Tall in the sad­dle

Santa Fe Film Fes­ti­val hon­ors ac­torWes Studi

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week -

When we called Wes Studi, he was out chas­ing a horse.

“Sorry about that,” he apol­o­gized when he called back a short while later. “One of the horses got loose.” It seemed a per­fectly good rea­son for a de­lay from the Na­tive Amer­i­can ac­tor, who has spent a lot of his movie life on horse­back— even if, in one of his lat­est movies, The Only Good In­dian (2009), he rides a mo­tor­cy­cle. Is the mo­tor­cy­cle an In­dian? Studi chuck­led. “It ac­tu­ally is, yeah. The mo­tor­cy­cle was built to specifics of the very first one that the In­dian Mo­tor­cy­cle Com­pany put to­gether. It’s es­sen­tially a bi­cy­cle with a mo­tor on it.”

In The Only Good In­dian, Studi (who also pro­duced) plays Sam Franklin, a Na­tive man at the turn of the 20th cen­tury who has em­braced the white man’s ways, in the spirit of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” He’s a bounty hunter who rides his bike around Kansas in gog­gles and a leather hel­met, cap­tur­ing strays who have es­caped from the Haskell In­dian School in Lawrence and turn­ing them in for the re­ward.

At this year’s Santa Fe Film Fes­ti­val, Studi is be­ing hon­ored with a Mi­la­gro Life­time Achieve­ment Award at 7 p.m. Satur­day, Dec. 5, at the Na­tional Dance In­sti­tute of New Mex­ico’s Dance Barns, 1140 Alto Street. (Studi also takes part in a panel dis­cus­sion on act­ing the same day, at 1 p.m. at the Ho­tel Santa Fe, 1501 Paseo de Per­alta.) But he re­fused to get drawn into an “It’s too soon for a Life­time Achieve­ment Award” quote. “Ev­ery­body says that,” he pointed out, ad­mit­ting wryly, “I’ve said it once be­fore my­self.”

Mul­ti­ple Life­time Achieve­ment Awards seem fit­ting for an ac­tor of Studi’s stature. Af­ter all, ac­tors get to live mul­ti­ple lives. “I try to do as many dif­fer­ent kinds of roles as I can pos­si­bly get my­self into. But my base, of course, is films like Geron­imo, where I got my start.”

In Geron­imo: An Amer­i­can Leg­end (1993), Studi plays the ti­tle role, a char­ac­ter who in many ways is the po­lar op­po­site of Sam Franklin. Geron­imo was a proud Apache who de­fied as­sim­i­la­tion and with a small band of fol­low­ers evaded the U.S. Army for many years be­fore fi­nally sur­ren­der­ing in 1886. The Only Good In­dian is set some 15 years later, when Geron­imo was still liv­ing in cap­tiv­ity at Fort Sill, Ok­la­homa, where he would die in 1909. Geron­imo was Studi’s first true star­ring role (though he says

he’s most of­ten re­mem­bered for his Magua in 1992’s The Last of the Mo­hi­cans), and he held his own among a com­pany of ac­tors that in­cluded Gene Hack­man, Robert Du­vall, and a pre-Good Will Hunt­ing Matt Da­mon.

Both The Only Good In­dian and Geron­imo are among the ac­tor’s choices for show­ing at the fes­ti­val. The third is Mys­tery Men (1999), a spoof of su­per­hero movies that gave Studi a chance to play a to­tally dif­fer­ent kind of char­ac­ter. “That’s a good ex­am­ple of an eth­ni­cally non­spe­cific role,” he re­marked. “There’sWes Studi in a su­per­herowannabe kind of a film, and he’s not hav­ing to wear leathers and feathers.” The movie presents a stum­ble­bum col­lec­tion of B-list would-be su­per­heroes with names like The Spleen, The Shov­eler, and Mr. Fu­ri­ous. Their road to im­mor­tal­ity is ob­structed by the fact that none of them has any real su­per­pow­ers. Studi is The Sphinx, the guru of the bunch, who dis­penses tinny nuggets of wis­dom like “To learn my teach­ings, I must first teach you how to learn.”

