August 14, 2008

All about Misty Upham

Former Seattle actress Misty Upham finds a great role in "Frozen River"In the film, Lila (Upham) and Ray (Leo) are not so much friends as conspirators, drawn into the illegal world of immigrant smuggling. Lila lives on a Mohawk reservation in upstate New York, near the Canadian border, and there's money to be made by ferrying Chinese and Pakistani immigrants across the frozen St. Lawrence River that represents both an international boundary and a lawless no man's land.

Upham found her character to be a rarity: "a Native American woman who's not in buckskin. She's complex, she has depth and [she's not] standing in the background looking stoic. That's what I loved about this film." She plays Lila with a quiet, carefully controlled determination. "The Mohawk women, the way they hold themselves that's so reserved, that's definitely Lila's main strength."
Some background on Upham:For Upham, the role of Lila is the latest in a film career that took her by surprise. Born in Montana, she moved to Seattle with her family at the age of 8. "I went to high school all over King County," she said—Auburn, Federal Way, Renton, home-schooling. As a young teenager, she began acting with the Native American theater group Red Eagle Soaring (Upham's tribal heritage is Blackfeet); other early training was with the Young Shakespeare Workshop and Freehold Theatre, among others.

Her break came not long after high school, at a showcase at Seattle's Nippon Kan Theatre. "I wrote my own play and directed it and acted in it," Upham remembered. "Somebody in the audience filmed it and sent it to a casting director in L.A. She called the next day and asked me to submit a portfolio. I was so green, I didn't have a portfolio."

Within a month, Upham had an agent and her first movie role, in Chris Eyre's 2002 drama "Skins," set on a South Dakota reservation. Steady work in television and movies followed, including a role in Rick Stevenson's 2006 made-in-Seattle comedy "Expiration Date."

Upham, who says she misses Seattle ("I'd move back to Seattle in a second if I could get the work"), hopes her work in "Frozen River" will bring her more visible roles. But she's not taking any chances—currently she's at work writing a thriller in which she'll star. "I'm writing my own stuff, because there's just not quality work out there for the type of actress I am," she said. "I want [roles] that a Native American could be that have nothing to do with the fact that I'm Native."
Frozen River--Melissa Leo and Misty Upham on Stereotypes

Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

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