I couldn’t sleep the night before. I tossed and turned, varying between “this-always-makes-me-fall-asleep” thoughts, and rehearsing questions for Chaske Spencer in my head. I couldn’t imagine what he would be like, despite having seen his films. Tall, sure. But his face, his skin, how his hair would look – I couldn’t figure it out. He was so natural on screen, but that presence seemed impossible to translate into a living, breathing man. And I spent so long working to get an interview with him, I was nervous. It started as a seed of an idea…but once planted, I could never have given up until it happened.
The entire week preceding the interview, I worked on a totemic beadwork piece I wanted to make for Chaske. Beaded in traditional coastal style, with a curling tail and crouched paws, it was a wolf meant to commemorate Chaske’s work in Twilight, the film series that made his name. I didn’t plan to lead with the wolf. I was honestly just trying to not let myself say, “Wow. Lovely. Wow. It’s so lovely to meet you, wow,” when I saw him, that I didn’t markedly plan the wolf-gift, which is probably why I was reaching into my purse within moments of seeing him and foisting it on him (to his mildly incredulous surprise).
Here’s how we met: he was hanging out at the Lewis and Clark State College before some of his panels, and I was standing with a professor and colleague, fangirling to someone who knew him — a big, tall guy who seemed perpetually amused.
“I’m not going to freak out,” I told him. “Under absolutely no circumstances will I be freaking out. I’m not actually nervous at all,” I added, fanning myself with one hand. “Literally, though, I did not sleep at all last night.”
I took a nervous gulp of coffee.
“But actually, he’s perfect,” I said. “I don’t think I can actually do this.”
The man laughed. “I think he just went outside,” he said. “Walking around here somewhere.”
I nodded as though this information meant nothing to me. If I had it my way, I would skulk off into the bluffs to live with the horse people and never be seen or heard from again.
“Come on. Let’s go see where he went,” the man said.
“No, I don’t think…”
“He’s just this way.”
“Actually, I’m just gonna…”
And he and my companion led the way.
“Oh my stars,” I said. “Oh, my stars. This is happening. This is happening.”
I was pretty sure I would hyperventilate. We walked out the side college door and I knew that I would see him within moments. The sun was shining yellow and there was a cool breeze and the grass was green and I was probably going to lose my mind.
“Okay. Be cool. Be cool,” I said. Be a professional, I told myself. He’s just a normal human being. Do not fangirl. And for the love of all that is holy, do not, under any circumstances, say ‘wow.’
I had good reason for being so excited. Three weeks prior, I saw Winter in the Blood, Chaske’s 2013 independent film. WITB was made in conjunction with Alex and Andrew Smith, twin directors and Sundance darlings of The Slaughter Rule fame (starring Feminist Ryan Gosling). Winter in the Blood, with its edgy, non-chronological scenes, atmospheric shots, and landscape cinematography, tells the story of Virgil, a Blackfeet Indian who lost his father, First Raise, ten years past, and who struggles with memories of his brother, Mose, whose absence is a visceral presence in the film. Humorous and absolutely devastating, Winter in the Blood is an ultimately, and perhaps surprisingly redemptive narrative about an Indian man who struggles with masculinity, rage, alcoholism, relationships, and identity. And I freaking loved it. I went home after viewing it and assigned the film to my students. I thought about it all weekend and watched it again. I tried to understand what it meant to me in the context of my own family, my own grandfather, dead these twenty-five years, of similar causes to First Raise, and the way his sudden death impacted his sons and daughters — and by extension, me. I thought about addiction, genetics, and about my own writing. It was as if I could believe, for perhaps the first time, that one could tell a Native American story that was authentic, true, and could make one believe redemption was possible.
I couldn’t get the movie out of my mind. I slept on it for a few days, and then I decided to fly to New York to meet Chaske.
I knew as soon as I decided to meet Chaske that nothing would stop me. I believed, from the moment I made up my mind, that it would happen. And as it turned out, I didn’t even have to fly across the entire continental United States to do it. But getting ahold of him wasn’t a cakewalk. When I started digging for Chaske’s contact info, I found nothing. Not on twitter, nor his Facebook, nor on any of his official websites. I strategized for more creative solutions. My professor, I thought, knew Alex Smith, Chaske’s director. I sent her an email, asking her to forward it to Alex, who could forward it along. Alex probably liked me, I figured, because I drew him a beautiful depiction of a horse the day he came to visit my class, with the inspiring caption, “Bird farted” (you maybe had to be there).
The staff at Four Winds love Winter in the Blood so much, and having done some research on Chaske, we’ve noted that he does a lot of non-profit work with Native American youth, storytelling, photography, artwork, and film, which we feel is super applicable to our next magazine, the Young Blood edition of Four Winds for Summer 2015.
With that having been said, we’d really like to interview Chaske on his artistic and writing process, and his vision for young Native America. The thing is, it’s really hard to find contact info for him, and I don’t just want to tweet him asking him. Can you forward this to Alex Smith so maybe Alex can pass it along? Or do you have any ideas for how to get ahold of him?
Her response to me was more than I could have expected:
Yes, I just spoke to his agent yesterday. I will send you her number– her name is Emily Gipson.
He’ll be in Lewiston speaking on acting and empowerment during our Spring break.
Me? I kept my cool, as I always do.
OH MY GOSH I COULD GO TO THAT.
I COULD GO TO THAT AND INTERVIEW HIM.
EXCUSE ME WHILE I HAVE A HEART ATTACK OF SHEER UNPERTURBED HAPPINESS.
The next day, I send a text message to Emily. And so the wild roller-coaster of emotions began.
Six days and /cough/ seven messages later, Emily responded.
Several more days and a few emails later, I got the news I had been waiting for.
My joy was unbounded. I would be able to meet the actor who had inspired so much passion in me for film (I never really cared about film before), for new and dynamic storytelling forms, and ask him the kinds of questions I’d been dreaming about, from things as simple as, “Tell me some memories of your childhood,” to [re:Twilight] , “What was it like acting out a white woman’s fantasy of Native Americans, and how did you take that role from a stereotype to a living, breathing Indigenous character?”
But as the days got closer, I started getting nervous, and my tweets became increasingly frantic
For having been planning this meeting for weeks and gunning hard to get the interview, I was sure freaking out when it came right down to it. And then, the big man with kind eyes was leading my colleague and I outside, and I knew within moments it would happen, I would see him, he would come around the corner, dark skin and dark eyes, his hair boyish in his face, alone and unperturbed. His friend would thrust his chin at him, and Chaske would smile and hop down the stairs to us. He would be tall and larger-than-life, thin and tan. He would smile when being introduced, look at me with recognition and say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.” He would reach a hand out to shake mine, and I would cup it between both my hands the way I do, and he would be warm and kind and so handsome and impossibly distant.
And I would lead with the wolf.
watch for the interview with Chaske Spencer, to be published in June 2015