Los Angeles Times recently visited the set of Chaske Spencer’s new film, ‘Winter in the Blood.’ You all know Chaske as Sam Uley in the Twilight Saga movies.
Lead actor, Chaske Spencer studies his script between takes. Photo taken August 16, 2011.
Photo by Patricia Williams/For The Times
Reporting from Havre, Mont. ——
If, as has been said, Montana is a small town with really long streets, that’s never more true than in the remote but stunning area known as the Hi-Line.
Originally created by the tracks of the Great Northern Railway, this region close to the Canadian border features venerable hamlets such as Cut Bank, Shelby and Rudyard (“596 Nice People, One Sorehead”) strung out along U.S. 2 like links in a long and stubborn chain. “When you drive Highway 2,” says Chaske Spencer, shaking his head, “you really go back in time.”
Despite brooding grain elevators dominating the skyline and lonesome freight trains bisecting the endless fields of winter wheat, no one has brought a movie star like Spencer — he plays werewolf Sam Uley, a mainstay of the “Twilight” series — to the Hi-Line in years. Until Alex and Andrew Smith’s “Winter in the Blood,” based on the landmark novel by James Welch and featuring Spencer, “Twilight” colleague Julia Jones, David Morse and Gary Farmer, filmed here this summer.
Brimming with so much vibrant Montana history and connections that the good wishes of the entire state have lined up behind it, “Winter” is the quintessential little film that has used what one crew member called “smoke and mirrors and miracles” to get made. A genuine passion project for everyone it’s touched (including Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who made his plane available to fly in potential financiers and visited the set over the Labor Day weekend), the film got on its feet against considerable odds.
Welch, who died of a heart attack at age 62 in 2003, was a product of the Hi-Line, born in Browning of a Blackfeet father and Gros Ventre mother and raised on the Ft. Belknap Reservation. He put everything he knew about the area and about modern Native American life into “Winter in the Blood,” a landmark debut novel published in 1974.
The story of a nameless young Native American man who struggles with his heritage and his life, who feels “as distant from myself as a hawk from the moon,” “Winter” is a book where not a lot happens but everything is revealed. As costar Farmer explains, raising his outstretched arm ever so slightly, “the character’s arc goes like this, nothing really changes. It’s the audience who grows. I’ve known this author my whole life, and that’s what I love about his writing.”
The book, which has been translated into eight languages and remains in print, was a foundation stone of the literary Native American renaissance and has inspired countless writers, from Louise Erdrich (“what astounded me was that something so familiar could be made into literature”) to Sherman Alexie.
Alexie returned the favor by becoming an associate producer on “Winter in the Blood.” When he spoke at a fundraiser in Missoula, remembers co-screenwriter Ken White, he said that reading the book “was the first time I read a story about myself, the first time I saw my story represented in literature. It gave me permission to speak. It’s why I became a writer.”
White’s co-screenwriters, the twin Smith brothers, have deep Montana connections as well. Born and raised in the state, their first film, the Ryan Gosling-starring Sundance hit “The Slaughter Rule,” was also shot on the Hi-Line, and their mother, writer Annick Smith, was the co-editor (along with William Kittredge) of a renowned anthology of Montana writing, “The Last Best Place.”
More than that, the Smith brothers had been close to Welch for as long as they could remember. “We just grew up knowing him; he was one of the constants in our lives,” says Andrew. A friend of the boys’ parents, Welch even met his future wife, Lois, at a party at the Smiths’ house. Adds Alex, “after our dad, Dave, died [in 1974, when the twins were 6], we looked around at men and wondered, ‘Would he have been a good dad?,’ and Jim was always high up in that category.”
Once the brothers read “Winter in the Blood” in high school, says Alex, “it was, ‘Whoa, this guy who’s been so sweet at Thanksgiving and Christmas has this sadness, this depth he didn’t display all the time.’ He became someone we admired.”
The novel, which features a narrator who deals with the deaths of his father and his beloved brother, haunted the Smiths. Says Alex, “Obviously, we’re not Indians, but we grew up isolated and rural, and we suffered the traumatic loss of a family member.” Adds Andrew, “The book is also about losing a brother, and we had such a tremendous fear of losing each other.”
