After starring in a film produced by Robert Redford, it’s little wonder Native-American actor Wambli Eagleman says the stars shine brighter when you grow up on a reservation. Interview by Jesse Archer.
DNA: Hi Wambli, what is your ethnic background? Wambli Eagleman: I am Lakota Sioux and Navajo (Diné). Where did you grow up? I was a reservation kid. Riding bikes, running the hills, playing in ditches and rock climbing in good old Fort Defiance, Arizona [a Navajo reservation] but as I got older we moved to the city. What are reservations like? Reservations have clean air, the most beautiful views of land for miles. It’s peaceful and at night you can see the stars shine brightly. Your name, Wambli, means Eagle in Lakota Sioux. So that makes you Eagle Eagleman? [Laughs] Yep! That’s what I always get from people who ask. Were you taught any traditional customs? Yes, my parents, to whom I’m forever grateful, taught me to live life balanced. Native and white man culture both balanced. My father showed and taught me so much of his Lakota Sioux side and I thanked him for all he taught me before he passed away from cancer three years ago. My mother is Navajo, so now and then she answers my questions on things I don’t really understand. Being Native-American is a proud blessing. You were raised by a single mother with six siblings! What was it like being part of such a big family? The best life ever! We were always there for each other. We’re no Brady Bunch – we had arguments and often took sides. I have no idea how my mother even did it. She’s my hero. She was a wild land firefighter, an advocate for women in shelters and now a teacher. She must be very proud of your acting in Drunktown’s Finest which just premiered at Sundance. Congratulations! Thank you. Robert Redford came on as Executive Producer, something he hasn’t done on any film for years. Why did he choose yours? I think because the script was amazing. Robert is highly involved with helping Native-Americans in the movie industry and this is an all-Native-American cast and crew telling the story of real modern day problems. How did you become involved? I was discovered through Facebook [laughs]! Our casting director, Angelique MidThunder, posted a picture of me and asked if anyone knew how to contact me. I got so many messages from random people telling me. We set up an audition in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I guess I nailed the part and the director and writer liked me. The plot is about a rebellious father-to-be, a Christian woman and a promiscuous transsexual who come of age on an Indian reservation. Which one are you? I play Eugene, who is a very good friend to the transsexual character, Felixia. I’m the homosexual guy who is always getting harassed and beaten. Have you ever been bullied for your sexuality? All throughout school I was bullied and would get called the typical names every gay person is called. You just came out to your family. How was that experience? Terrifying. I was so scared! I was tired of living a double life, so I first told my older sister and cried like a baby thinking what if the family is ashamed of me? My sister told me she supports me 100 per cent and then I got my four brothers together. I was super nervous and they all kept asking what was wrong. I said, “I’m gay!” and they all laughed and were like, is that all? They said they knew a long time ago and that they’ll always love me. But with my mother we had a huge argument and didn’t talk for two days, but she came around. I guess for her there were so many emotions she didn’t know how to take it, but now she fully supports me and says all she wants for me is to be happy. She did talk about how she’s worried there are people out there who are going to be mean, but no matter what for me to continue being myself and proud. It’s weird that when filming Drunktown’s Finest, I didn’t play Eugene; it’s more like Eugene played me. He really helped me with my coming out process. What is your ideal man? Outgoing with a sense of humor and into sports. I’m 6”2’ [1.88m] so he has to be tall, too. Johnny Wujek, call me! How were homosexuals traditionally treated in Native-American culture? We’re called “two-spirited”. It’s almost as if you’re special; it’s a gift. I remember my grandpa would always tell us not to make fun of gay people. There are a lot of stereotypes about Native-Americans. Which one is most annoying? People asking if I still hunt buffalo and live in a teepee [laughs]. I’m like, seriously!? Have you ever smoked peyote? [Laughs] You’re asking that because I’m Native-American, right? No, I haven’t. How many languages do you speak? I can speak some of my Lakota and Navajo language. So I don’t know if you would count that as two. Oh, and I know some Spanish. What do you do in your free time? I love running. I play a lot of sports, hiking and surfing. I love to volunteer at homeless shelters, too. Sometimes my family and I cook up food and make plates and drive around giving it to the homeless. You’ve worked on films with a lot of celebrities. Who was your favourite? Working with Mickey Rourke and the conversation we had about not giving up on my dreams and never cutting my hair. I’ll never ever forget it! So will you ever cut your hair? I don’t think so. So many people love my hair and most think it’s fake [laughs]. But if ever I do, I’ll donate it to Locks Of Love for cancer. What’s one acting role you’re dying to play? I really wanna die in a horror film! Comical, right? I’m always imagining how it would be to watch yourself be killed in a killer movie.
more: Find Wambli Eagleman on Facebook and Twitter. Instagram @Brodye.