“Real Role”

Following your dreams can feel like getting bucked off of a horse. Lily Gladstone shares her story about the time that she finally gave Chance a chance.

Lily Gladstone was raised on the Blackfeet Reservation in Northwestern Montana.

Of mixed heritage, Lily’s tribal affiliations include Kainai, Amskapi Piikani and Nimi’ipuu First Nations. In 2008, she graduated with high honors from the University of Montana with a BFA in Acting, and a minor in Native American studies. Film credits include Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, Alex and Andrew Smith’s Winter in the Blood, Arnaud Desplechin’s Jimmy P, and Sarah Adina Smith’s Buster’s Mal Heart. She has thrice toured nationally with The Montana Repertory Theater.

In addition to garnering multiple film and theater credits, she has facilitated countless expressive arts workshops with various social justice and human rights advocacy groups ­ including National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Living Voices, Red Eagle Soaring, Longhouse Media, Yellow Bird Inc., The Roxy Film Academy and Conscious Alliance. Her emphasis is youth outreach and education. To learn more about Lily, check out her website lilygladstone.com.

This episode of Tell Us Something was recorded in front of a live audience on October 1st, 2015, at The Roxy Theater in Missoula, MT at the opening event of the first annual Montana Film Festival.  6 storytellers shared their story based upon the theme “Reel Stories”.

Today’s story comes to us from Lily Gladstone and is titled “Real Role”.  Thank you for listening.


Transcript : Real Role

So, I had a very very large career shift this last year.

This is Reel Stories R-E-E-L, play on words, “reel” being film. Something that stands out to me especially after Mike saying it, film does kind of, it’s there forever, crystallizes these moments in time.

So, to give you some context, last year, in, well this last year in April wrapped on a film that was then called the Untitled Kelly Reichardt Project. Those of you that don’t know Kelly Reichardt, she’s a fantastic independent director who shoots film 16mm now what is called “Livingston”. It is now in color correction, and with any luck, with any luck and a lot of talent, it will maybe be at Sundance. It will maybe be screening in lots of festivals around the world.

So, this is not the first incredible film or reel story that I can tell, but it is a strange little holding place right now. So, just going to share what I know as an actress, three things that most actors can identify with. Your work is not compelling or interesting if you don’t have objective, if you haven’t made a choice. Good stories rarely happen if there’s not something about them that feels a little …magical, a little by chance. And three, you get really, really used to rejection. After the rejection happens it’s like getting thrown from a horse. It’s like suffering an injury. Your character is really defined by, do you get back on the horse or do you just let it go?

So after being an actress for the better part of my life, facing lots of rejection, I kind of reached this point where I decided that a lot of the roles that I’m going to be going for are not ones that I am going to be too excited about. The ones that I am excited about come by rarely. But can I build a life on that? So, I decided maybe make a choice to do something different than acting.

Now about this time last year, those of you who want some context this is my second Tell Us Something this year. And I won’t say much about it, but go to the Podcast and I have an episode that’s there now called “Choice and Chance”. There’s a recurring character that pops up in my stories now, both as the person, and as the concept of Chance. About this time last year, I was trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life. Stay on the horse of acting where you continually get bucked off and hurt and heartbroken and then just dust yourself off and get right back on. And I was seeing, a guy, very briefly, who I’d taken to call Chance because that’s kind of what he represented in a way. And, I’d been bucked from a horse earlier that year. A five and a half year relationship ended. So, this essentially was a rebound, and it was awkward.

We were having a conversation one morning where I was just not wanting to process any of it. He was trying to make small talk, admitted that he had looked me up on Google, saw my IMDB page, and was asking me about some of the films I had been in. I didn’t really want to talk about it, because it was kind of heartbreaking to give up acting, but seemed like the responsible thing to do. So, I didn’t really talk about it much, and then he asked me, “Well, what do you think about acting?” And I just looked at him and all that I could think of was the rejection. The committing to characters that you maybe half believe in. Not the case for a lot of my work, but a good part of it, and I just looked at him and said, “I fucking hate it.” And I knew I was lying but I also knew I was telling the truth, and then he was oddly really encouraging. He was saying, “Well it looks like this film Winter in the Blood might be doing pretty well. Maybe you should ride it out a little bit.” And I said, “Yeah, I love it, it’s great. I’m doing everything I can to make it get out there, but I don’t know.”

After this conversation, the next day, People Magazine featured Winter in the Blood as a People Pick. So that was a nice little, “Oh, well, maybe I should stay on the horse a little longer”. Chance and I saw each other for a little bit after that, but I got thrown from that horse too, and it really hurt. Almost more than the horse that I had gotten thrown from earlier that year. I spent all fall shaking the dust off. Healing my breaks. And I did so at home with my folks, processing.

Do I want to move somewhere where I push the acting career? Do I want to commit to a community that I love? Do I stay here in Seattle and be the kid to my parents for awhile?

And at one point I just looked at myself, I looked at my parents, who had been struggling with some health issues, and decided that if I’d stayed I would end up being there forever. I would be the only child taking care of my aging parents, and that would be my story. So, their fine. It’s kind of the story I was telling myself.

So, I ran from home. Not too far, though, came back to Missoula here. And one thing I love about this community, and particularly the community that was built around Winter in the Blood, was written by one of my favorite authors of all time James Welch, adapted by the sons Alex and Andrew Smith of Annick Smith a producer of A River Runs Through It. And she has a film, Heartland, screening in the festival. So when I was transitioning back to Missoula I was staying in Annick Smith’s cabin. And an origin story of Winter in the Blood is my friend, and dear community member of this lovely film community, Ken White was watching her place in the middle of winter, snowed in with a bout of insomnia, pulled Winter in the Blood off the shelf and decided that it needed to be made into a film. That’s where that one started.

So I was in Annick’s house. I was feeling the sacredness of this place. All of the creativity that had been seeped into the rafters over so many years. And I just did not want to make my choice. I didn’t want to choose acting, I wanted it to choose me. I wanted Chance to choose me. So, I just, let go. I was in Annick’s house. I let it go to the house. Whatever magic was in this place, whatever creative spirit lives in this house, It’s up to you. Either I stay here and I build a career working with kids, fostering and supporting their creativity, or I push my own. But I don’t want to decide, Chance can decide for me.

Next day, I get an audition notice for the Untitled Kelly Reichardt Project, and it’s an ethnically specific role. Which I’m used to seeing Native American and white, but it’s not typically what you see in projects like this. I recognized Kelly’s name immediately. I love her films, one being, Wendy and Lucy, Old Joy, Meek’s Cutoff, Night Moves. Couldn’t believe it. I looked at the cast list for the other characters. Oh, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams…OK. Well, let’s just see what this character is about, probably about five minutes of screen time. Last thirty-five percent of the film, leading role, compelling story of a ranch hand who was snowed in, in a cabin, over the winter. Kind of in the throes of her first existential crisis, in my opinion. Deciding what she wanted to do, and by Chance, a really beautiful opportunity passes through.

So, I submitted my audition. I got cast, and I don’t really know what’s going to happen, but the real story behind that character when you’re if, and I know that people are going to see it. It kind of goes back to that conversation that I had that morning with Chance. I don’t fucking hate acting, I love it. I’m really thankful that Chance is the concept, even if Chance’s character chose me, deemed me worthy, and gave me this incredible role where my character refuses to get thrown off the horse. It happens over and over again, but she always gets back on. That’s all I’m going to say about that film. Look for it when it’s out next year. It’s called “Livingston” starring Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, and Lily Gladstone. Thank you.