Join us for a Career Retrospective with Wes Studi
Moderated by Azia Celestino
With thanks to the National Native Americans Committee
From small-town Oklahoma native to internationally acclaimed actor and musician, Wes Studi credits his passion and multi-faceted background for his powerful character portrayals that forever changed a Hollywood stereotype.
Drawing from his rich life experience, Wes moved audiences with unforgettable performances in DANCES WITH WOLVES, THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, GERONIMO: AN AMERICAN LEGEND, and HEAT, as well as James Cameron's AVATAR and Paul Weitz’s BEING FLYNN. Most recently Wes starred opposite Christian Bale in the critically acclaimed HOSTILES, directed by Scott Cooper, with whom Wes is collaborating on another project this fall. Breaking new ground, he brought fully-developed Native American characters to the screen, and then took his craft a step further, highlighting the success of Native Americans in non-traditional roles.
In 2013, he was inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Hall of Great Western Performers. Throughout his 30-year career he’s won numerous awards, including several First Americans in the Arts awards and the 2009 Santa Fe Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award.
Interestingly, acting was never a goal in Wes’ youth. Unlike many actors who dive into performing at an early age, he discovered acting later in life.
Wes first took the professional stage in 1984 with “Black Elk Speaks” and has never looked back. As his success grew on stage, he expanded to productions for Nebraska Public Television in the summer of 1985. Not long after, he moved to Los Angeles, landing his first film role in POWWOW HIGHWAY and making his TV debut in a small role in the ABC TV-movie LONGARM in 1988.
In 1990, Wes portrayed a terrifyingly memorable Pawnee warrior in DANCES WITH WOLVES. Two years later he landed the role of Magua in Michael Mann’s THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, the performance that put him on the map.
Wes drew on his own combat training, anger and sense of enforced isolation for his riveting depiction of the vengeful Magua. He soon became known for his film roles portraying strong Native American characters as he strove to portray them with poignancy and authenticity.
Wes went on to play the title character in the Walter Hill-directed film GERONIMO: AN AMERICAN LEGEND (1993) alongside veteran actors Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall, for which he won a Western Heritage Award. He also made memorable appearances in such films as HEAT (1995) as Al Pacino's partner, DEEP RISING (1998) and MYSTERY MEN (1999). In 2002, he brought legendary character Lt. Joe Leaphorn to life for a series of PBS movies produced by Robert Redford and based on Tony Hillerman's books SKINWALKERS, COYOTE WAITS, and A THIEF OF TIME.
Wes’ other notable film credits include: THE ONLY GOOD INDIAN, which he also produced, THE NEW WORLD, STREET FIGHTER, SERAPHIM FALLS, THREE PRIESTS, and such prestigious television movies as CRAZY HORSE, COMANCHE MOON, STREETS OF LAREDO, BROKEN CHAIN and BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE. His television credits include PENNY DREADFUL, THE RED ROAD, THE MENTALIST, HELL ON WHEELS, and General Abner in KINGS.
Wes remains a passionate activist and academic. He’s taken a national leadership role in the promotion and preservation of indigenous languages, acting as the spokesperson for the Santa Fe-based Indigenous Language Institute, and working as a language consultant on several films, including AVATAR and the PBS documentary WE SHALL REMAIN. He’s also active in encouraging the next generation of film makers and performers, providing mentorship and participating in apprenticeship programs.