Interview : Adam Beach

On playing a role model in “Flags of Our Fathers”


In his latest film, actor Adam Beach (“Smoke Signals”, “Windtalkers”) gets to play a role model – something he says, as a father, isn’t unknown territory for him.

Growing up, did you know about Ira Hayes?

Well, yeah. I think everybody knows about Ira Hayes. For Native Americans, regarding to World War II, there are two iconic images: the codetalkers and Ira Hayes, the flag-raiser. Those are the two images. I was at a youth conference, and I came upon a painting, and it had the codetalkers, and Ira and the flag, and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I represent those images. I put my head down. Yes, there is a huge responsibility in that. To be a part of what our people look up to as, as an honor of making what America is today. For me, playing Ira was a meaningful relationship, I would call it – trying to find out how he was, or how he thought and felt. Ryan Phillippe put it best. We did the scene on a train and I was crying, and he said, ‘Adam, this is the first time that I have ever seen an Indian who’s just a human being. I’ve always watched movies and there’s this stoic Indian. You should be proud because you’re actually showing him as a human being with true emotions.’ And I was like, ‘Ah, cool. Okay.’ And I just saw the film a couple of days ago, and I’m still numb by the effect of it because the nations of my people are going to be ready to take a huge step. I think it’s going to give a lot of people courage and strength to take our people in another direction.

How do you feel about being a role model? Do you ever tire of it?

No, not at all. I don’t tire of being a role model because when I think about role models, it starts off with being a father. I have two boys who are eight and 10. So, it’s my honor and duty to reflect the life that people live out there through my existence, for them to see. I don’t drink; I don’t smoke; I don’t do drugs; I’m healthy; I take care of myself. That responsibility to my kids stems off to the greater responsibility of sharing my success with my people. Every step I take, I know my Native American friends are like, ‘Yeah, do it for us!’

Would you play an unsympathetic Native American?

I would play anything that is true to form, and that is real. I come from the city of Winnipeg. In Winnipeg we call it the ‘Urban Res.’ A lot of people don’t know a lot about certain parts of the country where Native Americans live. When they hear about my home from Winnipeg, they don’t realize that we have prostitutes who are 14 and young people who are studying to be doctors. I’ve got two cousins who are on the police force. All my relatives are teachers. Most of my family is welfare recipients. They live on the Res. In the city of Winnipeg is the ideal living existence is the urban reservation. And I’m out there doing what I do to portray every ounce of truth that we live in. So, right now my dad, he wrote a play that I’m hopefully performing next year, and it’s about the death of one of the foster kids who was taken care of, who was like a brother, and he hung himself. And it’s his true story, which is really harsh, and deals with the effect of Indian foster kids in Canada, that’s never been told. It has an honesty and truth and a lot of people will be shaking their heads going, ‘Wow.’ People who responded to it are suicide victims – people who’ve attempted suicide, been through a lot of harsh realities. They read it and they’re like, ‘Wow, somebody’s really saying something for us. Finally, somebody understands.’ So, I guess I’m out there to really let people understand what certain aspects of our people have to say.

What kind of emotions ran through you as you played the scene of Ira talking about incorporating strength?

Wow. Well, before I started this film, my best friend passed away, and I didn’t know how to mourn that, mourn him, because he died at 32, and I’m 32. And halfway through this film, my grandma died. I couldn’t mourn for her until I went to see her at her funeral. And if you add those up, there’s a lot of emotion. When you’re doing a movie, when you let go emotionally, there’s nothing to grab onto. You sometimes have to stop and go, ‘Okay, can I do it again? I kind of lost it.’ But for some reason, having Clint Eastwood right where he was, right in front of you, telling you, ‘Try it again. Do another one.’ On the third take, I said, ‘I’m letting it all out. And the way Paul Haggis had written that story, for some reason, he knew where I could grab onto. I just felt I had the right people holding me and telling me, ‘It’s all right, just go there. We know where you’re going.’ And when I was done, dude, I just got up and I had to breathe and I looked out and everybody’s crying. And you’re like, ‘Wow, they’re really there for me.’ That’s powerful. And on the screen when I saw it, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I still wonder where I went. Yeah.

Do you have the sense making a realistic film like this that it is hard to understand why people do this to one another?

Wow. Why people go for war. I hope this film makes people reflect on what our veterans did and honor them and realize the emotion behind it, so that when decisions are made, they can understand that the true people that are there fighting are very patriotic, and let’s not take advantage of their patriotism to, I guess, push forward to what it is and what it is not. I’m being very gentle about it. But I believe Ira Hayes was your true patriotic man because with all the politics behind raising money and showing the glamorous image, this is America, what he believed in was finishing that war, dying with his friends, not on some train, not being in the lovely hotels. He was there for a purpose. He was there to be that soldier.

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is now showing