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ERIC SCHWEIG: AN INTERVIEW


A GUEST AT THE GREAT MOHICAN GATHERING OF 1999

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Please Note: This interview is the property of Mohican Press. Please do not reproduce it, in any form, without our permission.

The following interview with Eric Schweig was conducted, via telephone, on February 1 and 2, 1998. Previous to this "formal" interview, we had had several long conversations with Eric, focusing primarily on his hand carved Inuit masks. So, by the time of the interview, we felt comfortable with him, and he with us. Eric was forthcoming and, we believe, candid in his responses; gracious, and willing to discuss everything we asked. He was somewhat reticent, probably because of the time lapse, about discussing The Last of the Mohicans, but became extremely animated when talking about certain topics, particularly his masks and his involvement in a children's drama group. He was in good humor throughout. Interviewing is something we hadn't done before ... it was a tad more difficult than we'd anticipated. Certainly, we have a new found appreciation for interviewers!

You've known him as Uncas. We hope this helps you to know him as he is ...

 

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MOHICAN PRESS: We've read many bits and pieces of information, in print and on the Internet, by people who claim they know who you are. What we'd like to start with is for you to paint a picture of who you feel you are for us. Who is Eric Schweig?

ERIC SCHWEIG: Ten years ago, or today?

MP: Today.

ES: First of all, sober as a judge. And...... I don't know. I just relax, take it easy ... I like walking with my gun and my dogs in the woods near here. And, I play a lot of guitar. And, hang out with my girlfriend.

MP: Kind of a quiet life?

ES: Yeah, as opposed to a few years ago, it's reasonably quiet, yeah.

MP: And as opposed to what you do ..... acting .... doesn't that put you in the spotlight?

ES: Yeah.

MP: Are you comfortable with that?

ES: I'm fine. I do have a life.

MP: Would you describe yourself as a private person?

ES: Yep!

MP: How do feel about being cast in the real-life role of Indian activist? Or, do you even think it should be an issue? Should you instead be seen simply as an individual who has chosen acting as a profession?

ES: Yes, I'd rather be seen as an individual who chooses acting as a profession. And, if there should be any activism it should be to talk to kids ... you see, if you're going to solve a lot of the problems within the Indian community, as far as civil rights, or land claims, or any of that, you have to start healing yourself. It starts with the individual person. I think if ANY Indian actor is going to use their profession, acting, as a forum it should be to advocate things like what happens to you when you do too much of anything ... too much alcohol ... too many drugs. I see a lot of people who look all over the place for answers, except inside themselves. And so, it has to start with YOU. So, pretty soon, if you start looking inside yourself for the answers, and everybody does that ... well, basically as human beings we know the difference between right and wrong. Things usually turn out if you do it that way.

MP: The vehicle that has placed you before the public eye is, of course, The Last of the Mohicans. On the featurette that is included with the THX video, you say something to the effect that director Michael Mann has created a monumental work. In retrospect, how do you feel about the quality of that film?

ES: Well, you know, it's a period piece. Nobody knows EXACTLY what went on. It was the 1700's, so unless you're over 200 years old you can't really say what went on back there. What I thought about the movie was that it was sprawling. It was huge. That's what makes it fun to watch. It's so big. The scenes ... the way it was shot. Everything just soars in it. All the sets ... all the scenes ... a thousand extras at any given time running all over the place.

MP: As a follow-up to that ... many people who have seen the movie have been inspired to learn more about the period. I assume that you didn't have much knowledge, before landing the role of Uncas, of the period history behind LOTM ... not only of the historic events, but also of the people, particularly the northeastern woodland Indians?

ES: No, I did.

MP: You did?

ES: Yeah. Some of my friends are Mohawks. I lived in Toronto, which is right next to the Six Nations reserve. Mohawks all over the place!

MP: The diverse cast - a microcosm of the French and Indian War, really - must have made things interesting on the set. Did you find that different from other film experiences?

ES: No, not really. There were guys from all over the place. Indians from all over the country, Canada ... just everywhere. It was great. The more the merrier. There's not enough of us.

MP: Indians? Or Indian actors?

ES: Both!

MP: Okay...... So what was it like to work with Michael Mann?

ES: He was intense. He's a nice enough guy. He's pretty intense. He's one of those guys..... He's all business. He's a hard worker. He expects the same from his cast and his crew.

