N.W.T.'s Melaw Nakehk'o makes her Hollywood debut in The Revenant

Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy will hit the red carpet tonight for the premiere of their latest film, which is already generating Oscar buzz. Joining them will be Melaw Nakehk'o, a first-time film star from Fort Simpson, N.W.T.

Nakehk'o was cast alongside Leonardo DiCaprio following open casting call in Yellowknife

Melaw Nakehk'o, originally from Fort Simpson, plays the character Powaqa in the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle The Revenant, which premiers Wednesday night in Hollywood. (submitted/20th Century Fox)

Hours before her first Hollywood premiere, the emotions are flying fast and furious for Melaw Nakehk'o.

"Nervous, anxious, excited," she told Lawrence Nayally, the host of CBC North's Trail's End. "Just everything."

It's been a whirlwind year for Nakehk'o, who was cast in the Alejandro Iñárritu-directed film The Revenant following an open casting call in Yellowknife last year.

The film, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as frontiersman Hugh Glass and is set in the northern United States, is already generating Oscar buzz, something that Nakehk'o says is "very exciting.

"The best part about the whole experience for myself was being able to be on set and watching so many talented people working together," she said. "How everyone works together to pull something like this off. 

"That felt really good to play a small part of that, to be part of somebody's vision."

Nakehk'o, who is Dene and originally from Fort Simpson, N.W.T., plays a character named Powaqa. Nakehk'o said she wasn't allowed to discuss her character's role before the film's release, but the casting call described her as an "Arikara warrior."

True portrayal of the era

Although unable to speak to her character specifically, Nakehk'o said that the film offers a realistic portrayal of First Nations in the year 1823, when it was set, though she cautioned she hadn't seen the completed version yet.

"I think it's probably the truest portrayal of that era," she said.

Nakehk'o, who is a co-founder of indigenous activist group Dene Nahjo, also complimented the lengths that production staff went to in finding indigenous characters to play the roles, unlike the recently-released — and universally derided — Ridiculous 6, which stars Adam Sandler as a First Nations character

"It's a huge Hollywood film, and it was really amazing to see the lengths that they went on this film to have indigenous actors and indigenous talent playing these parts," she said. "They were looking for indigenous people to play these parts, and they were able to be true to that."

Although tonight marks The Revenant's world premiere, the work isn't done for Nakehk'o. Before getting ready to hit the red carpet, she was in the sound studio re-recording lines for the final cut.

"Pretty last minute," she said, with a laugh. "Then, it's just hair and makeup and princess stuff."

'Anything can happen'

Nakehk'o said she's planning on representing indigenous artists and designers on the red carpet, though she didn't want to give her plans away before the event. However, she did admit she'll use the opportunity to brush shoulders with Hollywood royalty to try and secure more work in the industry.

"I'm here in Hollywood, and anything can happen," she said. "I'm doing a huge event tonight, I'm pretty sure I'm gonna look bomb, and I'm hoping that'll get me some more work in this industry."

But either way, Nakehk'o is leaving this project satisfied. 

"If I do get more parts, or if I don't, this itself is an amazing experience, the whole thing," she said. "And I'm really grateful for that. And if something else comes out of this, that's amazing too.

"I'm going to do my best to represent Denendeh, and the people of the Northwest Territories, and to make everybody proud."

The Revenant opens to North American audiences on December 25.