s scene stealer: the 11-year-old quarter horse who plays the masked man’s trusty steed and goes by the name Silver – on screen and off.
Richter and Silver are seen catching a few rays poolside (the white horse sporting sunglasses), enjoying a pedicure and even playing a few games of tennis.
Silver’s return of serve leaves Richter in the dust.
Silver also leaves Depp and Hammer in the dust in “The Lone Ranger,” with his withering over-the-shoulder glances and his otherworldly ability to magically appear on rooftops and train tops when danger is at hand.
In his downtime, the horse turns out to be something of a party animal who loves to wear funny hats and has a penchant for drinking alcohol straight out of the bottle.
Think of him as sort of an equine equivalent of “The Artist’s” Uggie.
Of course, there’s also a bit of movie magic involved with Silver’s performance thanks to mechanical horses, CGI and some clever editing.
Director Gore Verbinski said he definitely wanted to anthropomorphize Silver.
“You have to believe he’s thinking things just by him turning his head and cutting at the right time, having him breaking the fourth wall and doing a Jack Benny. On top of all that he came with that face where you kind of feel he could talk. I feel like he could open his mouth and say, ‘Really?’ ”
Verbinski joked that Depp and Hammer knew they were powerless against Silver’s charms.
“No matter what they did, they knew, ‘Oh, great, the camera is moving around and now we are going to cut to the horse.’ They knew that what they were doing was going to be irrelevant.”
Hammer even acknowledged Silver’s prowess in a statement: “The horse and I are not speaking. He stole the whole movie.”
Veteran horse trainer Bobby Lovgren (“War Horse,” “Cowboys and Aliens,” “Seabiscuit”) spent three months training Silver and the three other main horses who played the role.
Other horses were brought on for certain stunts including the scene of Silver running next to the train.
“It’s always difficult finding white horses,” said Lovgren. “I actually knew Silver from a few years back. I worked with him a little bit. The head wrangler on this show, Clay Lilley, owns a company, Movin On Livestock, and they actually own Silver.”
For the horse trainer, getting the animals to perform wasn’t the most difficult task.
Harder than that, he said, was keeping the steeds clean.
“It’s a full-time job,” he said. “White horses sunburn and when the dust is blowing you have to wash them off. If they are a little sweaty, you see the dirt and you have to wash them again.”
Silver was the only one of the four horses who had on-set experience and did “a lot of the work, a lot of the riding with Armie, the interaction with Johnny.”
Lovgren described Silver as a quiet, patient horse, which, he noted, “is very important for close-ups with the camera and close-ups with the actors. He has a lot of personality. I was amazed how Gore was able to bring that out. He’s definitely an actor in the film.”
Let’s just hope fame doesn’t go to his head.