MP: Compared to other directors you've worked with since Michael Mann, how does he fit in to the over all mold of the other directors? How is he different from them?

ES: He's more meticulous, he's a perfectionist ... to the power of 10. And you know, most of them are...... but where most of them will do 3 or 4 takes of something, whether it's a close up or an establishing shot ... he'll take 12 [laughs] .... or 13. That's why we had, sometimes, 15 or 16 hour days.

MP: We've heard about those. One in particular was your party's arrival at Fort William Henry.

ES: Oh, that took all night. I think we were there till ... you know, we started at like 6 or 7 in the morning ... on the first day. And we didn't finish till, I don't know, 11, 12 ... something like that, anyway. And he'd do that with everything. That wasn't the only time he did that. He was ALWAYS doing that.

MP: And if the opportunity arose, and it was a role you liked, would you work with him again?

ES: After I left the Mohicans, I said, "I hope I never see him again." Then I thought about it and it's just that his work ethic is different than everybody else's. I would. It'll probably never happen, but if it came around, I would. I don't think I'd hesitate.

MP: Granted, we've held this film up to extreme scrutiny, but how do you reconcile this meticulous behavior with some of the flaws, like the blue cap and megaphone at Massacre Valley, that made it into the final cut? Have you seen the movie?

ES: Yes, I have ... You know who that was? It was probably [name omitted] He's the 1st AD. I remember his ... I'll never forget his annoying voice. And if he could magnify that with a damned megaphone, he was happy as hell. It was probably him. But ...... I don't know, that's the editor's fault. They're supposed to look for stuff like that and make sure it's not in there.

MP: Okay. Out of all the scenes that you did, what was the most difficult? What was the most trying on you personally?

ES: Let me think about that. Probably the fort scenes. Anything that had to do with the fort ....... because it was hot in there and it was stuffy. Most of that was because there were so many people in there all the time. Besides that, North Carolina is like a sauna in the summertime. Even at night. Filled up with all those bodies in there..... in the fort. It was hot and it was annoying because Michael wanted to ..... you know, like I said before....take after take. That was a pain in the ass, to say the least.

MP: There was a strong feeling of familial bond between your character, Uncas, your older step-brother Hawkeye, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, and your father Chingachgook, played by Russell Means. What was your relationship like with those two actors?

ES: I got along with Russell. He's a nice guy. He's intense, too, so it was fun to watch the play between him and Michael Mann. They both have the same kind of drive so it was pretty funny. Daniel, he's pretty laid back, to say the least. He's extremely private ...... or he was. I don't know what he does now, but he was when we were on the set. He was just all work, then go home. He didn't socialize. He worked most of the time. In fact, he stayed at that, not a chateau ......... What's the name of that place? It was a swanky place..... Anyway, we were all downtown.

MP: He basically kept to himself then?

ES: Yeah.

MP: He's got quite a reputation for really getting into his roles.

ES: Oh yeah.

MP: So, on the set then, he would just do a scene and then go off by himself?

ES: Basically, yeah. You know, he hung out and he talked to .... anybody. He's pretty likeable. He'd rap with the extras and .... anybody who was around. He's normal. ..... We'd sit and talk about playing guitar. I don't think he plays but he'd like to .... or play a dulcimer, learn how to play a dulcimer. Things like that, you know, the time of day or whatever, but ..... if you mean were we planning to strike up a business or something or go skydiving, or meet each other's family ..... it was nothing like that. [Laughter]

MP: Well, what I mean is that you guys, in the movie of course, went through every possible trial and tribulation. Did you ever feel like "us against them" or "we've got another obstacle to go through and we've got to watch out for each other"; or was it pure business, more or less?

ES: Well, we did boycott the set one day because all the extras were getting shit on. All three of us stood there with them.

MP: You're talking about at Lake James?

ES: Yeah.

MP: Do you remember what scene you were filming?

ES: Oh ......... You know, I can't remember. There were so many locations. I can't remember which scene it was. But, nobody went to work. [Laughter] We just stood there with those guys.

MP: When you watch the movie it seems as though you guys had bonded. Your character, Hawkeye, and Chingachgook.... there seemed a sense of family. So, while you guys were filming this did you have any sense of bonding? Did you feel close?

