Being cast as an extra for the big Hollywood movie The Revenant was the experience of a lifetime for Maskwacis, Alta., actor Karlene Cutknife.
Having the chance to be part of such a blockbuster production was a major breakthrough for someone who up until then hadn't done much acting.
- Leonardo DiCaprio's shout out to First Nations cause for introspection
- Leonardo DiCaprio accepting Golden Globe award
- Indigenous actor takes turn as stuntman in The Revenant
- Locals from Maskwacis land roles in Leonardo DiCaprio western
Now with the movie's big star Leonardo DiCaprio drawing attention to indigenous issues at the Golden Globe awards, the experience has become unforgettable.
"That was an awesome experience to have Leonardo DiCaprio acknowledge us for his Golden Globe winning award," Cutknife said. "I thought that was so amazing."
DiCaprio used his best-actor award speech to "share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film."
Along with recognizing his co-stars, DiCaprio urged recognition of indigenous people's history and lands.
"It is time that we recognize your history, and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that [are] out there to exploit them," he said. "It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations."
What DiCaprio had to say means a lot to the people in Maskwacis, including about 50 who appeared as extras in the film.
"It was heartwarming because the value of our history and land is so meaningful to our people," said Cutknife, who is actually in one of the big moments of the film even if only for a few seconds.
She recently went to see the movie with her boyfriend and couldn't quite believe she made the cut.
"I felt shy," Cutknife said. "My boyfriend was nudging me. We left the theatre and a couple of my friends are like, 'Hey I saw you. I saw you'.
"I didn't know how to react so I just told them, 'That's me'," she said.
The film, released Jan. 8, is an action-packed survival drama starring DiCaprio who plays an explorer and trapper set in the 1800's.
Those chosen as extras from Maskwacis were involved in mountain scenes shot at Spray Lakes near Canmore.
Most were in the background and didn't get much chance to interact with the big stars, but there was a chance to talk to DiCaprio's parents who showed up to see the movie coming to life.
"Actually we got interviewed by his parents, they did interviews with many of the First Nations-background actors. They acknowledged us and as well they took pictures of us. It was a surreal experience," said extra Derwin Swampy.
DiCaprio's comments about the plight of aboriginal people have made the movie big news again in Maskwacis, a community of four Cree First Nations in central Alberta, Swampy said.
Hawk Radio, where he's a host, has sent congratulations to all of those involved.
Swampy himself has received shout outs from around the country and across the world through social media.
People in Maskwacis are now hoping people remember and act on what DiCaprio had to say.
"I just hope it allows people to recognize the struggles that the native communities go through and not only that, but indigenous people across the world," said Thomas Buffalo, another Maskwacis extra.
"There are struggles all over the world and I'm just glad and honoured that he took the time and made sure everyone could hear."
Now that Karlene Cutknife has a taste for the acting life, she is hoping her role in The Revenant will lead to other opportunities.
"I plan on sending my pictures from The Revenant to other casting calls," Cutknife said.
Some from Maskwacis have already gone on to roles as extras in other productions, with a couple even being upgraded to actors.
But whether she finds success as an actor or not, the experience of being part of The Revenant is one Cutknife will never forget.
"It was such an awesome movie. I couldn't believe how awesome the pictures were and it was very cool to see myself on the screen even though it was for a few seconds."