Apparently, no one told Wes Studi that he might not see the same movie he shot when working with director Terrence Malick. In their first collaboration, Wes plays Opechancanough, a Native American in The New World.
It’s the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, how they met, and how the British Army took over the land of Jamestown, Virginia in the early 1600’s. The film stars Colin Farrell as Smith and newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas. And late in the film, Christian Bale makes an appearance as John Rolfe.
As Christian pointed out in our earlier interview, working with Malick is something an actor chooses to do. There is a chance that you may not make it into the movie, or if you do, it might be in a very minor role.
Well, I would have to say, for Wes Studi, this will be the only time he will choose to work with Malick. I was still not quite sure who Wes played in the film until after we spoke with him in press for the film.
Wes walked into our room and was in a great mood; he made a joke about our recorders being offerings. He sat down and the first question was he was jealous of the lack of ‘artsy narration’ his character had in the film. His response was “Jealous is not the word;” that was followed by very subtle laughter and a very distraught exhale.
Immediately, it felt uncomfortable in the room; mainly on his part. He never really answered the question that was asked. He started talking about his work with a group out of Santa Fe on the revitalization of indigenous languages throughout the world. A member of the organization spent a long time studying former words used by Indians back in the 1600’s.
His response to that question was, “I have to tell you I’m a bit disappointed that so much of that particular re-invented language was used in the film. Because there is a lot of dialogue missing in this theatrical release, that perhaps will be on the DVD, which is another 30 minutes or so; that is what Terrence is working on right now. A lot of effort was put into the re-creation of this language, as well as (deep sigh) around the Indian community, it was touted as having a lot to do with that language and the use of it.”
He was our first interview of the day for the film; we had no idea of how he felt, no one warned us. So it was really a big surprise for us to hear one of the stars of the film not as enthused about it as we would have expected. We were all shocked, we talked about it after he left the room (but that wasn’t for another 15 minutes).
His opinion of the film didn’t get much better, and still he was on the first question. “I was disappointed in what I saw, not only because a lot of my scenes are on the cutting room floor, but not a lot of use of that language.”
Wes talked about the film being less about the Native Americans and more about a love story. He joked that he’s more of an action guy and his character only had one battle scene, even though they shot several violent battles.
“He shoots some really great grass.” Yep, he actually said that sentence, talking about Malick. We all laughed a lot, but I don’t think Wes was really laughing inside. I really feel he was hurt by the snub of his native people in this film.
Terrence Malick decided to film in Jamestown, Virginia where the actual events took place. I had to know what that meant for Wes to be in the area shooting this movie. He definitely felt close to playing this role. “In reality, my character, Opechancanough, almost succeeded in burning that down. That was the only settlement that withstood an attack that wiped out six other villages in the area right after Powhatan died. Opechancanough got everyone together, and within three hours, he wiped out six villages simultaneously. Jamestown had gotten word that Ope and the boys were going to flatten them out and they were more prepared and Jamestown was the only one that wasn’t wiped out.”
The producers cast Q’Orianka Kilcher for the lead; at the time of the production, she was only 14 years old. Of course, acting opposite Colin Farrell and Christian Bale meant a very big age gap for a love story. Wes weighed in on his opinion on that fact. “Well, I knew that would cause repercussions, for sure. I feel mainly for Colin because he’s this 30 year old man with a 14 year-old child. But on film, on the other hand, it was the 1600’s and it was totally normal for 12 year-olds â€“ they were women and 12 year-old boys were men; things have changed. That was the reality of the time and we were doing it about this time. But I think a 14 year-old is capable of it, though; it’s probably more of a problem that we, as adults, have about their ability to put up with that strain and stress. And she worked hard; I don’t know what days off she had, if any. But she’s tough; this girl is tough.”
The last question for Wes was something he kind of wanted to hear (which was good for us). Since this film was the same love story between John Smith and Pocahontas, it really never told the real story of the Native American people. Wes was asked what it would take for that to be told; he basically said for him to take control. “What it would take is for me to edit it. But I don’t think they’ll ever let me into an editing booth.”
He really did put his feelings of the film in perspective by saying, “People are either going to love it or not; it’s a beautifully shot film. He then took another deep sigh and gave his true feelings, “It’s just not my cup of tea.”
The New World opens in theaters January 13th; it’s rated PG-13, get more here.