Best known for his roles in DANCES
Born in Nofire Hollow, OK, in 1946, Wes is the eldest son of a ranch hand. He spoke only the Cherokee language until he was five years old, when he was sent to Chilocco Indian Boarding School in Northern Oklahoma, where he remained until high school graduation. Unlike many young victims of the boarding schools, he did not forget his language.
Wes graduated high school and then in 1967, he was drafted into the Army and served 18 months in South Vietnam with the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta. At one point his company was pinned down in the Mekong Delta—and nearly killed—by friendly fire. After an honorable military discharge, Wes Studi became seriously involved with Native American politics.
He joined the American Indian Movement and participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties protest march in 1972, where hundreds of Native American activists marched on Washington. He was one of the protesters who briefly occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs Building. In 1973, Wes partook in the occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, for which he was arrested and later released from jail on the condition that he leave the state. Studi now sees his political activism as a form of post-Vietnam catharsis. "I began to purge the bad feelings within myself," he says, adding that he joined the resisters because "I wanted to make myself a viable part of the machinery that affected my people."
Shortly thereafter, Wes moved to the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma. He enrolled at Tulsa Junior College on the G.I. Bill, where he helped start a Cherokee newspaper. During his college years, Studi began teaching the Cherokee language professionally. Later attending Tahlequah University, Studi made further attempts at positive influence in his work with the Cherokee Nation.
After college, Wes Studi shifted his attention to running his own horse ranch and became a professional horse trainer. It was during this era that he began acting at The American Indian Theatre Company in Tulsa in 1983. His first professional stage debut in BLACK ELK SPEAKS came in 1984. Studi found success appearing in theater as well as in productions for Nebraska Public Television in the summer of 1985. In 1988, he landed his first film role in POWWOW HIGHWAY and made his TV debut in a small role in the ABC TV-movie, LONGARM. It was after Studi's role in the 1988 PBS production THE TRIAL OF STANDING BEAR that he fully realized his passion for acting.
In 1990, he landed the role of the Pawnee warrior in DANCES WITH WOLVES. Two years later Wes was cast in the role he is most-famous for. Studi drew on his own combat training, anger and sense of enforced isolation in his riveting depiction of the vengeful Magua in Michael Mann's THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. "He's a zealot more than evil," claims Studi. Studi soon became known for his film roles portraying strong Native American characters, striving to portray them with poignancy and authenticity. Studi flourished in his new calling, finding frequent work with his expressive features and warm sense of humor.
Wes played the title character in the Walter Hill directed film GERONIMO: AN AMERICAN LEGEND (1993) alongside veteran actors Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall, for which he won a Western Heritage Award (shared with cast and crew). He also made memorable appearances in such films as HEAT (1995)--as Al Pacino's partner--CRAZY HORSE (1996), and DEEP RISING (1998). In 2002, Studi brought to life the legendary character Lt. Joe Leaphorn, for a series of PBS movies produced by Robert Redford, based on Tony Hillerman's books SKINWALKERS, A THIEF OF TIME and COYOTE WAITS.
In 2005, he portrayed a character inspired by the Powhatan warrior Opechancanough in the 2005 Academy Award-nominated film THE NEW WORLD, directed by auteur Terrence Malick. The historical adventure is set during the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement and includes other characters inspired by historical figures, notably Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas.
Studi's other film credits include: 500 NATIONS, BIG GUNS TALK, BROKEN CHAINS, THE DOORS, HIGHLANDER, ICE PLANET, THE KILLING JAR, LONE JUSTICE 2, MYSTERY MEN, NED BLESSINGS, SERAPHIM FALLS, and such prestigious television movies as COMANCHE MOON, STREETS OF LAREDO, and BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE.
His upcoming projects include AVATAR (to be released in December 2009), James Cameron's first theatrical release since TITANIC, and THE ONLY GOOD INDIAN which is premiering at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, as well as the new epic series KINGS, premiering in March 2009 on NBC.
In addition to acting, Wes Studi has many interests in which he is prolific including sculpture, tennis and jazz guitar. He is an internationally recognized expert in indigenous languages and has worked as a Language Consultant on several films, including AVATAR and the PBS documentary WE SHALL REMAIN. He is a stone carver working in soapstone and other soft stones, and author of two children's books, THE ADVENTURES OF BILLY BEAN and THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF BILLY BEAN. These books were written for the Cherokee Bilingual/Cross Cultural Education Center. In 2006, Wes was honored with the Golden Boot Award.
Wes Studi and his wife Maura Dhu, a singer and writer, live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and perform in a local six piece band called Firecat of Discord. Maura is the band's lead singer and Wes plays the bass guitar. They primarily do original music. The Firecat of Discord released their first self-titled CD in 1998, and in 2000 the Firecats hit the road with performances all around the U.S. Their music has also been used in film soundtracks. Maura and Wes have one son.
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