Disney’s The Lone Ranger might outwardly seem like a two-hander for the leading-man team of Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, but the Western’s cast boasts a considerable roster of iconic character actors and up-and-comers who promise to make as much of an impression as their marquee co-stars. One of those character actors, Robert Baker, has been working steadily in Hollywood since 1999, and the film ranks as his latest opportunity to distinguish himself among a rich ensemble, after appearing in the likes of The Ladykillers and Leatherheads, and on television on Grey’s Anatomy and Justified, among many other series.
However, Baker may be best known for a role in which audiences never even saw his face on screen: providing the voice of Cobra Commander in longtime friend and collaborator John M. Chu’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation. The actor talked with Spinoff Online about the challenge of bringing that character — or his voice, anyway — to life, offered a few updates about whether he may reprise the character in Chu’s forthcoming sequel, and discussed the current state of movie heroes and villains as the white hat/black hat simplicity of the classic Lone Ranger gets updated and expanded for an era when both heroes and villains are created with shades of gray.
Spinoff Online: Tell me a little bit about your character in the film.
Robert Baker: I play Navarro, one of the Texas Rangers who rides off with John and Dan Reid.
Is he a good guy or a bad guy?
He’s a good guy. He’s a white hat, not a black hat.
When the Lone Ranger was created, that’s exactly how they distinguished good and bad guys. What kind of complexity does this film have when it comes to heroes and villains?
With his heroism, I think John Reid, the Ranger, has the biggest struggle of turning into what he thinks is a traditionally white-hat good guy and then realizing that the line gets a little blurred and you have to go outside of the law to make the right things happen.
Man of Steel just came out and focused on Superman’s existential dilemma about what it means to be a hero. Do you think audiences would even accept that sort of clear-cut, resolute good guy these days?
It doesn’t seem like it because, you know, all of the Dark Knight stuff, he rode the line pretty heavily (laughs). So I don’t think so — I think that over time, the paradigm shift of good and bad has kind of blurred a bit, and it’s kind of somewhere in between. I think you’re right, I don’t think you can do a white knight any more that I think anybody would identify with.
If I’m not mistaken, you performed the voice of Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe 2, correct?
I did do the voice of Cobra Commander.
Chris Latta’s version in the cartoons was so iconic. Were there any discussions or was there an impulse to do a version that was more like that?
No. Jon Chu, the director, and I have known each other for years — we went to college together — and I was basically like, “You know I can’t do what he did, right?” He said, “I don’t want that, at all,” and I was like, “Oh, great.” And we decided to go in a whole different way with him. Because it was like you said, he’s so iconic with that shrill, squealy Cobra Commander voice, we just knew that, not only could I not do it, but nobody could, really. So why try to mess with it, and let’s just try to make him his own thing — make this Cobra Commander his own thing.
Jon’s coming back for the next one. Have you talked to him about reprising the role?
I haven’t talked to him since it was announced that he’s doing the third one. He’s bouncing all over these days. But he’ll be getting a call (laughs).
Were you doing any of the physical stuff for the character?
I did not. An actor named Luke Bracey did all of the physical stuff. I just came in and got in front of the screen and put the headphones on with the script and just voiced him.
Cobra Commander is a little bit of a chickenhawk. Did you then or do you now think about developing him in that direction? Particularly since he was sort of marginalized in Retaliation.
Right. I don’t know because there’s no script for it even yet, but I imagine they’re going to make him a little more front and center as the villain for the third [film], because he survived, you know? He’s not in jail (laughs). So I think they’ll make him a little more front and center.
Director Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger opens July 3.