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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Lily Gladstone’s plan to expand Indigenous inclusion – Daily Freeman

Glenn Whipp | Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — When all this is over, when Lily Gladstone no longer has to discuss and dissect and get all dressed up to celebrate “Killers of the Flower Moon,” the movie that first came into her life nearly five years ago and has now propelled her into history as the first Native American to earn an Oscar nomination for lead actress, she’s going to head back home to her family in suburban Seattle. Gladstone moved in with her parents a few years ago to help take care of her special-needs uncle and her grandmother, who died last summer after battling dementia. Her immediate plan: Pay off her parents’ mortgage this year. Next step: Carve out a space for herself nearby.

“I would love to build a treehouse in their backyard for me to go live in,” Gladstone says, smiling. “I’d be happy.”

This makes complete sense, as Gladstone does really enjoy talking about how much she loves the Ewoks in “Return of the Jedi,” the fierce, furry little creatures fighting the Empire in the forests on the moon of Endor. The Ewoks’ scenes in the “Star Wars” film were shot in California’s Redwood National and State Parks, where Gladstone’s mother, Betty, spent a good part of her pregnancy carrying her. Gladstone finally visited the area when she was 21, feeling an immediate familiarity. And it occurred to her why she and so many other Native kids loved the Ewoks: They symbolized Indigenous resistance.

“You could make the argument that they’re the ones that bring down the Empire,” Gladstone says, and then spends a couple of minutes making that precise case. Back when she was 5, her parents assured her that she shouldn’t be upset about the Ewoks getting hurt because they were just actors wearing costumes.

“And since I wanted to be an Ewok, that made me think, ‘Hey, better become an actor,’” Gladstone says. At the Golden Globes this year, she ran into Harrison Ford and told him that “Return of the Jedi” was the reason she wanted to be an actor. “Me, too!” he responded. Then he helped her time her bathroom break so she wouldn’t miss her category.

For Gladstone, 37, the job has had its ups and downs. In 2019, the year she was first approached to play Mollie Kyle, the Osage woman who suffers as her family and friends are murdered for the rights to their oil rich Oklahoma land in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Gladstone patched together enough income to break the poverty line. That had never happened before. Then the pandemic shut life down, and Gladstone thought, not for the first time, about quitting the business.

She doesn’t want to be too dramatic about this pivot point in her career. As she has navigated the awards season the last few months, starting with the long ovation she received at the “Killers” premiere at Cannes, certain narratives have emerged — and she’s happy to chip away at them. (No, she doesn’t find “Yellowstone” delusional — just the remarks by its creator, Taylor Sheridan, saying that his 2017 film “Wind River” “changed a law” affecting violence against Indigenous people.)

So when Gladstone talks about stopping acting, she says it would have been a pause. “Quitting with a lowercase ‘q’” is how she puts it.

Gladstone had been there once before, not long after her breakthrough role as a lonely ranch hand in Kelly Reichardt’s 2016 female-driven set of prairie tales, “Certain Women.” Gladstone won several critics prizes for her tender turn, including an honor from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. She thought the notices would put her on the map, and they did spark a few more auditions than usual. But it wasn’t long before she thought about maybe throwing in the towel, settling into a job with a nonprofit theater in Missoula, Montana, and learning to hone her grant-writing chops.

“I think a lot of actors reach that point where you bargain with your passion and the reality of the business,” Gladstone says, sipping her coffee, which she takes with honey. “I always knew I’d struggle to be cast in commercial and studio films and that my niche would be independent film and theater. But … that doesn’t really go too far sometimes.”

When the “Killers of the Flower Moon” casting directors first contacted her for the film in 2019, Mollie had just three scenes in the screenplay. It was a Martin Scorsese movie, so it wasn’t as if she was going to pass. Gladstone, whose father is Blackfeet and Nez Perce, figured she’d try to land the role and then do what Native American actors too often have to do — try to influence and reshape the role to make it authentic and meaningful.

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