From Kicking Bird to Malachi
True West|February - March 2021
Graham Greene’s storied 45-year career in film and television has left a trail of excellence.
HENRY C.PARKE

A First Nations Canadian member of the Oneida tribe, Graham Greene played his first screen role in 1976, but his big break in film and television came when he was cast as Kicking Bird in Dances with Wolves, for which he earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. – COURTESY ORION PICTURES –

One of the most recent of Graham Greene’s 150-plus screen characterizations is in INSP’s movie Blue Ridge, a contemporary Western about Appalachian backwoods clans, with a “Hatfi fields and McCoys” feel. The Native Canadian actor explains that his character was “the patriarch of his family, and he ran everything with an iron fist. He hated the other family, blamed them for killing his daughter.” Greene is happy to see the movie released. “I did a bunch of films that haven’t been released yet because of COVID-19 that’s going around.”

For over a decade, Greene was a busy actor on Canadian television, and in supporting roles in small features, until 1990’s Dances with Wolves made him not just a familiar face, but a star. He earned an Oscar nomination for playing Kicking Bird, a performance in an English-language film, but not in English. “It took three months to learn the dialogue. I had no idea what I was saying,” Greene recalls, “and I had to learn it phonetically. I’d be running 10 miles a day with my headphones on, listening to the translations, mumbling away in Lakota, and people were looking at me funny. But I got it down.”

It was a tremendous undertaking for firsttime director Kevin Costner. “He did fine,” Greene says. “We stayed out of his way and let him make his decisions. I only questioned him once, [when Kicking Bird] was going nuts looking for a peace pipe. I said, ‘He’s a medicine person. He would never lose a peace pipe. Why do you want me to do that?’ He said, ‘Because it looks good.’ I said, ‘Good enough.’”

Graham Greene (right) had an excellent working relationship with his producer, director, and costar, Kevin Costner (left), in Dances with Wolves, which earned 12 Oscar nominations, and won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. – COURTESY ORION PICTURES –

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