Arts Around Terrace: MTHS grad Lily Gladstone’s acting dreams coming true

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Lily Gladstone

By Lori Knight

Mountlake Terrace High School graduate Lily Gladstone first got the acting bug at age 5, while watching the movie, “Return to Endor.”

“I loved the concept of living in tree houses and I knew my only shot at being an Ewok was to become an actress,” the 2004 Terrace grad said. Now Gladstone makes her home between two states, minus the tree houses, and is blazing new paths with her acting career, and is almost set to hit the big screen with her movie roles.

Growing up is always what or how you identify with something and for Gladstone, home was Browning, Mont., where she lived as a young Blackfoot and Nez Perce Native American. Gladstone’s first love was ballet, along with being a member of the Missoula’s Children Theatre. She eventually moved to the Mountlake Terrace area in 1997 and then moved back to Montana for college, graduating from the University of Montana in 2009

Gladstone attributes much of her career success to the nurturing atmosphere of Mountlake High School. “For me, faculty and my friends understood the aspects and differences of a person’s learning style and many of my teachers supported my acting, and me personally — they knew the importance of finding a home,” she said.

Gladstone has fond memories of her high school days, noting “Mountlake Terrace High School has an art and music emphasis and is known for its diversity.” Years later, Gladstone’s strong memories of those teachers and faculty and their support still resonate with her. During our interview, she went on to name many of those teachers, for like most students, it is those whom believe in you that you remember: “Jeanne Brzovic, Heather Hillman, Mr. Marino, Ellen Antonelli, Nancy Payne and Professor Ross.”  For Gladstone, identity is an important theme that repeats itself in the roles and projects she accepts, and home is definitely a place that resides in the heart.

Returning to Montana for her education, Gladstone didn’t follow someone to college. While she could have gone to a larger university like NYU, where she was also accepted, Gladstone knew what she wanted from her education, and the” hands-on” style of the University of Montana fit. Obtaining her Bachelor in Fine Arts in Theater with a Native American Studies minor in 2009, Gladstone found herself to be one of only a  handful of Native American students in the theater program.

As a young Native American on the Blackfoot Reservation, Gladstone believed in her roots and by the age of 15 had already read the book “Winter in the Blood” in high school. It wouldn’t be until she returned to Montana that she would get a first reading at a draft for the movie in 2008, by author James Welch, where the University of Montana was adapting the book for movie production. Gladstone credits Rene Haines, casting director and a consultant for the “Twilight” series of movies that put her on the radar for the film. Because the University of Montana adopts a conservatory approach to their theater degree and major, including a pre-public production philosophy, Gladstone was also able to assist with readings for “Winter in the Blood,” which would prove invaluable later on.

Gladstone as Marlene in “Winter in the Blood,” with Chaske Spencer of the “Twilight” movie series. (Photo by Eliza Morse)

When the call came in 2011 for the part of Marlene in “Winter in the Blood,” after open calls to Native Americans were cast in a wide network from states as far as New Mexico to Canada, Gladstone knew that her University of Montana connections were beginning to see fruition. Welch’s novel is set in the 1960s, at Fort Belknap, where the main character created by Welch explores the history and culture of isolation as he embarks on a journey of exploration much like “going on a bender,” according to Gladstone.

Similar to the archetypal characters of the Odyssey, Welch’s main character Virgil is under duress during a four-day and four-night vision quest. Gladstone’s character of Marlene drops into the story line at this pivotal time of the journey and breaks his fast to show him the person he is to become. “Winter in the Blood” will become Gladstone’s first movie to hit the big screen this October/November of 2012, with an introductory debut in Montana to be followed with its worldwide debut at Sundance in 2013.

“It wasn’t easy to get this part just because of my background.  At first, they didn’t want to cast me; however, it was my connections to the University of Montana and my dedication to the novel and my work at the readings that helped. Rene Haines liked my work as did Chaske Spencer, who plays the lead character of Virgil . (Spencer is from Montana, and is a part of the “Twilight”  movie series.) When the movie comes to the big screen, Gladstone noted, it will say, “‘and introducing Lily Gladstone’… nice!”

Gladstone  landed her first acting role three weeks after her University of Montana graduation, working in the touring show, ” To Kill a Mockingbird,” where she played Mrs. Dubose. When the tour visited Seattle, Gladstone auditioned for a show called, “Living Voices” that she discovered from an audition call on Craig’s List. As a one-woman show, she would lay down the voice tracks for “Living Voices” while finishing the final leg of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  Showcasing the lives of three distinct women,  “Living Voices” features the lives of not only three women, but three cultures, in transition:
1.) A Native American woman integrated into the 1920s boarding school system
2.) A Japanese woman placed in internment
3.) the Farm Workers’ Movement

“Living Voices” is often booked six months in advance for Gladstone, and it remains her consistent acting job between screen acting auditions, calls and roles. Because November is Native American month in the State of Washington, it is especially popular around Veteran’s Day for schools to book, as the show fulfills the State Department of Education’s integration of Native American history into the curriculum. Thus far, it has locally been booked at elementary schools in Shelton, Bothell and the Maplewood Co-op in Edmonds. What is important about all three title roles is the endearing theme and struggle to maintain identity during times in history of assimilation and integration, she said, noting that historical trauma often times becomes the vehicle or movement for social change.

More recently, Gladstone auditioned for and received a role in the upcoming Benicio Del Toro movie, “Jimmy Picard,” filmed between Detroit and Browning, Mont. The movie, set during World War II, is about a member of the Blackfeet Nation recovering from trauma and is based on George Devereux’s book, “Reality and Dream: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian.” According to Gladstone, “after a bit of confusion over our 425 area code and a bit of destiny or fate at running into the casting director Alexander Nazaryan at our East Glacier coffee shop back home,  I was able to record my part on the porch of the home that I grew up at as a child… with Benicio Del Toro!”

Gladstone went on to describe Del Toro as easy-going and kind, noting that he held her hand after confirming that acting was her career and that she wasn’t one of the extras hired for the scene from the general casting call, and stating “you’re an actress…your good….keep doing it!” As Gladstone aptly puts it, “After four months of auditions, 20 minutes, three lines and six takes, it was all over!”  And, Benicio Del Toro lived up to all of her expectations.

“Jimmy Picard” is set to premiere at the Cannes Festival in 2013.

Gladstone will also appear in “Sea Glass,” a movie about an isolated young college woman in an abusive relationship who is trying to find herself by taking an apprenticeship as a glass blower in an Oregon coast art studio. That film is in the editing phase.

On a final note, I asked Lily who her acting idols were. “Kate Blanchett,” she replied. “I love her commitment to character identification. I also love Christopher Knowlin’s movies (“American Beauty”) and would love to work with both of these people one day!”

I’d like to thank Lily for my first interview for MLTnews and for showing us that through acting, one discovers their heritage, dreams and identity. It is important to know who you are and where you have come from and that in the heart, there is always a place called home.

Arts Around Terrace columnist  Lori Knight co-owns — with her husband Eric — the Knight Visions Studio Gallery.A Brier resident, Knight has been selling, promoting, marketing and framing art for 25 years. She opened her studio at 19533 Filbert Dr., in nearby Bothell. in 1987. Both of her children — Briana and Chris — are Mountlake Terrace High School graduates. (Photo by Patty Linna)

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