From “Dances with Wolves” to “The Year of the Dog”; actor Michael Spears brings real-life perspectives | Navajo-Hopi Observer


From big-budget Oscar winners to independent films, actor Michael Spears has been lighting up the screen with his performances since he was on “Dances with Wolves” at age 13.

Spears, Kul Wicasa Oyate Lakota Lower Brulé, can currently be seen in a pivotal episode of “Reservations Dogs,” playing the father of a teenage boy who died by suicide, and in the Western drama “1883” as a Comanche trader.

An upcoming role in the independent film, “Year of the Dog,” found him turning a real-life conversation that appeared in a script into a deeply moving scene in the film.

ICT caught up with Spears on Indigenous Peoples Day while returning from celebrations in his hometown of Bozeman, Montana.

“We had a celebration and a gathering dance and meal with all the Indigenous students and the whole campus and community came out,” he said. “We sang songs and shared music.”

“Year of the Dog” will premiere at the Chelsea Film Festival in New York on Saturday, October 15. The film is produced and directed by Rob Grabow, who also stars in the film as an alcoholic trying to save his life. with the help of Spears and a stray Husky dog.

Spears said he was visibly upset reading an early scene opposite Grabow. Grabow wore a knit beanie with the Atlanta Braves, and it offended Spears in real life and as part of the wardrobe Grabow planned to wear in the movie.

Spears voiced her opposition. It was a revelation for Grabow to learn from a veteran Aboriginal actor, whom he held in high esteem, that the Braves hat, for him an endearing symbol of childhood, had a much darker meaning for Spears.

Determined to right the wrong, Grabow asked Spears to rewrite the scene from an Indigenous perspective. In this scene, Spears drops off the vulnerable Grabow at an AA meeting and tells him not to wear the hat.

“It happened organically and I had to do some rewriting and that’s what you see on screen,” Spears said.

“I had expressed my concern for the images, and in particular the singing and the tomahawk chop and the racial ramifications and the effects it has on me and the children,” he said. “Grabow said, ‘Okay, I got it, and I want to put that front and center here. This is where we are today, with Rob being brave and telling this story and allowing us to be honest in the film.

Spears says the scene was all “improv from the hip there, and we just had a conversation.”

Grabow said it affected him personally and professionally.

“It’s my favorite scene in the movie, and I think it’s also the most powerful scene in the movie on so many levels,” Grabow told ICT. “I found comfort from my childhood watching Braves games on TV, so I was heartbroken when he shared it with me. I was also surprised because he shared it with me. done in such a vulnerable way and that there was no judgment – he shared as sincerely as a human being could share that it was just painful for him. And he didn’t ask for anything in particular, that which also pained me, that it could be considered strange to ask and express this.

Spears has had powerful personal experiences in his other current roles, including as a grieving father on “Reservation Dogs.”

“I’m sure a lot of people can relate to suicide, death, and grief in this process,” Spears said. “It’s something that I unfortunately know very well, between the pandemic and more recently, about a year and a half ago with my own mother, and both of my grandmothers died while I was making these films, so it’s was a tough one.”

Spears said her character is relearning how to relate to the world.

“The particular character of Reservation Dogs, he’s still developing emotionally,” he said. “He’s stopped drinking, but in my opinion he’s emotionally stunted and finds himself waking up to reality, feeling and being able to connect again.”

He continued: “Those two particular roles – it was heavy because I was dealing with the death of family members, processing that grief. I’m grateful to give props to Rob for speaking his truths and to all the writers at Rez Dogs. They have come a long way and know that we have a place at the table and a voice for all the dehumanizing and racist things we have to deal with throughout our lives. Now we have some power behind it.

At 44, Spears said she’s seen the long arc of depiction of Indigenous peoples in movies and believes the power and reach of the internet has increased social awareness at a rapid pace.

“I was one of the lucky ones to have been an actor for so long,” he said. “This generation has become more aware of issues like this. I played outside growing up, and my lives and those of my children are so different. My son installed my computer [and] I’m going up for the first time and watching all the different things he’s put together here. Our technology came in and helped us achieve more cultural integrity, especially in film.

Spears said he has a big year ahead. He will return to “Reservation Dogs” and appear in “1923”, the next episode of “1883” which will feature Harrison Ford.

“In a series with Han Solo!” I can’t beat that!” Spears said. “Even though I’m the old man now. I still can’t play grandpa, but I’m not the 20-year-old warrior anymore.

“It’s going to be a big year with more Indigenous film, writing and music and the nine meters. We are moving forward.