Despite all these connections, the brothers never thought of filming “Winter in the Blood,” even after the success of “The Slaughter Rule” made them bankable directors. “Maybe,” says Andrew, “we were too close to see it.” Instead, they pitched other ideas and wrote any number of screenplays without anything coming to fruition.
Then in 2007, White, an actor-writer friend of the brothers, house-sat at their mother’s place near Missoula. “I couldn’t sleep that night and opened a copy of ‘Winter in the Blood,’ which I had never read,” White remembers. “At 5 in the morning, I emailed Alex and Andrew and said, ‘Why are you not making this movie?’”
Convincing everyone took awhile, but, says Alex, after years of “getting so close on so many projects that were not getting made, we thought we should go back to how we did it on ‘Slaughter Rule’ and make something close to our hearts.” Not surprisingly, agents and managers said, “‘What? You want to do a period drama that’s 80% Native American?’” Adds Andrew, “They thought it was suicide.”
Read this entire article HERE!
Chaske Spencer (aka Sam Uley) will be at Planet Hollywood Times Square on December 14th for a good cause. Here are all the details you need about the event:
“TWILIGHT” STAR CHASKE SPENCER IS JOINED BY U.S. MARINES FROM THE TOYS FOR TOTS PROGRAM AS HE COLLECTS TOYS FOR UNDERPRIVILEGED KIDS AND HOSTS A HOLIDAY DINNER FOR CHILDREN FROM THE STARLIGHT CHILDREN’S FOUNDATION AT PLANET HOLLYWOOD TIMES SQUARE.
♥ TUESDAY, DECEMBER 14TH
5:00 PM – 6:30 PM
♥ Anyone making a donation of a new, unwrapped toy, will receive an autograph from Chaske and 20% off the purchase of food and non-alcoholic beverages in the restaurant.
Who: Chaske Spencer. Actor and activist Chaske Spencer was born of the Lakota Sioux tribe, and raised on Indian Reservations in Montana and Idaho. He is best known for his role as ‘Sam Uley,’ the alpha male leader of the werewolves, in the popular THE TWILIGHT SAGA film series. NEW MOON premiered on November 20, 2009 with record-breaking numbers and ECLIPSE followed on June 30, 2010. BREAKING DAWN is up next, with details to be released soon by Summit Entertainment.
Dedicated to using his celebrity for good, Spencer has partnered with the non-profit organization United Global Shift in creating an ongoing campaign called “Be the Shift” which empowers people to be the change that they wish to see in their own communities.
Spencer has been an active spokesperson of United Global Shift since 2009. The organization’s mission is to cause a shift in what is possible for humanity, focusing on the environment, employment, entrepreneurship, health and education.
What: This holiday season Chaske Spencer continues to take an active role in changing lives for the better. He will be at Planet Hollywood Times Square performing double duty as he hosts a small holiday dinner (complete with gifts) for children from the Starlight Children’s Foundation and collect toys for underprivileged children.
In conjunction with the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program, Spencer and a pair of Marines will be collecting new, unwrapped toys from anyone interested in donating. As both an added incentive to give and a thank you for your generosity, anyone
making a donation will get an autograph from Spencer and will receive 20% off the purchase of food and non-alcoholic beverages in the restaurant.
Toys For Tots –– The mission of the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year, and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community in which the campaign is conducted.
Starlight Children’s Foundation –– For more than 25 years, Starlight Children’s Foundation has been dedicated to improving the quality of life for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and life-altering injuries by providing entertainment, education and family activities that help them cope with the pain, fear and isolation of prolonged illness.
United Global Shift –– UGS designs and delivers learning in action programs for individuals, non-profits and corporations who are engaged in projects and initiatives to make a real lasting difference. They coach people to design their projects to go beyond the band-aid solutions and actually get to the underlying source of the issues at hand.
Where: Planet Hollywood Times Square – – 1540 Broadway (corner of 45th Street)
When: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 5:00 PM