Adam Beach, perhaps best known for his notable roles in featured films like “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Windtalkers,” stars as Charles Eastman in HBO’s new epic movie event, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, which premieres this Sunday, May 27th, explores the tragic impact that the United States’ westward expansion had on American Indian culture, and the economic, political and social pressures that motivated it.
Adam took some time to sit down with BuddyTV a few weeks back to talk about the HBO film and his role as Charles Eastman. Read the full interview transcript or listen to the mp3 audio below.
BuddyTV: This is Royce from BuddyTV and I’m here with Adam Beach who stars as Charles Eastman on HBO’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee premiering Sunday, May 27th. How’s it going, Adam?
Adam Beach: Hey it’s going good, Royce. How about you?
I’m doing well. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, Adam.
Hey pleasure’s mine. Just wanna say hi to the fans and hopefully this gives them enough information and go watch the film.
So Adam, maybe you could start off by telling us a little about your background and how you got started in the whole acting business?
Well I started acting in high school. Me and my friends decided that the only class we can all participate in was drama and we ended up liking it because we’d create these skits where we’d just basically just beat each other up and it was okay. Then after a year, they left to another school. I stayed and I really liked it and you know, then ventured on to professional theater.
You’ve done a lot of work both in film and television and you’ve had some notable roles in both genres. Do you prefer one over the other?
Yeah I prefer feature film because there’s time that’s involved in doing a feature where you can really, you know, focus on small details of a character on how he sits or moves and really find a certain fluidity with that character. In television, there’s not enough time, you know. You have to do this, do that, get out of there as fast as you can so you have to just be more aware of those little things and try to introduce it to yourself because on television they don’t focus on that much.
Some of your most well known work has involved Native American story lines and characters. Do you feel like you’ve been somewhat pigeon-holed to play only these types of roles, or has your experience proved otherwise?
No, I’ve chosen to choose my own path, create my own characters or you know, answer to them and I really find that I have a valuable asset, with the depths of who I am as an American-Indian to really share with the world our perceptive, our perception of the world out there, you know. And it’s been a good thing for me to have that. And I don’t place myself in a place where I can be pigeon-holed because I’m always trying to evolve as an actor, as a person, as a human being. So I don’t think I’ll ever get put into that situation.
How did you land your role on as Charles Eastman on Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and what were your initial thoughts when you first read the script?
Well I went in for a meeting that ended up into an audition that followed through with getting into the film. When I read the script, I thought they did a wonderful job into sending out the message of the incident of Wounded Knee but also the factors that went and were involved in trying to assimilate the Indian and it’s a very strong piece that really gives our strength back to the spirit of the Indian.
Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee is based on Dee Brown’s best seller. For those who may not be altogether familiar with Brown’s documentation of events leading out to the Wounded Knee massacre, can you tell us a little about the storyline for this film?
Yeah the storyline takes place after Wounded Knee, after the massacre, on how the government relations toward the Sioux and how they were trying to work towards finding a way to get the rich lands that had gold but in the same time try to negotiate a decent deal with American-Indians, the Lakota people and it turned out that greed wanted over and they didn’t really value the cultural standpoint of the Lakota nation. And there’s the side story of Charles Eastman’s character where he was assimilated and educated in the white society and brought back to work together with Senator Dawes to create the reservation system and to help them work towards living a more civilized lifestyle that was more accepted with the society at that time.
I think I read somewhere that your character, Charles Eastman, is actually an added character and was not in Dee Brown’s original story. Is that correct?
That’s correct. Charles Eastman was a book in itself on his own but he was involved with the similarities that Dee Brown was talking about and how the assimilation of the Indian took place and you know it’s a great addition because it gives a personal look into that assimilated life that Charles Eastman was a part of.
What would you say has been the most challenging part about playing your character Charles?
The most challenging was finding the strength in him because for some reason I was catering to the idea of playing the victim, “Oh poor me! Poor me! They’ve done this to me.” And what we wanted to find, what the director wanted to find was the strength in Charles, how he survived through leaving home and having to learn through the education of the whites and come back home to try to help balance the two cultures from the white to the Indian people. And for me, finding that strength was very difficult because you know, I was finding myself easily gravitating to the idea of him being a victim to all of this, you know. When in reality he was strong enough to push through all the attitudes against Indians at the time.
Did you find that your own personal experiences were feeding into your work? You know, playing this character?
Well yeah, I always feel this something personally that I bring in, you know. Obviously I’ve felt like I’ve been a loner over the last ten years you know, pushing through, trying to make myself heard and seen in the Hollywood land, you know, pursuing a dream that a lot of people said didn’t exist, you know? That there’s too many barriers and doors to break down to be successful in the place I stand now, you know? So I’ve kinda broken those barriers, same with Charles Eastman, I think he surprised a lot of people, being very educated and turning out to be a doctor but then also having a white wife at the time you know, it’s like breaking all the rules.
So are you currently still filming or has everything been completed?
It’s all done, it airs on the 27th of May and hopefully everybody in turn will like it.
What was it like shooting this film? Maybe you can tell the fans a little bit about what went on behind the scenes and what that experience was like?
Well there’s a lot of depth involved in these characters cause there’s so much tragedy at this time. In the late 1800s it was hard for American-Indians to protect their identity and their culture. Everybody was trying to force it out of them. And I found that you know, one of my first days working with Eddie Spears who was playing my helper his name was Chasing Crane and I found Eddie was having a tough time emotionally because he is Lakota and when we do a scene where his daughter…his character’s daughter was dying, and seeing you know, the Lakota people dying from Wounded Knee, you could see that he was experiencing the ghosts of his ancestors. And that when he would cry, it would really hurt him and he’s having to experience this over again. And I found myself drawn to the fact that when I started working with everybody it was like they were all ghosts to me, you know? Pretty powerful.
What would you say the message is that you hope to convey through this film? What do you want your audience to walk away with after they’ve been able to experience this film?
Well I want the natives, people to come out of it, getting their strength, their spirit back because it shows that they resisted rightful deaths, you know? And it’s something strong to say that you know, “I value myself, my identity, who I am as an Indian person.” And I want just people in general to just know that this is historic, you know. It’s something that needs to be shared with the world because there’s a lot of tragedy back in those days with the government relations toward American Indians and it’s a harsh reality but we need to tell those stories. We need to represent and give an honest image to our history.
Do you have any other projects in the works that you’d like your fans to be aware of?
Well I’m a new regular on Law & Order: SVU. I’m in the season finale on May 22nd and come September I’ll be on it every week and my character’s Brooklyn SVU Detective hired to work in Manhattan now. I’ll be Ice’s new partner and they’ll be looking forward to someone who’s being geared towards being cool, witty, and just you know, deeply embedded with the history of New York City.
Well thanks again, Adam, for your time and you know from all of us at BuddyTV, we just want wish you the best of luck.
Hey thanks, BuddyTV.
(Interview conducted by Royce Yuen)
(Photo credit: Annabel Reyes/HBO)