Adam Beach, Salteaux, is today one of the most recognizable Native actors, but in 2001, when the David Spade comedy Joe Dirt was released, he was still on his way up. At that point, he hadn’t yet co-starred with Nic Cage in Windtalkers (2002), hadn’t played Ira Hayes in the Clint Eastwood-directed Flags of Our Fathers (2006), and hadn’t made his runs on the TV series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2007-2008) and Big Love (2010).
Beach has now signed on to reprise his role of Kicking Wing in Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser. For Beach, it’s a chance to again share the screen with Christopher Walken, Dennis Miller, and of course David Spade, who played the title character. But it’s also an opportunity to consider the question: Why was Adam Beach in the original Joe Dirt at all?
This is not to say that Adam Beach wasn’t an actor deserving of the role—he obviously was. But to anyone who’s seen Smoke Signals (1998), the origin of Beach’s character is clear—Kicking Wing is obviously based on Thomas Builds-the-Fire.
Adam Beach was in Smoke Signals—as Victor Joseph. The character of Thomas Builds-the-Fire was played by a different actor, Evan Adams. If the filmmakers behind Joe Dirt wanted a character like Thomas Builds-the-Fire in their film, why didn’t they cast Evan Adams?
Joe Dirt contains an extended parodic quotation from Smoke Signals, including crossover casting—Adam Beach plays Kicking Wing, who runs a roadside fireworks stand on an unnamed reservation. Joe Dirt amalgamates the “buddies” in Smoke Signals by making Adam Beach’s character resemble Thomas Builds-the-Fire, not Victor Joseph. According to [screenwriter Sherman] Alexie, this was not deliberate on the part of the filmmakers but rather the result of a mistaken phone call inviting Adam Beach rather than Evan Adams to perform the role. Kicking Wing wears nerdy glasses and braids, and maintains a mild-mannered, gentle optimism that resembles the innocent Thomas. This compound character continues the work of Smoke Signals in flouting stereotypes about Indian masculinity. Kicking Wing only likes, and so only stocks, sparklers; Joe offers him an education in “real” (meaning hazardous) fireworks as the scene unfolds.
In a Q&A later in the book, Alexie explains that the casting was a validation—unfortunately, an imperfect one—of his movie.
Joanna Hearne: What did you think of the way Smoke Signals was taken up? I mean, it was parodied in Joe Dirt.
Sherman Alexie: Oh it’s hilarious! I was so happy!
Hearne: … Do you think that a really broad audience picks up those references? Do the people who watch Joe Dirt get that?
Alexie: Of course not. No. I mean, in fact, I remember when the producers of Joe Dirt, they hired Adam to be in it, but they actually wanted Evan. They got the actors mixed up.
Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser is scheduled for a summer 2015 release.