A brilliant star is rising in Canada and his name is Adam Beach.
After shining in Smoke Signals two years ago, last August he entered a new orbit of fame. He began filming with Nicolas Cage in Windtalkers, a $100-million movie directed by John Woo, who was behind the camera of Mission: Impossible II.
“The craze from it,” he says, “was insane.”
In the movie, Beach plays a Navajo code talker in the Second World War who becomes friends with his bodyguard (Cage). He says getting the part happened quickly. A call came, he flew to Los Angeles, read for the producer and three days later met with Woo.
“That was it.”
Although he speaks Saulteaux, he learned Navajo for the part. And on the set he was getting lessons from an acting coach. He was told not to smile so much, but it’s hard to hide his happy nature.
It’s the first formal training he will have had since he started in the business at age 16. He learned on the job and relied on instinct to give his comic and touching performance in Smoke Signals and for his powerful roles in The Last Stop, and Dance Me Outside.
Orphaned at age 7
Beach’s journey toward stardom has been awesome. A Saulteaux born on the Dog Creek reserve north of Lake Winnipeg, Beach, 27, was orphaned at age seven when his mother was killed by a drunk driver and his father drowned two months later.
He was taken in by an uncle and aunt for the next five years, then moved in with another uncle and aunt, who adopted him and raised him in Winnipeg.
Now living in Ottawa with his wife and two sons, aged 4 and 2, Beach talks openly about the hardships of his childhood.
“I will always have that reflection to the past: the hurt and pain and anger. But I’ve learned to overcome it with love for people, love of myself and to achieve my goal of being the greatest actor I can be ‹ not the greatest ‹ but within myself to become a good actor.”
“Now I’m in the position to go: What mountain am I climbing now? There’s no stereotype. I am who I am.”
Along with Windtalkers, Beach starred in a comedy with David Spade and Christopher Walken. In The Adventures of Joe Dirt, Spade plays “a young, white trash guy” who wants to find out whether his parents really died or whether they abandoned him as a baby.
Beach is enlisted by Spade as his Indian tracker. Beach says his character tries to make a living by selling fireworks but they’re cheap fireworks and he and Spade blow up a lot of stuff.
A proud stereotype
Beach talks head-on about the perception by some people that he might end up playing stereotyped native roles.
“I am Indian. I am Saulteaux. I’m native. I am aboriginal, whatever word they have. That’s who I am and I’m not letting anybody use that in a negative way. When people say, ‘Adam, do you feel you’re stereotyped in a film?’ I say, ‘No, because I am Indian. I am proud of who I am.’
When I’m doing an Indian running in the woods, I am proud of doing that because that is a part of our life. When I’m playing an Indian cop trying to solve a murder, I am an Indian cop and I’m proud of who I am. So, stereotype to me? There’s no stereotype. I am who I am.”
While on the edge of potential international stardom, Beach already has mapped out his retirement. He says he’ll act another 20 years and then get into politics. For now, he goes into schools to speak to native children, trying to show them by example that dreams can be achieved.
Native youth don’t give a damn about land claims
Beach’s dream is to take the small organizations across Canada that are trying to create a positive awareness for native people, especially the youth, and gather them under an umbrella group to make them stronger.
“They’ve been taught to fight for the biggest piece of pie among themselves,” he says passionately, with growing frustration in his voice. He wants to create an environment in which they would share resources and power more equitably.
He’s disgusted with both the federal government and native leadership, but he’s particularly impatient with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) for not paying more attention to aboriginal youth.
“About 70 per cent of the native population is under 25 years of age and nobody is doing anything to support that. They’re attempting to keep the younger generation under control. There’s the whole structure that’s been built over the years, of land claims, that just doesn’t work anymore.”
He says the young native generation doesn¹t give a damn about land claims. He thinks it would be better to delay settling because when the younger people come of age they “will be 50 times more educated” than their elders and could get better deals.
Back to school
In the next few years, Beach wants to work on his own education ‹ he quit school while in Grade 11 to act ‹ and get a degree in political science. He is at times poetic in his speech, with moments of lightning clarity and away from a tape recorder he is a natural speaker.
But when he talks in a situation where he thinks what he’s saying counts, as in an interview, he knows he sometimes struggles to find the right word. He’s bothered by that, by what he sees as a limitation, and is determined to learn how to express himself better.
“I want to be, not a grand chief, but I want to be able to be a guy with a voice, which I already have with the (native) youth across Canada.”
He wants to use the voice his fame has given him to push for change from the “old-school” thinking of organizations like the AFN.
“I feel I’m destined for something, and it’s greater than the acting because the acting is an occupation. I want to push farther and a lot of that pushing is going to be going against the grain.”
Ready for change
But before he walks away from acting he wants to get on a television series to fight negative images of natives. It would be American, of course, because that would expose him to a wider audience.
Canadian shows, such as North of 60, which Beach appeared on, limit themselves, he says. Asked what they need most to improve, he bursts out laughing and answers quickly: “A budget.”
He says he’s made his career by not falling into the “I can’t” way of thinking that holds people back from making their lives happier and more complete. In this next phase of his life, he will likely journey well through the changes he faces by doing what he believes in: “Just following my heart.”
For information on Adam Beach’s upcoming movie roles, visit the Internet Movie Database.