ES: Hmmm .... Well, not .... not really. I mean Russell and I did, but you know, Russell and I ...... Daniel and I come from ...... we might as well be a zillion miles away. We come from two different distinct worlds. That's not to say we weren't friendly towards each other or any of that. We got along with him. Besides that, he's a pretty private person. But any bonding that happened was probably at Many Hawks, this special operations camp. Col. Dave Webster runs this thing out of Columbus, Georgia and me, Wes, Russell, Daniel, and Steven Waddington went out there for about a month and that was about as close to bonding we got. We were shooting assault shotguns together, and flintlocks, and hanging out getting to know each other.

MP: Have you remained in contact with either one? Russell or Daniel?

ES: No, I haven't actually. I don't know what either one of them is doing. I don't know what Russell's up to.

MP: Okay. Madeleine Stowe. Just throw out a couple of opinions on working with her.

ES: Madeleine..... She was fine, you know. They were the stars so they acted accordingly. You know ..... they just did whatever they had to do.

MP: That's interesting because from your viewpoint you look at Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe as the stars, but for other people, you're one of the stars. You know, that's the impression people have.

ES: That's funny.

MP: You don't feel that way?

ES: No, not when I was there. I guess we swayed public opinion since then but I haven't heard of it. But that's all right. [Laughter]

MP: Alice, played by Jodhi May, was obviously your love interest. There was really very little dialogue between the two of you, but, you both presented a very strong relationship on film despite the lack of dialogue. Was that difficult to achieve?

ES: Well, no. We had a love scene that was cut out.

MP: That was the next question. Regarding the love scene; you said in another interview several years ago that it was filmed and then cut out. What was originally scripted for that scene was pretty graphic. So, they did film something and obviously you were there.

ES: Oh yeah.

MP: What WAS filmed? Was it just a kiss? Like the kiss between Hawkeye and Cora? Or was it a sex scene?

ES: Uhmm....... No, it wasn't a sex scene. Nothing like that . It wasn't too heavy. It was like puppy love basically, this love scene they cut out.

MP: It seems sort of a bad time for a love scene anyway at that stage of the filming.

ES: Yeah.

MP: Damp and......

ES: Yeah. [Laughter] ... "Hold on! I'm busy!"

MP: Okay, let's see.....

ES: I don't know, they should have stuck it in there. It was kind of disappointing because it fit right in.

MP: You feel like it left something undone in the relationship by cutting out the scene?

ES: Yeah, but I understand the reason why. Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe were THE couple so they couldn't take away from them because that was the main interest. They were the two stars so they couldn't take the focus off of them.

MP: Were they downplaying the Uncas/Alice relationship? Making it more subtle?

ES: Yeah, they couldn't have two different love stories going on at once. [Laughs] In case people liked ours better!

MP: Well, a lot of people feel put out! They would have liked to have seen that scene kept in or at least the relationship more developed, alongside Hawkeye and Cora's. The way you're describing it doesn't really sound like the scene that was originally scripted, which was more than "puppy love". We're curious about Jodhi May's mother. Was she on the set all the time?

ES: Yes.

MP: What did you think of her being there? Was she just a pleasant observer or....

ES: Yeah. She was pretty nice, Jodhi's mom.

MP: Did you get along with Jodhi?

ES: Yes. She was a quiet girl.

MP: Have you had any contact with her since filming LOTM?

ES: No.

MP: Did you get closer to Jodhi May would you say, than to ... say, Madeleine Stowe?

ES: Yeah. Yeah, she was younger and a little more easier going so you could rap with her about more things than with Madeleine Stowe. She wasn't as inward.

MP: Another scene that may have been filmed but didn't make it in the final cut was when you were approaching the fort. You were cut by a Huron....

ES: I was?

MP: Supposedly..... Uncas was. Was that ever filmed?

ES: You know what? I can't remember. Because it took so long to shoot, six months to shoot that and so many things went on. Something that minuscule I wouldn't remember.

MP: Okay. That scene has repeatedly come up because following that, when you're getting your wound dressed by Cora...

ES: Oh yes. Yeah, they cut that out, they must have.

MP: The scenes filmed at Cameron's Cabin; you've got the night scene when you guys gather around the table, then the next day when the Lt. is trying to recruit colonials to support the British Army, and then later on, when you guys revisit the cabin and it's burnt out. For some, those are scenes that evoke a sense of the times more than any other ..... they really hit you. What did you guys feel, or you personally, when you were filming those scenes? Did you ever get a feeling of really being in that time or was it just..... you know, "I'm just doing this"?

