I go to South Dakota for ceremonies when I have the time. And when you learn what the Indian peoples have gone through to hold onto their culture and traditions… wow, it’s an amazing story.
Acting has made me embrace my childhood. It’s become some weird form of therapy. It’s like I have a place where I can release all of these emotions. When I was playing Ira Hayes, I didn’t have to think about the death of my parents directly. It’s just there. I can blend it into Ira’s character. I can use Ira’s emotions as an outlet.
You can’t propel a nation to move forward if all you are doing is taking something from them.
I do a lot of inspirational talks for kids, to motivate them to change their lives and give them hope.
I have a cousin who is a spiritual advisor for Native veterans in Canada, so I’m very familiar with the history of Natives in the military. And growing up as an American Indian myself, the story of Ira Hayes is one that is often told.
I never understood the realism of an imaginary circumstance. While I was doing ‘Smoke Signals,’ I relied on my instinct and what I grew up with. I had this energy, but it was a one-dimensional thing.
I remember, as a kid, I’d follow the rooster and the chickens and watch what type of grass they’d eat. And me and my friends would eat that grass, like that was our lunch.
I think with ‘Skinwalkers,’ the success of it spoke for itself. Meaning a lot of people wanted to see something new on television.
With ‘Smoke Signals,’ the character was so much like me growing up. I lost my parents, and I wish I’d had an opportunity to find out where they were. So I was reflecting on how I grew up, that feeling of abandonment. That whole film was a reality that I always held back and kept to myself.
When I was growing up, my white friends would call me: ‘Hey, Chief!’ Even when I go to work now, people call me ‘Chief.’
Some people look for a certain structure in their lives that they’re comfortable with. People who work hard on the road as truckers, people who work hard using their hands. Then there are people who are fortunate enough to have my life, people who play these characters who embody these qualities.
I feel I will always have that spirit bear with me, so I will always feel protected.
What’s nice about ‘Skinwalkers’ is it’s allowing an audience to see a different Indian perspective… I think, for myself, I’m trying to put the Indian perspective in a different dimension.
I was in high school. A couple of my friends and I decided we had to be in a class together where we could fool around, and drama was it because we’d do improvs, beating each other up. They left a year later, and I stayed in and got a knack for it, and enjoyed the whole process.
As a kid, I was just led out in the morning to go spend my day with my friends and just run in the woods. And I’d only come home to eat or when I was thirsty.
Once you lose your parents, you get this numbness, this feeling of having to really be able to connect yourself with someone. I depended on my brothers for that connection, but to have that feeling of being taken care of… I lost it when my parents passed away.
When I initially started acting, all I wanted to do was to be in one movie. That’s it. That was my goal.
When I was sixteen I started acting, and I also started to embrace my tradition and culture. I had a young medicine man interpret for me what it is to be an Indian. He really caught me at a good time because I was really vulnerable after the loss of my parents with all of the feelings of abandonment.
I’ve learned that for Indian people, the opportunity for us to succeed is very slim. So acting was a great tool for that. And in the process of learning about my culture, I’ve learned how to connect myself again to my ancestors.
It’s much easier to come back as a recurring character. Because you already know his traits and who he is and what he’s about.
I always believed in if you give your best, people will see it, and it moves to the next level. I got my first movie, and I gave it my best. Before I was done with that movie, I was offered my first feature film.
Movies have been my way to get out of my backyard. I’m trying to let people know that movies change people’s lives.