Michael Greyeyes on what it's like to play your hero on screen
The Canadian plays iconic Indigenous leader Sitting Bull in the new film, Woman Walks Ahead
Canadian actor Michael Greyeyes plays the Indigenous leader Sitting Bull in the new historical drama Woman Walks Ahead. Set in the 1800s and based on true events, the film tells the story of Sitting Bull and Catherine Weldon, played by Jessica Chastain, as she travels to the Dakotas to paint Sitting Bull's portrait.
Greyeyes has been performing for most of his life in Canada as an actor, dancer and choreographer, but for him, playing Sitting Bull is the role of a lifetime. He's had the chance to play Indigenous icons before, including Cree leader Wandering Spirit and Lakota leader Crazy Horse, but Greyeyes says Sitting Bull is unique. "He's arguably the most famous Indigenous leader in the world," the actor says.
[Sitting Bull]'s arguably the most famous Indigenous leader in the world— Michael Greyeyes
While Woman Walks Ahead was shot in New Mexico, the story is set in Sitting Bull's homeland of Standing Rock, North Dakota, where anti-pipeline protests were taking place during filming. For Greyeyes and many other members of the cast and crew, the actor says the protests in Standing Rock "galvanized" them and helped them draw a profound connection between past and present.
"It was radically different, but the battle was the same," says Greyeyes. "[The state] wants the land, they want the resources, but there's always been a problem — the problem is the Indigenous population that lives on it. … We were watching [the anti-pipeline protests] play out in the press and then, there we were, enacting a drama from some hundred plus years ago that was essentially the same narrative. Different people. Same story."
Greyeyes joins Tom Power live in the q studio to discuss playing his hero and to talk more about how a period film can be so relevant to audiences today.
Woman Walks Ahead, starring Michael Greyeyes, Jessica Chastain and Sam Rockwell, is available on demand now.
Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.
Interview with Michael Greyeyes produced by Chris Trowbridge.