ES: Well ..... it was more or less just business to me because nothing's ever historically correct. They could come so close but the rest is just theoretical, or hypothetical.

MP: What about that lacrosse game?

ES: Oh yeah. It was really hard to get that damn ball. The lacrosse sticks didn't work very good so that was kind of ...... If they were operable it would have been more fun. They were stiff, the leather in them was REALLY stiff, so you could carry it but you couldn't cradle it as well. If they were good sticks ..... it was kind of a bummer ..... it would've been a better game. It would have been really cool if they had made it a little more sprawling. Cause they just kind of stuck us in this little part of the field, when in the 1700s there was a thousand guys on the damn field ... guys getting killed, bones being broken. Just HUGE games. Massive games; twice the size of a football field and we are, like boxing in a telephone booth. Because, since that is their national sport, the Mohawks, and it has been for hundreds of years, they should've focused on that and made a REALLY big deal out of it.

MP: Yeah, it was a good scene. It could have been developed more.

ES: Yeah, it didn't have to be as epic as the battle scene in the valley there, but maybe with ... half the... all the guys but not the inten ... [breaks off] ... let's have a hockey game! That would've been really cool if they'd have done that.

MP: Throughout the film there is featured some terrific landscapes. Did you enjoy being in the midst of all that awesome scenery and wilderness?

ES: Oh yes!

MP: It didn't leave you craving for the city lights?

ES: No. I was raised in the country so, you know, I didn't have any... it didn't bother me in the least.

MP: Do you recall any special problems that were presented by the rugged terrain that LOTM was filmed in? Accessibility or....

ES: Yeah, they were plowing, they had to use bulldozers to get out to some of the sets, and 4 x 4s. Usually they paved the way so we didn't have much of a problem. But you know, it's expected. It's not in the middle of downtown San Francisco where they just dump you off and you're there. So, no, not to me.

MP: What was your favorite scene in the movie?

ES: I liked killing all those guys on the side of the cliff. That was fun. What else? ...... Yeah, probably the Magua scrap was my favorite.

MP: Was it a pleasant experience then, to be filming in the area?

ES: Oh yeah!

MP: Do any of the locations stick out in your mind as a favorite place?

ES: I liked the ledge we were shooting on. Not Chimney Rock ... was that Chimney Rock? With the village?

MP: Yeah, Chimney Rock. The Cliff Trails. It's everybody's favorite spot.

ES: It's really nice up there.

MP: Well, having been here already, would you ever want to revisit western North Carolina, the scene of the crime?

ES: Yes, I would.

MP: Uncas. How would you compare the role to others you've played? Was there a challenge or was it a likeable role for you?

ES: Well, that's hard to say because mostly all I did was run. I didn't do a lot of talking. Mostly it was an hour and a half long sprint! [Laugh]

MP: How about firing a musket. Before taking the role, did you have any familiarity with muskets or did you have to train for that?

ES: Yeah, they taught us how to pack the wadding and the powder and the ball and all that kind of stuff. At first it took us about a minute or a minute and a half when we first got a hold of them to get them ready to fire. But after practicing, after a couple of days we had it down to 20 or 30 seconds. We were in Columbus, Georgia for about a month. We trained with Colonel David Webster ... [pause] I think that was his last name. He runs Many Hawks Special Operations Camp in Columbus, Georgia where he trains action stars in the use of different tactical weapons. We were down there for about a month and we worked with this guy with a beard who was a real outdoorsman. He was into powder rifles and stuff like that. He's the guy that showed us how to shoot.

MP: Though we feel The Last of the Mohicans is your best film, certainly the most popular ...

ES: Yeah.

MP: I sense a certain dissatisfaction within you regarding that film.

ES: Yeah, they could have ... it's all politics. It's box office numbers. You downgrade, or downplay, other situations in a movie in order to boost ... you know, like it or not Madeleine Stowe and Daniel Day-Lewis were the stars in that and that's what you have to bring to the forefront. That's who you have to focus on. That's why they cut that love scene out. And it seems to me, we could have been more of a family unit. I didn't see a hell of a lot of women in that movie. [laughs] I don't know what you think, but I didn't see any women there ... well, a few, but there were GUYS everywhere, but no women. [laughs] There could have been a few more women. It's sort of, if you think about it, it kind of leaves the audience going, "How did all these guys get here?" There's got to be a lot of women in order for there to be a lot of guys ...

