Saskatchewan's Isaiah Tootoosis, 8, debuts in film with Leonardo DiCaprio

Isaiah Tootoosis, the eight-year-old great-grandson of legendary actor Gordon Tootoosis and NHL trailblazer Fred Sasakamoose, makes his screen debut in The Revenant which stars Leonardo DiCaprio.

Tootoosis keen to continue acting, perhaps in a movie about sharks

Isaiah Tootoosis, left, filming a scene for The Revenant. (Duane Howard)
Isaiah Tootoosis at the Los Angeles premiere, in the famous TCL Chinese Theatre (also known by its former name Grauman's Chinese Theatre), for The Revenant. (Rachel Berland)
Family and friends of Isaiah Tootoosis are looking forward to the release of the film The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Tootoosis, 8, is from the Poundmaker Cree Nation about 230 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon and plays a significant part in the movie.

Tootoosis performs the role of Hawk, son of the movie's main character Hugh Glass played by DiCaprio. The Revenant is an epic tale about an 1820s frontiersman, Glass, who was mauled by a bear and left for dead by his expedition party.

The movie had its Los Angeles premiere in December and opens worldwide Friday.

"He doesn't know how big it is," Rachel Berland, Isaiah's mother, told CBC News. "It's just pretend for him."

Isaiah — who had hockey practice in Cut Knife, Sask., this week — recalled the L.A. screening and seeing himself on screen for the first time.

"I felt like happy for myself," he said. "I started crying, 'cause I was proud of myself."

Isaiah's parents, Jaired Tootoosis and Rachel Berland. (CBC)
While his film father is the famous actor DiCaprio, in real life Isaiah is the great-grandson of two notable Saskatchewan figures: Gordon Tootoosis, a legendary aboriginal actor (best known for North of 60 and Legends of the Fall); and Fred Sasakamoose, the trail-blazing aboriginal NHL player.

Isaiah said he felt a bit famous after his kookum (grandmother) asked for his autograph.

Jaired Tootoosis, Isaiah's father, said watching his son in a movie — and interacting with DiCaprio — was special.

"Leonardo DiCaprio ... putting my son to sleep," Tootoosis said. "I was offended and at the same time [it was] a blessing. It was overwhelming, with joy, how I felt to see my son on the big screen."

His mother, who was at the premiere with Isaiah, said she was bursting with pride.

From the movie set: fellow actor Duane Howard with Isaiah Tootoosis. (Duane Howard)
"It was amazing. It's something I will never forget," Berland said about seeing her son on screen. "I wanted to cry I was so happy. I couldn't believe it was him."

She added she was concerned about some of the violence in the R-rated film.

"There's sexual violence on there, so that's what I was afraid of," Berland said, recalling how she leaned over at one point to block Isaiah's view.

"I covered his eyes," she said.

Young Hawk a key character

While Isaiah's screen time is relatively brief, his role in the story is pivotal.

"Isaiah plays the younger version of Hugh Glass's son, Hawk, and they have a very close, very meaningful relationship. And what happens to Hawk in the film is critical," film critic Eli Glasner told CBC News. "Although his screen time is not that much, it's very powerful stuff."

Glasner said director Alejandro Iñárritu has described the film as being centred around a father's relationship to his son.

"This is movie about a father's love," Glasner said. "And when we have those flashbacks to see young Hawk, played by Isaiah, that's where that story begins. So it's a very critical part, I'd say."

Isaiah said his favourite recollections from working on the film were holding a crow and wearing special effects make up.

He added the work itself was difficult because of early hours and sitting still for make up, hair (he wore a wig) and wardrobe.

"I had to wait for hours for me to get my stuff done," he recalled.

Meeting DiCaprio

Isaiah said he didn't know much about the star of the film until he returned home and was shown DiCaprio's movies Titanic and Gangs of New York.

Isaiah's mother said her boy was a bit bewildered when DiCaprio gave him an autographed picture.

Berland said Isaiah presented the picture to her without making much of it.

"He handed it to me and was like, 'My movie dad gave this to me and I don't know why," Berland said.

Isaiah, who also dances powwow in the summer, said he hopes to work on more movies and is especially keen to do a film about sharks — his favourite thing right now.

Isaiah Tootoosis also performs powwow dancing in the summer. (Rachel Berland)

With files from CBC's Bonnie Allen