– At the age of 8, Gil Birmingham picked up a guitar and decided that was what he wanted to do with his life. Throughout his journeys he played in bands from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It became his passion and self-expression. However, being an American Indian was something he never bragged about. It was his music he wanted heard. Birmingham always felt he could blend into every kind of environment. By becoming an actor, he feels he just blended into another medium.
Birmingham believes that the kindness of strangers has helped him get to where he is today. He is grateful for them because it wasn’t easy growing up the son of a military father. Birmingham was born on a military base in Texas, but he and his parents rarely stayed in one place long enough to make any lasting friendships. He readily admits that his parents, his father, a Comanche and his mother a non-Native, were not exactly perfect. He was never exposed to any kind of culture except the isolated Army bases and military schools in which he lived. He says his father was never there and that made him angry, lonely and abandoned.
Birmingham let his college counselors guide him on his path to education. Changing his major many times, Birmingham eventually graduated from University of Southern California with a degree in Administration. Upon graduation, Birmingham worked in engineering for four long years. At that time, he says he was expressing himself physically through bodybuilding and he competed up to the city level.
His girlfriend, an actress, encouraged him to be an actor in the early 1980s when Birmingham was asked to appear in a dream sequence of a Diana Ross music video called “Muscles.”
After being part of a “dream,” show business fell into his lap and the work kept coming in. He was “Conan the Barbarian” at Universal Studios for three years after the movie came out and made Arnold Schwarzenegger a movie star. After that, Birmingham appeared on “Falcon Crest” (CBS), “Riptide” and other soap operas including “Generations” and “Santa Barbara.” A big break came with the film “Runaway Train” with Oscar-nominated actor John Voight. Birmingham portrayed a prisoner in the film. He has never thought of himself a stereotypical Native actor.
Although Birmingham says that he was only an extra on three productions throughout his career, he is proud to support those that find work as extras. Birmingham feels that extras get a bum rap in the business and he tries to make them feel like an important part of the production whenever possible.
Birmingham can be seen in recent films including “Skins” (2002) and “The Doe Boy” (2001) in supporting roles. On the Animal Planet channel he appeared in “Gentle Ben” (2001) as well as the upcoming sequel. You can also catch him in reruns of “Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman” (CBS), “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (UPN), “V.I.P” (syndication) and the CBS drama “Family Law.”
This coming May, Birmingham will appear on the ABC mini-series, “Dreamkeepers” as Sam Chasing-Horse. Recently, he was seen on the WB TV movie, “The Lone Ranger” as One-Horn, the father of Tonto (Nathaniel Arcand). On Feb. 8, Birmingham received a First Americans in the Arts award as best actor in the PAX TV series “Body and Soul.”
Birmingham hopes to continue performing theater and play his guitar long into the future.