MP: Well, in that regard, most of the film takes place where you wouldn't expect to FIND a lot of women, on the battle front. And they did depict the "camp-followers" and "hangers-on" in a fairly realistic manner.

ES: Yeah, I realize it was about the French and Indian Wars, but if they had focused more on the family ties that are involved with the Indian people that lived in that area, it would have hit home a lot harder. I think, anyway.

MP: That sounds like another good story to do..... Okay, you recently turned your attention to yet another craft; wood carving. We have seen your work and it's beautiful.

ES: Thank you.

MP: You're welcome. You've said previously that you've worked with wood since you were "knee-high" and that it was something that came naturally to you.

ES: Yes.

MP: I know you've had experience framing houses. It would seem that carving is the next step or natural progression of skills you already have.

ES: Yep!

MP: Why did you specifically choose the Inuit Spirit masks as the subject of your carvings?

ES: Actually, about three or four years ago I was sitting around the house with Vern Etzerza and, what's the name of the book? I think it's called Across Continents, something like that, but it's [picture of the mask] right on the cover of it. Anyway, Vern picked it up one day and said "Hey, this is wild, man. You should do a mask. You should do THIS!" So, after putting it off and saying "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah".... at the time I was running around a lot and too busy to have anything to do with carving. When you do that you really have to commit. You have to sit down and focus. You know, you can't just take a couple of whacks at it with an adze and take off for three weeks and come back and do it, it will take forever. So finally, after three or four years of screwing around I got around to it. And I just like the idea of, like I said before [in a previous conversation], reaching back into time and duplicating the mask and taking them back from the people who stole them in the first place.

MP: You're speaking about the Russians?

ES: Yeah. Before that I had no idea what they were doing up there. I didn't know the Russians, the Europeans, came from the west coast. The Indians were ambushed by Russians. I had no idea.

MP: That's about a hundred years or so. They were in the islands?

ES: Yeah, all up and down there; all over here. Yeah, you know, just like locusts. I told Vern about that. I had read up on it a little bit and I told him what had happened, what was going on, and ...... naturally, he knew. He said it's kind of a double edged sword because for one thing they kept the masks in really good shape. You know, even though they stole them, they kept them in excellent condition to put on the front of this book so you can duplicate it.

MP: Are the original masks, the ones you are recreating...... are they in museums in Russia?

ES: You know, I don't know where the collection is. I think they are..... I think a lot of them are. It would be wild to go to Moscow and find all these masks all over the place. I'd take a picture of every one of them, too!

MP: And then get to work?

ES: Yeah!

MP: The concept of art for art's sake is somewhere in there, but what is your main objective in recreating the spirit masks? Would it be as you just described ..... to retake possession of them?

ES: Yes. So we can ..... now we have them. We have them back and now we can take care of them. You know ..... especially the people that buy them. If they take VERY good care of them...... you know.

MP: Then they'll be there for future generations?

ES: Yes. Absolutely!

MP: Okay..... again, regarding art..... a strong quality of any artist's work is the individuality of their creations. Your masks are recreations of traditional ceremonial masks of the Inuit. Each mask represented various animals and they contained a lot of symbolic imagery. So, when you carve ..... are you trying to recreate an exact image of another mask? Or do you instead allow your own mood, your color preferences ..... that sort of thing, to blend with tradition and then the result being a unique mask each and every time?

ES: Yeah, that's.... see, this is almost right on the money. But I made the bottom of the mask protrude a little bit more. And the colors.......... the picture that was taken of this mask, the colors were a bit off. We sort of guessed at what they would have been because they had aged so much and the paint had flaked off.... it was aged down, but we just took a shot at it and it turned out wicked.

MP: It looks real good. So, you have the tradition to work with.... but are you interjecting your own mood?

ES: You gotta put a little bit of that in there..........

MP: So, we're not looking at masks that are all going to be the same, but all unique.

ES: Yeah ........... yeah.

MP: The photo of the mask you described.... on the cover of the book, is that 18th century or 19th century?

ES: The caption says 1842.

MP: This is the mask that you have previously referred to...... in the Russian collector's .... I forgot his name......

ES: Voznesenskii.

MP: Yes .... this is one of the masks in his so called "collection"?

ES: Yes.

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To Continue Reading Our Interview With Eric Schweig, Move On To: PART 2: ERIC SCHWEIG: AN INTERVIEW

 

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