It’s been a whirlwind week for Native actor Eugene Brave Rock, who co-stars as ‘Chief’ in the blockbuster hit Wonder Woman, by DC Comics and Warner Bros. According to Variety, Wonder Woman raked in $103.1 million on its opening weekend and director Patty Jenkins now holds the record for the best domestic opening for a female director.
In the few weeks since the movie opened in theaters worldwide, Eugene Brave Rock has conducted countless interviews and was also invited to return to his home Rez, the Blood reserve in Southern Alberta, where he was gifted an authentic full-feathered headdress.
In an interview with ICMN, Eugene Brave Rock talks about his experiences on the set of Wonder Woman, the respect he felt there as a Native actor and what it was like to walk the red carpet in Hollywood.
What a week for you. Wonder Woman has already made $263 million domestically with a $100 million opening.
Last week was amazing. It was also exhausting, as I was running on three or four hours of sleep a night with so many different interviews and places to be. I visited schools on the Rez and attended screenings. I was invited back home to the Blood reserve in Southern Alberta to speak with students. It was nice to get back and talk to the kids in the place where I grew up. I told them, “I was raised on this rez and now I live in California. I have lived in London I have lived in Paris. The world is bigger than the rez.”
It was wild, I went home to a hero’s welcome.
Young kids told me, “You are my hero.” It was amazing. I am a hero because I shared my language with the rest of the world. It made them all so proud to hear Blackfoot on the big screen.
When you spoke Blackfoot to Wonder Woman, I cried.
So many people have told me that moment brought tears to their eyes.
It is great to represent my people. It’s tough working in the movie business. Sometimes they are telling you how to speak a language or something else. It is so often a non-Native interpretation of how Native people are or were.
It’s been great to share my cultural values with the world. It is these cultural values, my long hair, my language, my singing and dancing, my flute playing, that sometimes we might take for granted—that have literally taken me around the world.
But this week, it has been amazing. I’ve also had request for auditions come in daily.
About three weeks ago, you walked the red carpet in Hollywood [for the premiere]. What was that like?
Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Warner Bros./AP Images
Eugene Brave Rock seen at The World Premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures “Wonder Woman” at The Pantages Theatre on Thursday, May 25, 2017, in Los Angeles.
It was wild. When I first got out of the car, there was supposed to be someone waiting for me, but no one was there. I just heard people screaming, “Gene! Gene!” I thought my cousin was in the crowd or something.
I started looking around and more people started screaming my name. Then they announced my name on an intercom. They told me, “Wave to your fans and go sign some autographs.”
Was that the first time you saw the whole movie?
Yes, although I saw some of the dailies. But I looked at it in a technical way. But to see everything put together brought back a lot of memories of the friendships I made and the camaraderie between the cast and the crew. It was amazing to work in London alongside all of the people. I kind of felt like I was the only Indian in London.
Patty Jenkins just broke the record for the best domestic opening for a female director. How was she as a director?
Woo hoo! She was great. From the first time I met her, she wanted to know what my thoughts were on playing the character Chief. She wanted to know my thoughts on how Hollywood portrays stereotypes and if I had issues being called Chief.
I told her, “Growing up, being called ‘Chief’ were fighting words. It is ironic that I will be called this for the rest of my life now.” At the same time, she let me introduce myself in my own language. That is unprecedented for anyone in Hollywood to get this control and that respect. She is awesome.
There were some realistic war scenes with mud, soldiers and more. How was the filming experience?
There were some scenes that we did when we were running around through the trenches, bombs were going off and there was a lot of smoke. After Take 30, while wearing 150 pounds of wardrobe, it was pretty intense. I can’t imagine the reality of World War I. There were times where it was pretty grueling. Overall, it was more than cool to be on set.
You told ICMN previously that you had full input into your wardrobe.
Patty Jenkins was extremely respectful. There was so much respect from everyone for my culture. I also have to give a shout out to John Baker, when I showed him Native designs I saw on an old Winchester rifle, he created it for me.
I had input as to the designs that were put on my gun belt, my vest, my hat and it was just awesome. I am so glad they didn’t dress me up in a breastplate and a breech cloth! (laughs)
Patty Jenkins gave you the respect to use something that represented yourself. You didn’t wear a headdress like every Native character did in so many Western films. And then you go home and are presented with a real headdress. How did that feel?
I did not expect it at all. I never imagined in my life that that would ever happen. I come from a traditional upbringing and eagle feathers are a sign of respect. You have to earn them.
I was raised by my grandmother and I could have worn a bustle a long time ago. But to be gifted with a headdress, this was such an honor. All of this feels surreal. I am living a dream.
So now that you’re a Hollywood star, is it all about million-dollar mansions, parties, Botox injections and sushi at midnight?
(Laughs) Ha ha! No, You know, it’s all about family and chasing my little boy around. I am loving life and thankful to be with my family. There is no time to party—I have too many interviews!
What would you say to young kids wanting to be an actor like Eugene Brave Rock?
I really want them to believe in themselves. Every day, I get up in the morning and I take a drink of water and I give thanks. Life is beautiful and gratitude goes a long way. It has brought me to where I am at I’m very thankful. That is my prayer in the morning to say “thank you.”
Ramona Bighead/via CBC News
Eugene Brave Rock received a full headdress when returning home to the Blood Reserve in Alberta, Canada.
If I had a message, it would be to keep your traditional values close. Remember the special things such as speaking your language, or having long hair, dancing, singing or riding horses. They have taken me around the world. Never forget where you come from or who you are. Be Indian and be proud.
I do want to say one last thing. Happy Birthday to my beautiful #WonderWoman Jolene Brave Rock.
Follow Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) – ICMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wows and Sports Editor