Lily Gladstone’s Beautiful Future

By BRIAN D’AMBROSIO

Surreal moments can be exciting, or motivating, or just plain funny.

Lily Gladstone’s most surreal anecdote incorporates all three.

Born and raised in Browning, the actress returned there last year to work on “Jimmy P.,” a film about a psychologically- puzzling Blackfeet World War II veteran, starring Benicio Del Toro.

“That was incredibly surreal,” said Gladstone. “To be able to work on “Jimmy P.,” with such a strong script and a renowned director, and someone like Del Toro, that was amazing.”

Filmed in and around Browning, one of the opening scenes of “Jimmy P.” utilized the Browning train station. As Gladstone stood on the platform, preparing for her role as Sunshine First Raise, the Academy Award-winning Del Toro coolly sauntered around the corner.

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Up to that point, the actor’s rough-hewn face and saggy eyes had been the stuff of pictures and videos. And her dreamlike interaction with the Puerto-Rican born star came with a slight twist of self-consciousness and humor.

“I will never forget the moment filming at the Browning train station,” said Gladstone. “I remembered traveling out of there as a kid. And there I am getting the microphone put on, and my skirt was up. Embarrassing, right? Those hazel green eyes floored me. He said, ‘I’m Benicio.’ I said, ‘I know’.

As Del Toro gazed out at the mountainous geography, Gladstone indentified the tips and summits in the distance. She pointed out Red Crow Mountain in the Lewis and Clark Range – outlined like a horse saddle – and shared a family legend about Red Crow, her third-great grandfather. (She is of Native American/First Nations heritage, from the Amskapi Pikuni (Blackfeet), Kainaiwa (Blood) and Niimipoo (Nez Perce) nations.)

“It is named after one of my ancestors,” said Gladstone. “I told him about that. I told him that I grew up looking at that mountain. You can see it on film – over his left shoulder. That mountain was a bit of a focal point my whole life.”

After their conversation ended, Del Toro hugged Gladstone and said, “You are good, keep doing it.”

“I said, ‘I hope to see you again.’ He nodded and smiled, and said, ‘you will.’”

The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. And Gladstone is taking a single-day, single-step approach to it.

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Since graduating from the University of Montana in 2008 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre, she has worked professionally on stages and screens around the United States. She is a company member with Living Voices, a touring educational theatre based in Seattle, WA.

“Like anything, it is feast or famine,” said Gladstone.

The feast seems to be hearty for Gladstone, who has roles in two films scheduled for release in 2014.

One of the films is “Subterranea,” an adaptation from British Progressive Rock band IQ’s album of the same name.

“It’s a psychological thriller,” said Gladstone. “My role is as Maya’s friend, Heather, a blood analyst at a laboratory.” (Maya is played by Amber Rose Mason.)

The other, “The Thin Line,” is an offbeat romantic comedy filmed in Whitefish, MT.

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“Darla from ‘The Thin Line’ was one of the most fun roles I’ve had in a while,” said Gladstone. “In the script, she was very homely and unattractive. She is really Goth, confrontational, acidic, and loud, and she refuses to conform to her surroundings or bend. Darla is a trip. It’ll really show me in a different light. Shaving my hair into a mohawk, wearing gothic makeup, heavy jewelry – it was so much fun, and really gave me a chance to show a different side of myself as an actress – but I still got to keep a little of my vulnerability, which is usually what lands me a job.”

Darla allowed Gladstone to break new ground creatively, as well as circumnavigate the stereotypically stoic roles Native American actresses are commonly fed.

“As natives, we know that we are mixed and diverse,” said Gladstone. “Most natives get pigeonholed, based on appearance first and talent second. But we are seeing more scripts written and filmed by natives.”

Gladstone is still gathering momentum from her performance in “Winter in the Blood,” a hallucinatory film centered around a Native American man whirling through reality and fantasy in a small Montana town.

“Winter in the Blood relied so heavily on the Montana community,” said Gladstone, “so many locals, and so many people who have a strong connection with the legacy of the novel. Montana has seven reservations and 12 tribal nations, and we have strong Native American populations. It was such a labor of love, and people come out for that in Montana.”

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The film is artfully made, with evocative cinematography of Montana’s High Line, and highly detailed production design. The score is striking, evocative and temperamental, and the performances bellow authenticity.

“The film has stirred a few different reactions,” said Gladstone, who also minored in Native American Studies at UM.  “There are some who are troubled by all of the scenes of alcoholism and poverty, and the abuses in Indian communities. But there is a reason stories like that are told so much.”

Gladstone works with a Native American youth theatre program based in Seattle called Red Eagle Soaring. Still, her connection to the land of her childhood, the Blackfeet Reservation, is everlasting, dominant.

Her first eleven years were spent primarily in Browning and East Glacier. Even though she moved to Seattle, her family maintains a house in East Glacier.

Instead of rattling off a litany of deep-seeded problems, Gladstone speaks affectionately about her ancestral land, which she returns to occasionally.

“The reputation of Browning depends on who it is you talk to,” said Gladstone. “There are some incredibly ugly things that happen but shouldn’t. But you have to look deeper into why things are the way they are. At the foundation of my life, there is community and family. There is poverty, violence, substance abuse, and unemployment everywhere. But there is so much love in that community. What unites people there is a love of family, a love of land.”

It is never wise to assume that just because one is an entertainer that they are automatically a role model. But Gladstone understands she is a visible presence who young people look up to. She doesn’t shy away from putting herself in a position where a lot is expected.

“I think that role modeling is part of being a young native person,” said Gladstone. “Youth recognize someone with vision and a good heart, and I want to teach youth that they are role models for the generation beneath them.”

With a future as large and beautiful as the heavens of her ancestors, Gladstone said that no matter where she lives or travels, her love begins at home. Her feet are moving, but her heart is stationary.

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Brian_DBrian D’Ambrosio’s book Life in the Trenches, featuring the complex lives of more than 35 former entertainment wrestlers, boxers, and football players, including “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Gerry Cooney and Earl Campbell, will be available in September.  Also in September, Riverbend Publishing will release his biography “Warrior in the Ring” about the life of Flathead Reservation boxer Marvin Camel. He may be reached atdambrosiobrian@hotmail.com