“Com­edy works best when it’s played straight,” Studi said. “And I think that’s pretty much what we do in Mys­tery Men.” That phi­los­o­phy earned the vet­eran ac­tor some of the film’s best no­tices. In a cast that in­cluded Greg Kin­n­ear, Ge­of­frey Rush, and William H. Macy, Bob Gra­ham of the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle lauded Studi as “the ac­tor who may just steal the show from them all.”

In ad­di­tion to act­ing and pro­duc­ing (“and di­rect­ing is def­i­nitely not out of the pic­ture”), Studi is a mu­si­cian and a sculp­tor. He ap­pears lo­cally on oc­ca­sion play­ing bass with his band, Fire­cat of Dis­cord. “We play when time al­lows,” he said. “Mu­sic is fun, but it’s not the to­tal fo­cus of what I do. And the other band mem­bers have their own lives as well. So the mu­sic is not on the front burner.” He makes sculp­ture as a release from the ten­sions of work­ing in movies. “I carve stone. What I’ve al­ways done is to take away, in terms of carv­ing, shap­ing some­thing into some­thing else.”

In a sense, that chip­ping-away process par­al­lels his ap­proach to act­ing. “What I think about act­ing is that less is more. You can’t let su­per­flu­ous things stand in the way of de­vel­op­ing an in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter. There are times when you don’t want to have too much of a back story, be­cause it could eas­ily in­ter­fere with what­ever it is that is im­me­di­ate for the char­ac­ter. That’s my way of go­ing about it.”

Studi was born in Nofire Hol­low in east­ern Ok­la­homa, where he spoke only Chero­kee un­til he was sent away to school at the age of 5. Was his ex­pe­ri­ence sim­i­lar to that of Char­lie (Win­ter Fox Frank), the young hero of The Only Good In­dian, who is torn forcibly from his home and sent to be Amer­i­can­ized in the white man’s school?

“Well, I sup­pose to some ex­tent it was,” Studi al­lowed. “But sans the out­right cru­elty that per­haps was em­ployed at one time in the In­dian-school ex­pe­ri­ence for Na­tive kids. No, it wasn’t that se­vere. At least not in my mem­ory. It had no ef­fect on my cul­ture, but it did force me to learn English in a timely fash­ion, if you will, within my first-grade ex­pe­ri­ence. I learned English and al­most for­got Chero­kee. And once the nine months were over and I went home, I had to re­learn Chero­kee, in or­der to live with the fam­ily.”

He dis­cov­ered act­ing in com­mu­nity the­ater at a cross­roads in his life, af­ter the breakup of a mar­riage. “It was some­thing that was pre­sented to me in terms of chang­ing my life around at one point in time,” he said. “It was some­thing that, amaz­ingly, I dis­cov­ered that I had been looking for all my life. A per­son can look for­ever to find the thing he wants to do for the rest of his life. It’s not al­ways ap­par­ent. But once I found my­self learn­ing lines and do­ing plays, well, I found a great free­dom and a good place to be. That idea of be­ing bit­ten by the bug is not a fan­tasy; it ac­tu­ally hap­pens, and you go back and do it and do it some more. It’s prac­ti­cally an ad­dic­tion. Once you dis­cover it and em­brace it, you don’t want to let it go.”

Studi shows no signs of be­ing ready to let it go, de­spite the Life­time Achieve­ment Award. His next project? “AWestern set in Wales,” he said with a smile. “It’s just strange enough for it to be ex­tremely in­ter­est­ing.”

Wes Studi in

The Only Good In­dian;

photo by Tyler Car­mody

Stud­ies of Studi: above and left, im­ages from Geron­imo: An Amer­i­can Leg­end

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.