PART 2: ERIC SCHWEIG: AN INTERVIEW
MP: Okay, well.... aside from the masks, which will obviously be going to take a lot of your time and focus..... are you still pursuing your acting career?
MP: Okay, many people are sincerely anxious to see you in more films. Is there anything that you are aware of...... any possibilities on the horizon that they can look forward to?
ES: There's one. I'm getting a script in a couple of days. Deidre phoned me up and told me .... it's a contemporary thing where I play a sheriff. Apparently they're shooting in Washington State. Probably in a little while.... but, I'll get the script in a couple of days and then meet the director, I guess. It will be cool because it will be the first time I'll be on a set and..... abstaining.
MP: Is this role already accepted or is it something you're considering?
ES: Something I'm considering. We're working on it.
MP: As far as roles go; is there any particular type of film you would like..... or any particular character you would want to play?
ES: I like playing bad guys. It's a shame we [Indian actors] haven't been given the opportunity to ...... well, you know, Wes is doing really good. I thought Wes..... well, he made an appearance in Heat and I thought that was great because .... It's really cool to just be watching a film and there's an Indian guy there... or an Indian woman, and there's no reference to them being Indian ... you know ..... it puts a more human face on us because people are so scared because of their own ignorance. We have this image of .... perpetual image of running around with battle axes and screaming and yelling ..... and running around in loin cloths and hats. So, that's good to see. He was just a guy. Just a cop. [Laughs] He just happened to be there. You know, Robert DeNiro and Val Kilmer didn't go out to the closest available reservation and give him an eagle feather ... oh, sorry, Al Pacino didn't give him an eagle feather to join his division downtown in Los Angeles. [Laughs] He was just in Deep Rising. It was shot in Vancouver and I talked to Wes after he finished it. I went over to his hotel and sat around with him.
MP: To date, you've been in two movies with him, The Last of the Mohicans and The Broken Chain. How would you describe him as an actor?
ES: I think he's great.
MP: Personally, I think he was deserving of an Academy Award for his work in The Last of the Mohicans.
ES: Yeah, Wes was cool. He's got a real character face. He can do a lot of stuff with his looks.
MP: Is he a fun guy to work with?
ES: Yeah, he's a good guy.
MP: He's been real busy..... doing quite well.
ES: Yeah. That's what I like to see. We should be running around and, .... not running around..... but we should be in, you know, suits..... like everybody else.... in normal clothes.
MP: Moving beyond the period fixture?
ES: Yeah, they flogged that to death.... that whole.... I told everybody right from the beginning, listen man..... we better take advantage of this while it lasts because they're gonna flog it to death. Hollywood will flog it to death. They'll suck all the blood they can out of us to paint their own pictures and then we'll be high and dry. So.... you know, we've got to take advantage of it and they'll have nothing left short of Last of the Dog Men which is a ludicrous concept for a film about Indians..... one of the worst. So, beyond that, ..... we gotta get with it. Obviously, one of the only ways to do that, since there's not too many opportunities in Hollywood or the whole industry in general .... you have to sort of start making your own films. Directing them, casting them, and what not..... but.... so that's what I'd really like to see. So, anything contemporary, it doesn't matter. I'm into it.
MP: So, most of what you've been offered, not just yourself, but with a lot of Indian people, .... it's always "the Indian" role of a hundred or so years ago? Not just a regular 20th century guy?
ES: Yeah, THE INDIAN. I'm not an Indian actor. I'm an actor who just happens to be an Indian.
MP: Cast as the Indian all the time, but you'd prefer to be offered a role because you're a good actor?
MP: Please correct me if I'm getting the wrong assumptions here. I'm not trying to be antagonistic.
ES: No no. I would. Believe me.
MP: Okay. You seem to be down on period pieces because they cast Indians in loin cloths and stuff like that. If that's all you can get then, yeah, that's a problem. But period pieces have always been, and always will be, because of their way of recreating history, however inaccurately it may be, and it's different than reading a book ... it's visual ... and it IS just art, so it doesn't necessarily have to be totally historically accurate ..... For example, in the movie Braveheart, you've got Scots running around half naked and even in a period piece about Indians, just take The Last of the Mohicans for example ..... You've got European born actors recreating roles from over 200 years ago. The point is that it's not really anti-anybody. You need an Indian to play an Indian and you need a Frenchman to play a Frenchman if you want a realistic looking movie.
MP: The problem, then, is if all an Indian actor can get cast as is something like that..... that's definitely a problem. Just like a long haired actor ..... if the only thing anybody wanted him to play is a drug crazed hippie from the 60s, you know, that would be upsetting, too. Just go ahead and tell me how you feel about that.
