Eugene Brave Rock is the Blackfoot actor from the Blood Tribe in Southern Alberta, who is enjoying world-wide recognition for his role as “Chief,” a.k.a. “Napi,” in Wonder Woman, one of the highest grossing films of 2017. I had the chance to talk with Brave Rock and discuss how his latest role has given him international recognition, including a recent “Headdress Honour Ceremony” bestowed upon him by his own First Nation.
First, we have to include some of his film and TV acting accomplishments like The Revenant, Big Thunder TV series, Blackstone, Tin Star, Klondike and Timeless. Originally, Brave Rock began work in the industry as a movie and TV stuntman but has embraced his acting chops and grown into a fine actor.
The role as “Chief” in the DC Universe Wonder Woman came out-of-the-blue when he was on vacation and his agent contacted him to audition for a role at Warner Brothers studios. When Brave Rock asked his agent details on the part he was told the studio would give him the lines for the character when he arrived in Hollywood for his first reading.
This would be his first film audition with a major Hollywood studio and Brave Rock said he was a bit excited. Not knowing for which film he was reading made the experience even more nerve-wracking.
“I was pretty overwhelmed. I was going to the Warner Brothers studios,” Brave Rock said. “I totally blanked when I read off the script and I thought, ‘Oh well, I screwed that one up.’”
Casting told him he “nailed it” in the audition. Brave Rock said he was surprised they would say that. “Well, I thought, ‘Oh, they were just being nice and that’s probably the last I would hear from them,’” said Brave Rock.
It turned-out Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins liked something in Brave Rock and a second audition was requested and he was offered the role.
“I was completely shocked that I got the role. I then asked what the role was for but they would not initially tell me because it was ‘top secret,’” said Brave Rock.
Eventually he was told he would be “Chief” in the upcoming movie version of Wonder Woman, but that he couldn’t tell anyone he landed the role in the big budget film, not even his wife.
Brave Rock said he enjoyed working with Gal Gadot, the actor who landed the coveted role as the Amazon Princess turned Wonder Woman.
“You know she was amazing, down-to-earth, and it’s so nice to see someone in that position to be just one of the guys and spend time with all the actors; the whole cast had such an awesome time and there was a lot of good vibes on set during filming,” said Brave Rock.
Filming took over seven months in England and other locations in Europe, with four months of straight shooting. Brave Rock says he flew over the Atlantic Ocean ten times to re-shoot scenes but there were no complaints as he enjoyed the process. Plus, he wanted to get his character performance right.
In the film, when Wonder Woman and Chief first meet one another, they talk to each other in the Blackfoot language – Brave Rock’s traditional language and the original language of over 40,000 Blackfoot people from the Blood Tribe, Siksika Nation, Peigan Nation, and from the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. It was the director’s idea to introduce Chief in his Blackfoot language and they both agreed they did not want to stereotype the character even though growing up, when someone called Brave Rock “Chief,” he said “those were fighting words.”
Blackfoot is the only non-English language not subtitled in the film as it is purposely left-out by director Jenkins for dedicated fans to uncover. It didn’t take long. Certain viewers revealed that during their introductions Chief introduced himself as “Napi,” a Blackfoot demi-god.
Napi is the culture hero of the Blackfoot tribe (sometimes referred to as a “transformer” by folklorists). He is a trickster, a troublemaker, and sometimes a foolish person, but he is also responsible for shaping the world the Blackfoot live in and frequently helps the people. Brave Rock revealed on his Twitter that Napi was an actual part of the script.
Is this a big deal? Of course it is. Not only for the character, but also for the overall DC Universe (DCU). It means several things. For starters, it means that Greek Gods are not the only “real” mythological deities in the DCU. Just like in the comics, there are several pantheons out there.
Second, it means that as a demi-god, Chief is ageless, much like Wonder Woman, and could show-up again in a future Wonder Woman film, or maybe another part of the DCU.
In a compelling scene, Wonder Woman asks Chief why he isn’t fighting on either side of the war and Chief replies he doesn’t have anything to fight for. When Wonder Woman asks about that, Chief says that Steve’s people (the white man) took it all from him.
In Hollywood, First Nation people are often portrayed as one of three stereotypes: the savage, Pocahontas, or, the medicine man. However the film industry is beginning to embrace a new kind of First Nation character: authentic, real and still here. Films like Smoke Signals, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance and Fast Runner are embracing the authentic First Nations people. Chief in Wonder Woman is just the beginning.
When asked for the most challenging part of the role, Brave Rock said the role itself was not challenging because he enjoyed every minute of the production, but then added, “The most challenging part was being away from my family; I missed the birth of my son. The attack in Paris, that was a bit scary and tough.”
Brave Rock has always wished to one day be an actor and starring in this blockbuster is something special to him.
“It has been a dream of mine since I was a kid on the reserve to be an actor. There are so many stories of our culture that we can share,” Brave Rock said. “I’ll never forget where I came from. I’ve lived in Forest Lawn (Calgary neighbourhood), Bannock Street in Lethbridge, and of course Kainai (Blood Tribe).”
Now the question is: Will the franchise decide to bring back the character of Chief in Wonder Woman 2 or any other DCU production? This is a question Brave Rock couldn’t answer since there is so much secrecy involved with a sequel.
As for the future, Brave Rock will be in post-production as a stunt performer in an upcoming film. He is enjoying the amazing response to Wonder Woman and how it has ignited his acting career.
“I will take every opportunity that is there, there are so many stories out there,” said Brave Rock.