by Stan Griffin
An "Oscar" (Academy Award) barely eluded him in 1990; he received a nomination but did not win. Today actor Graham Greene's many roles in movies and television " ... are having a positive effect in illustrating the many sides of contemporary (current) North American Indian existence." His big break came when he was cast as a major Indian character in the widely acclaimed film "Dances With Wolves," chosen as Best Picture of 1990. Since then, he " ... seems to be an almost omnipresent (everywhere at once) representation of the American Indian." Graham Greene was born in 1953 on the Six Nations Reserve, Ontario, Canada. He is a full-blooded member of the Oneida (oh-NYE-dah) tribe, one of the original Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Even though he was raised on the reservation, his family was not a conventional Indian family. He and his five brothers and sisters were not taught the Indian language or Indian customs. Greene says, "I was brought up without much sense of my Indian heritage ..." John Greene, Graham's father, worked as an ambulance driver and as a maintenance man. Graham describes his childhood as "pleasant"; nevertheless, when he was 16, he dropped out of school and moved on his own to Rochester, New York. There he worked in a carpet warehouse. Two years later Greene returned to school at George Brown College in Toronto, Ontario studying welding. Completing his course, he got a job in Hamilton, Ontario building railroad cars.
During the early 1970s, Greene began working in the music business, first as a "roadie" and sound man. A "roadie" is a member of a crew for a traveling group of musicians or other entertainers whose work usually includes the setting up of equipment.
A small theater group in Toronto invited Greene to join them. It was 1974 when he first appeared on stage; his character was an Indian! For the next few years, he played a lot of minor theater roles.
At the age of 29, Greene and other Indian performers presented "Jessica," an impressive, well-received play about Indian assimilation (the process where a minority adopts the characteristics of the majority--in this case the white--culture). The same year (1982) he got his first movie role in "Running Brave," the story of Indian track star Billy Mills. (Greene played Mills' friend.)
Two years later Greene's father died; he was devastated. It sent him into what he calls his "warrior phase." That part of his life was characterized by "fast cars, guns, and camouflage suits." During the late 1980s when he was in his mid- to late-thirties, Greene managed to get a few small acting roles but eventually was forced to work as a street vendor selling T-shirts.
When Greene read for a part in "Dances With Wolves," actor-director Kevin Costner at first rejected him because with short hair he didn't look "Indian enough." Luckily, Costner called him back, liked what he saw the second time, and give him the role of Sioux medicine man Kicking Bird.
The movie won several Academy Awards, but Greene lost in his bid to be named Best Supporting Actor.
Greene's many film and television credits include the following:
MOVIES: "Thunderheart"; "Clearcut"; "Maverick"; "Die Hard 3"
TELEVISION: "L. A. Law" and "Northern Exposure" on U.S. television. He has also appeared in Canadian TV programs.
As he continues his career, Greene says he is " ... slowly learning what my people were and the traditions behind them." He cited the Iroquois Confederacy as an example: " ... (it) had a very sophisticated structure and political system. Ben Franklin ... used (it) as a model for the U. S. Constitution."
Some of Greene's co-workers have described him and his acting style as follows: (He is) " ... a seasoned professional ..."; (His) " ... low-key style fits the character ... "; (He is) " ... very poised ..."; and (He) " ... established his character's personality first ..."
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