6 Questions With “THE RED ROAD” Actor Wes Studi
THE RED ROAD star Wes Studi (Chief Levi Gall) recently sat down with us to talk about how his life parallels his character’s and whether we can expect a RED ROAD cast album with Jason Momoa, Kiowa Gordon and Allie Gonino anytime soon. Read the full interview below:
Q: What was your first impression of THE RED ROAD before joining the cast this season?
A: Well, I liked the whole concept of the Lenape, you know, a state-recognized tribe but not a federally recognized tribe. It’s a tribe that one hardly ever hears of. Most of them, we think they’re Delawares, but they’re actually, I guess, an older wing of the Delaware people who have moved out West. I thought it was good to bring these people to light.
Q: We learn at one point that Levi used to be an activist. Do you imagine your own background in Native American rights would bear much resemblance to his?
A: One informs the other simply because, having had the experience of working with and amongst activists of the ’60s and ’70s, I actually know people who have done pretty much the same thing as my character Levi Gall did. It was a matter of putting into effect sovereignty. That was the idea back in the activist days, and by the time Levi Gall is building casino, it’s an actual practice.
Q: Do any other RED ROAD characters remind you of yourself?
A: Tamara Tunie’s character has also been involved in the activism of the day. There are many people walking around to this day who are very much like her character in that [they're] clinging to the traditional ways while also beginning to adopt and use more progressive ways, if you will. That’s very much the case with many activists from back in the day.
Q: You played a very different kind of chief in Hell on Wheels, set in the 19th century. In which era do you find the top job more challenging?
A: I think it’s just as challenging in the modern day as it was then. Just given that the stakes were higher back then than perhaps they are now, it depends on how you look at the world of the economy. While actual, physical lives were a great matter back in the day of the Hell on Wheels chief that I played, now it’s more like financial lives—reputations and social status that are put at risk with what the chief Levi Gall purports to do. I don’t think the stakes are any different, just perhaps the measure of them are different.
Q: You’ve been in practically every major movie on the subject of Native Americans since Dances With Wolves; how has the depiction of Native Americans changed over your career?
A: I think that the viewing public has been pleased with the fact that producers, directors, storytellers in the film world are open to the idea of portraying Native Americans as real and viable parts of their environment. And I think the greatest beneficiary were the audiences as well as those of us who are involved in the acting part of filmmaking. It’s like the old adage, “You’re only as good as your last picture.” The hopes that you have, that your picture will be successful, means that you’ll be able to make another one and essentially when it comes to Native American content, I think that works itself right into that adage. So if you make a good film that has Native American content, then the call is going to be for more of it. It’s a cyclical thing.
Q: THE RED ROAD set is pretty musically inclined—Allie Gonino and Kiowa Gordon are both musicians, and you have a band called Firecat of Discord. Any hope for a RED ROAD jam band?
A: Yeah, that sounds good! Actually, during Paloma, Jason [Momoa] was showing me a little bit about slide guitar. I haven’t really had a chance to practice what he taught me. But yeah, if there’s any possibility, I’m up for it.