Twilight actor brings inspirational message to Mohawk College

Say what you want about Twilight. It's done wonders for aboriginal actor Justin Rain.

Justin Rain says aboriginal youth are seeing more of themselves on the big screen

Justin Rain, of Blackstone and Twilight: Eclipse, motivates First Nations students at Mohawk College. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Say what you want about Twilight. It's done wonders for aboriginal actor Justin Rain.

The Vancouver performer was in the franchise's third installment, Eclipse, for a few seconds as a Quileute warrior-turned-werewolf.

But even that has won the actor roles and made him connections.

"It's done things for my career, and I've been able to work with a lot of other people because of it," he said. "I'm grateful for the experience."

Rain discussed Twilight and more in a motivational workshop at Mohawk College on Thursday.

His appearance was part of the college's Project Pathfinder, a two-week camp where aboriginal students live in residence and take part in various cultural and educational activities. There will be four camps hosting about 20 youth each during July and August.

Rain appears in the APTN series Blackstone and the new Syfy series Defiance. He told First Nations high school students Thursday about his tumultuous youth with drugs, alcohol and crime.

Raised by a single mom in Vancouver, the actor of Plains Cree descent fell in with a bad crowd in high school. He bullied and was bullied. He stole cars and sold drugs.

Eventually, after a third drug overdose, he had an epiphany — if we're not creating, we're destroying.

Rain travels the country now with his motivational program Artist Inside. His message: find what you love to do and express your life through it.

"Every single one of us is an artist," he said.

Rain used his Twilight experience to illustrate how doing what he loves bears fruit.

He spent 14 hours on a Vancouver set and two hours in front of the camera. His role was to growl and jump toward a crash mat. For that, he was paid $2,400.

"I got paid for that," Rain told the students in disbelief. "That's just … what?"

Fewer aboriginal post-secondary students

Rain was a perfect addition to Project Pathfinder, which encourages aboriginal students to pursue post-secondary education, said Ron McLester, Mohawk's manager of aboriginal education and student services.

First Nations students are underrepresented in post-secondary. And when they enter, fewer of them finish, McLester said.

It comes down to "self esteem and self confidence.

"We hear all of the negative things about being aboriginal and like it or not, that gets inside," he said.

"We don't see ourselves in a lot of positive areas, like billboards or movies or senior management. The more we can show students we exist in those places, the more likely it is they'll aspire to it."

Rain is a well-known aboriginal face, and "the students just love him," McLester said.

Encouraging future artists

During his session, Rain asked students about their career goals. At least two said they wanted to be actors.

Twilight, with its parts great and small, has promoted that. The First Nations characters are heroes with plenty of screen time, Rain said. The franchise is an example of the growing visibility of aboriginal people.

"It's a great time in the industry for First Nations people, and I think the Twilight saga has given us more opportunities to be recognized in this industry," he said.

"Me and some friends joke around and say 'now it's cool to be native' because this thing has just exploded. I don't consider that to be a bad thing at all."