How Graham Greene Led The Way for an Aspiring Native American Actor (Guest Column)

Unfortunately, I don’t remember what Native Youth Conference it was, as I had attended a number of them in my youth. But this particular conference was having a private screening of the film "Thunderheart" for the youth who attended, and the movie wasn’t going to be released for another week, I believe. So, we all felt pretty special to watch the film before it was to be released out into the world.
However, it wasn’t so much the movie that had a huge impact on me as it was a single performance that moved me. I look at it when I need some inspiration and guidance for my work. There is a Native film from 1989 about a road trip called "Powwow Highway" starring Gary Farmer and A Martinez. It’s a wonderful film that I enjoyed, and I highly recommend it to people who haven’t seen it. This performance has stayed with me to this day.
And that was the best part of our conversation that night. Thank you for being you. That is what I walked away with. All I can say is — thank you, Graham.
There was a sense of love and unity in the air. The theater was packed, and the energy was electric. It was exciting. When the lights came down for the movie to start, everyone went silent.
But, if he doesn’t that’s okay too. I haven’t had the honor of being in his presence in some time. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to work with Graham Greene again on one of the "Twilight" films and he remembered me. I hope he still remembers me.
Val Kilmer was the lead and good in it too, but to me, it was Graham Greene’s film the second he set foot on the screen until the end of the movie, as far as I’m concerned. His character was one of the best roles in the film and as always, Graham gave a stellar performance. I don’t want to go too much into the film’s plot but, when Graham Greene showed up on the screen, I knew this man was going to be my go-to if I should ever try to become a professional actor. If you haven’t seen "Thunderheart," I highly recommend it.
I left the movie theater that night a changed teenager. Something other than where I was at. But, if a guy like Graham Greene can make it then maybe…maybe I can do what he does. I had no idea how to get there. A young man on a mission. Be an actor. A performer.
The audience went wild when Greene leaped and slid over the top hood of a car to get a better shot at the bad guys. And I was right there with him. I never felt more pride in my heritage watching this Native actor take on the bad guys like he was Paul Newman and Robert Redford all wrapped into one. “Run for the Stronghold, Thunderheart!”
I know I’m not reinventing the wheel here or trying to cure cancer. I am just a clown. He has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood and has stolen scenes right out from under them. Know your lenses. The Artist. This is what I’ve learned from Graham Greene. I put on make-up. The Performer. A couple of things he told me that I’ve always made sure I remembered before I go to set: One. Two. To me, he has always been my go-to. I make them laugh and I make them cry. I dance for the audience. I am just a clown that… hopefully, is good enough at my job that I can make you forget about life for a few hours. He is a Native man who happens to be one of the best actors of his generation. The Icon, in my opinion. He helped give me some pride in those days when there wasn’t much pride going around. I got to see the man behind the screen. That’s my job. I pretend to be other people. I take pride in my job.
One night after a long day of filming I was hanging out at the local empty bar that night; just me and my script. My head shot straight down into my script to try to ignore him. Should I say hi? I’ll just sit here and try to be cool. Should I just let him be? but then Graham Greene walks in. I know I know…. He must have wrapped early and he was alone as well. Fear shot through my body.
One of the lead characters gets into a confrontation with a group of guys. The actor that played that Vietnam veteran is Graham Greene. Somewhere in the middle of the movie, there is a scene that takes place at a powwow in a school gymnasium. Just when things start to get out of hand, the lead character is saved by a Vietnam veteran.
Indigenous actor and advocate Chaske Spencer (Lakota Sioux) stars in "Wild Indian," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. He will  next star opposite Emily Blunt in Hugo Blick's limited series "The English." He  is also known for his portrayal of Sam Uley in the "Twilight" Saga.” />
But, it was his role as Walter Crow Horse in "Thunderheart" that stole my imagination and solidified my decision to want to become a professional actor. After "Dances with Wolves," Greene followed up with "Clearcut" and "The Last of His Tribe." Two more great movies and impeccable performances from Greene.
He was playing Kicking Bird, a role in which he was rightfully Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Greene’s portrayal as Kicking Bird was for me one of intuition, patience, curiosity, and a quiet leadership that came through his eyes when he spoke his lines in Lakota Sioux to Kevin Costner’s Lt. Shortly after in 1990, when "Dances with Wolves" came out, I saw Graham Greene again. Dunbar.
I was only 13, yet I knew this actor was something special to me. He made his character so fire that I felt he stole the whole movie for me. But, in my humble opinion, Graham knocked it out of the park.
The first movie I was cast in was a film called "Skins." The film’s lead was Graham Greene. I’ve worked on many films since then, but this one was the best acting lesson I have ever received.
I remember feeling so inspired and proud to see this huge movie make such a cultural impact for Indigenous people’s portrayal in Hollywood at that time and era. I remember watching Greene as he walked the red carpet at the ‘91 Oscar ceremony from my television at home, in some small town out in the middle of nowhere. And at a young age, I wanted to be a part of it, somehow. It was a win. And, there was Graham Greene. One of the many Native actors riding the '90s wave of Native cinema.
Graham Greene was only in one scene and his character had barely any dialogue.
He did his job. And he did it very well.
Guns are drawn and the future looks bleak for our two heroes. Just when you think this all going to end badly, Graham gives the coolest look to Val. And then they both pull their guns and run headfirst into the danger that lays before them. Without giving too much away, in the scene when the bad guys are closing in on Val Kilmer and Graham Greene, the bad guys’ trucks are slowly pulling up.
Just be you.
One day I was on set when Graham was there. I was nervous to meet him. He was working and I was watching him. My part wasn’t that big, but I was very grateful to be there.
I am not going into the details of our discussion. It was educational. But, most of all it was a fucking blast hanging out with Graham Greene that night. It was private.
What ya doing?” I freeze for a bit and then I muster up some courage and walk over as cool as I can to the bar. “Hey, nephew! Order another drink and away I went on this crazy life as a “clown” as Graham liked to call actors that night. Graham pulls up to the bar and looks over and sees me. I pull up beside him. Grab a chair. Come over here!
He inspired this young teenager to take that chance and go out and try to do what Graham Greene does.
I just knew that it had Indians in it and that was cool enough for me. I was around 13 years old and living in a small town on an Indian reservation in the eastern part of Montana when I first saw "Powwow Highway." I had rented the film at our local video store and had no idea what the movie was going to be about.

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