Acclaimed Alberta actor steps out of spotlight to tell Indigenous stories as filmmaker

After more than two decades in film and television, Gerald Auger is ready for his final cut in front of the camera.

'I want to leave a footprint or a body of work that they can be proud of, that my people can be proud of'

Alberta actor Gerald Auger has also earned acclaim as a producer and director. (Chronosphotography)

After more than two decades in film and television, Gerald Auger is ready for his final cut in front of the camera.

The award-winning Indigenous actor wants to dedicate his time to filmmaking and motivational speaking — inspiring the next generation by debunking stereotypes about his people.

The Alberta-born actor thinks he can now have more impact behind the scenes.

'It has to have integrity'

"I just want to bring awareness and understanding," Auger said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"It has to have integrity, it's got to have substance because I want my son and grandson to be able to say, at the end of the day, 'That's my grandfather, that's my dad.'

"I want to leave a footprint or a body of work that they can be proud of, that my people can be proud of, because it's not always an easy road."

It's not the first time Auger has shied away from the limelight.

Auger, who spent much of his youth living on the streets, first rose to fame by happenstance in 1995. Then a recent graduate of Grande Prairie Regional College, he was asked to stand on stage for the opening ceremonies of the Canada Winter Games.

"I stood next to the elder as he did his opening prayer and a camera comes right by me as it's being done," recalled Auger.

"A producer in Toronto who just happens to be channel surfing, sees the clip, and hunts me down and asks if I had ever thought of going into the acting, modelling business because, 'You have the hair, the face, the look.'

"I said, 'No, not really.' But I sent him some photos ... and the next thing I know I'm in (a moviewith David Bowie."

Auger was cast as a native warrior in the 1998 film My West, later dubbed Gunslinger's Revenge, starring David Bowie and Harvey Keitel, and quickly rose to fame.

He would go on to star in Lewis and Clark: The Journey West and Steven Spielberg's six-part miniseries Into the West. Then, in 2010, Auger appeared in the cult classic feature film FUBAR 2.

'Hollywood can literally take your soul'

As the credits continued to roll in, Auger said he became disenchanted with the "Hollywood lifestyle."

He decided to quit acting and return home to the Bigstone Cree Nation in Alberta for, what he describes as, a sabbatical.

"Hollywood can literally take your soul if you're not careful," said Auger.

"When you have access to excess, and you have so many people around that are, in essence, not there for you but only for what they can get from you, you start to buy into it. You get an ego and get arrogant.

"I just figured that's not who I am, so I better get off this train before it became a train wreck."

Auger said he needed time to heal from childhood mental, physical and sexual abuse that had left him "lost and confused" for years.

The time at home allowed Auger to reconnect with the traditional teachings of his Woodland Cree ancestors and be gracious for his success in a new way.

'I had to revisit myself'

"I was kind losing myself, I was losing my identity, I was losing the essence of who I was," Auger said. "I had to revisit myself emotionally, physically and spiritually to heal that part of myself.

"My sabbatical has taught me to be mindful and to be grateful for everything that I have in life." 

Auger, who returned to his film and television career after a six-year hiatus, is among the busiest Indigenous actors in Canada, with his recent credits including Hell on Wheels, Blackstone and the new, made-in-Alberta thriller, Tin Star.

He's also the owner and CEO of Black Eagle Entertainment, a business that  advances Indigenous stories in mainstream culture and document Indigenous stories.

He's since shared his story with aboriginal communities across the country, become an outspoken advocate, and was awarded the National Native Role Model by the Governor General of Canada, Roméo LeBlanc, for his community work.

He wants to help other Indigenous people find their voice.

"It has to have a message that's going to help our children and and our children's children," said Auger.

"That is what is more important to me now."

Listen to Edmonton AM with host Mark Connolly, weekday mornings at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the morning crew on Twitter @EdmAMCBC