Indigenous actor takes turn as stuntman in The Revenant

Alexander First Nation actor Conway Kootenay turns stuntman in Leonardo DiCaprio's The Revenant.

Conway Kootenay hopes Hollywood blockbuster leads to movie career

Conway Kootenay, from Alexander First Nation northwest of Edmonton, is a stuntman in The Revenant. (Provided)

For nearly six weeks, Conway Kootenay worked gruelling 16-hour days in sub-zero weather, all for six minutes of usable footage.

But those six minutes are the first moments of The Revenant, a Hollywood blockbuster starring Leonardo DiCaprio, set to open in just a few days.

The scene is shot seamlessly on one camera using only natural light, what's becoming a trademark style of director Alejandro González Iñárritu.

"He would shoot the last two hours of sunlight, so all day long we would rehearse our scenes," Kootenay told Edmonton AM radio host Mark Connolly, Monday.

"Being a stuntman is very physical, so we're doing this all day. He would come down in the last couple of hours and shoot the scene. It was like that for about a month and a half."

A couple of his colleagues narrowly escaped hypothermia while working on the water scenes, he said.

"You're there in that cold water, in the Bow River all day long."

Many of the extras in the film, shot near Calgary, are indigenous people from across Alberta.

Kootenay, who grew up at the Alexander First Nation west of Morinville, Alta., is relatively new to the acting business.

Three years ago, he started his acting career appearing as an extra on APTN's Blackstone television series.

Then he landed a lead role in a movie called Fantasies of Flying, due to be released in 2016.  

"From there I got cast in The Revenant ... a blockbuster movie with a $138 million budget. That's the business right?" he said laughing. "You never know what's going to happen.

"It's been a pretty cool roller-coaster ride for me."

Kootenay did a lot of fighting scenes in those gruelling six weeks, all part of a collective effort that shows up in the film, he said.

"It's ridiculous how amazing it looks," he said. "That's all the hard work that all of us did on the set paying off."

Kootenay says he has not seen the entire movie yet as stuntmen "don't get invited to the premiere.

"But we get paid pretty well. It's a good trade off. I'm cool with that."

Kootenay spent three weeks on set with Leonardo DiCaprio, exchanging small talk.

"He's a very professional gentleman. He'd do his thing, get in and get out."

Now Kootenay is looking forward to his career taking a leap.

"It looks really good on an actor's resumé to have something like this," he said. "It opens a lot of doors and I'm pretty excited about the future."