Wes Studi, who is currently starring opposite Dale Dickey in the light romantic drama A Love Song, has seen his career journey take him from small-town Oklahoma native to internationally acclaimed actor and musician. Studi credits his passion and multifaceted background for powerful character portrayals that forever changed a Hollywood stereotype. Drawing from his rich life experience, Studi moved audiences with unforgettable performances in Dances with Wolves, The Last of the Mohicans, Geronimo: An American Legend, Heat, Avatar, Being Flynn and Hostiles. Breaking new ground, he brought fully developed Native American characters to the screen, and then took his craft a step further by highlighting the success of Native Americans in nontraditional roles. In 2019, Studi received the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governors Award, an Oscar® statuette given to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement.
Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the current theatrical release of A Love Song, the new two-hander starring Dale Dickey and Wes Studi, the veteran actor shared some of the things that mean the most to him in life. — N.D.
Believing What You’re Saying as An Actor
At the start of my acting career, I had a moment when I realized I was able to control my response to people trying to distract me when I was on stage. How it came about was, I was doing a play called Royal Hunt of the Sun. We’d been in rehearsals and had finally gotten to the point of the dress rehearsal. I was on a raised level of the stage, and across the way were two young women who I knew as acquaintances and friends. As I was on stage delivering a soliloquy on what life is all about, they were sitting in the audience, right in my eyeline. They were wearing short skirts and started throwing one knee over the other. But in that moment, as I was performing my role, I saw that I could totally block out the distraction with my mind. I marveled at the fact that I could keep on going with this by simply concentrating, focusing on my belief in the speech I was giving.
I think it’s one of the better lessons that I’ve learned on my own, how an actor needs to believe what he’s saying in order to convince the audience that he’s in the present and for real. If you can do that, everything will work as it should. Over the years, as I’ve done other projects, I’ve always gone back to that mindset. Because if you don’t believe your own words, the camera’s not going to believe them and the audience is not going to believe them. As an audience member, it’s easy to suss out someone who doesn’t believe what they’re saying. For that reason, the idea of phoning it in is not in my repertoire.
I love having a relationship with a horse, which is something you have to work to develop, especially if it’s one that you ride all the time. I have a little mare named Chloe, who is the first living being I see every day after I get up. Each morning, I go straight to the barn to feed her. Many times, I can suss out how she’s feeling that day, how her health is or just her attitude at a particular time. On any given day, it’s going to be different. Having known her since she was born, I’ve learned how she responds and how she reacts to different stimuli. Over the years, she’s taught me a lot about myself, as well. It really goes beyond just a person sitting on a horse riding, getting and giving cues. It’s almost like our minds connect, like a telepathic thing. For example, I’ll be going straight down the road, and then all of a sudden, I want to turn left 20 yards ahead. And when I decide I’m going to turn left, either my body or maybe my mind makes a communication with the animal. It’s something that people have described as becoming of one mind with the animal. It’s something that is so therapeutic, as you’re able to communicate through either movement, lack of movement or a communication that doesn’t require dialogue. It’s a magical thing. It’s a mystery. And I just accept the fact that it exists, and enjoy it.
I lived on ranches as a kid, so I grew up around horses since I was five or six years old. They’ve always been a part of my life, one way or another. I learned early on that they all have their own personalities and own ways of dealing with human beings. Some will embrace you, others will stay away from you. Some will just absolutely reject you or run away from you. But they all have a way of dealing with us, and they do it with body language and body posture. If you pay attention to it, it you to make your way around them in a safe way.
Humans are not that different from horses. One of the things I’ve learned about most horses is, one of the best ways to get them to come to you is to turn away from them, because they’ll begin to wonder, “What in the world is going on here? I’m going to go find out …” Most of them are just naturally curious and human beings can be that way as well. I think it all comes together, one way or another.
Making People Laugh
I love to make people laugh. I think it’s a matter of looking for affirmation that you’re capable of being likable. You can make people laugh with either a quick quip or a statement. It’s about finding a spontaneous remark that gets a good laugh, of being witty or playing with words. It’s much more pleasant to look at a face when it’s smiling or laughing. The beauty of people comes out in a well-intended laugh. I appreciate absurdity and irony in a conversation, and I get a good laugh at how absurd we can be at times.