He grew up in the Cherokee Nation in southern Oklahoma, where Cherokees have dwelt since the Trail of Tears. Just over a century later, Studi was born in a valley named Nofire Hollow, where he also spent his childhood.
He has spent decades fighting Native Americans and seeing his buddies killed, and he has ordered to commit an act of humanitarian relief. The bitter veteran, played by Christian Bale, is tasked with escorting a classic Cheyenne chief, played by Wes Studi back to his house valley to die.
In the film, Studi only speaks a few words of English. His character’s most powerful moments come when he conveys meaning with a gesture or expression.
Studi, 70, is himself Cherokee. He was a Vietnam veteran and a Native American rights activist before he found roles, generally playing Native Americans, in movies such as Dances With Wolves and The Last Of The Mohicans.
“In the beginning, we were pretty much subsistence farmers and hunters,” he says. “As a child, I remember going into town by wagon one time and it was an all-day journey.”
We didn’t have electricity, but we did have relatives who lived above and outside the hollow which we lived in. They had been among the first families in the area, at the Cherokee Nation, to have electricity. And that was the first time I ever saw television, was when I was 4 years old or thereabouts.
And what we did was we trekked 5, 6 miles up from our home to our cousin’s house to watch Saturday night wrestling. Yeah, that was the first we encountered electricity and television and what we consider, you know, a part of this modern world nowadays.
It had been kind of a combo of the aftereffect of Vietnam in ways, in this I won’t say I was hooked or a junkie of adrenaline but, you know, I tried numerous fairly dangerous things simply to kick that off in my brain again. You know, it’s something that I’m afraid I got too utilized to it possibly. … I attempted bull-riding. … I was not good in any way, I do not believe I ever got eight seconds anywhere.
But , I found acting through neighborhood theatre. And what I saw in neighborhood theatre was you could learn your lines and do rehearsals and all that, but ultimately opening night shows up and you are from the wings and I rediscovered that huge wall of fear. And to me, this supplied that amount of excitement and adrenaline rush.
At times, you’re welcome, based on what’s being cast. Dances with Wolves they wanted authentic-looking Indians from the movie, and so they obtained it. The same was true with The Last of the Mohicans and Geronimo.
And I think audiences have begun to wonder more about those characters than just the antagonist part of most Indian films. We were the threat … in many movies. However, [at] that time, filmmakers were beginning to believe that “Wow, well, maybe we can find some real Indians to do this rather than, like, brown-facing actors.”
And therefore it shaped a curiosity by the public to view “So they’re really here still yet, huh? So the genocide we tried on them didn’t work? They’re still around and trying to get into the movie business.”