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