ES: Well, the doors are opening now. I've read a couple of scripts that were on the money. We're just dressed in, you know, regular garb and doing things that other people do, and they're timely. And I know it's art, it's just art and they're .... I know it's not that big a deal whether they're historically correct or not because they never can be. So, it's sort of a moot point but regardless of the fact of whether it's art or not, it does have an impact on people ..... on kids and their perception of the real, well ..... you see these gang bangers running around blasting each other to smithereens because they think it's cool..... because that's what you do. That's what these guys do in the movies. But, you don't see...... you know what you don't see? .... You see a lot of people, like I was telling Gail the other day, you see the PMRC , the Parents Music Resource Center, and Tipper Gore and her butt head husband and they're running around bands like Marilyn Manson, and they're banning them from different states and different coliseums ..... and they're harmless! But you know who they don't ban? And who they focus on and who they promote is gangster rap. You know? Gangster rap's fine for the individual who doesn't want to pick up a gun and .... you know, and isn't psychotic. But all these kids running around and ... you know, the east coast and the west coast rappers, blowing each other apart, now THAT'S scary. That's who they should be chasing but they don't. They promote it. And it has a real impact, and it's art imitating life and vice versa. It's become a horrible reality. And the same thing can happen in the movies, not as extreme .... I don't think. But people still, especially kids who have this ..... it changes the way they see things. It's not a monumental, you know, a paradigm change, but it effects them. So, the more contemporary films we can do and be allowed to be a part of society and society's subconscious, then the better it will be. You know I told everybody when this started. When Dances With Wolves came out, the whole thing, it just blew the doors wide open for period pieces about Indian people. They took it to the extreme with Last of the Dog Men, which is ludicrous! The stupidest idea or concept I've ever seen any film maker come up with.
MP: Is that the movie with a band of Cheyenne Dog Soldiers hidden out in the mountains somewhere ... in modern times?
ES: [Laughter] Yeah! So I told everybody from the beginning. I said "You know what? We have to take advantage of this because it's gonna burn out, they're gonna flog the shit out of it and then there's gonna be nothing." We won't have a leg to stand on unless they start writing scripts about contemporary things. Or WE start making films of our own, which a lot of us has. You know Wes Studi's got his own film company and he's doing .... [Wardancer Film Group] You know, you gotta start somewhere and they're starting small but they're starting. So, gradually it will get better and ..... we won't be so misunderstood and maligned. But you know, for what it's worth, Last of the Mohicans, it's a good movie. It's a DAMN sight better than movies they had in the 50s. Even in the 70s, or the 80s .... the early 80s.
MP: You know, in some ways though, contemporary pieces are worse because they're filled with all sorts of horrors and things that wouldn't happen in a million years. And they put in all kinds of unnatural fears into kids' minds, or potentially can.
MP: Where as a well made period piece, showing history as realistically as can be, is good. Of course, like you were saying before, the old films from the 50s were horrible ..... the Indians were the bad guys and they had to be eradicated no matter what. Now you see movies like Dances With Wolves or The Last of the Mohicans and there is some attempt to show Indian people as people, so when my little girl says to me, while pointing to ... YOU, "That's one of the good guys", you've done something good there. You've given a positive image of a Native American.
ES: Yeah. Yeah, they're making ...... they're redeeming themselves. [Laughs] They're not making Spaghetti Westerns.
MP: Oh, forget about it!
ES: Hey! You're an Italian. [Laughs]
MP: Yeah! Look what they've done to us...... Blowing each other away in the mafia...... Okay .... You were born in Inuvik?
MP: Ever go back there?
ES: No, I haven't. Well, I did in '92. There was a golf tournament out there. Myself and a bunch of other Canadian actors went out there and played 9-hole golf in the ice. 30 below weather. It was fun!
MP: You were adopted?
MP: Do you have any relationship with your family? Either your adopted or your natural family?
ES: Uhhh ...... no..... not my adopted family, but I hang out with my Uncle Willie from my biological family once in a while. I haven't seen him in a bit, but I like to hang out with him once in a while...... but, that's about it.
MP: We've read that you have been involved in a children's drama group. Could you tell us about it?
ES: There's about 14 or 15 kids in it and we get together..... actually, I'm waiting for some plays to come in to a local bookstore here.... We go down to the gym and I just.... my girlfriend and I, we look around for different monologues and scenes for them to do. We haven't put anything on yet but we're planning on it. The adults are starting to get into it, so .... I'll have to maybe figure something out for them..... But it's good for them because they have so much to offer, these kids, and some of them have had really, really rough lives.... to say the least. This is a wonderful outlet for them and they love it!... Just a chance to.... you can see it in them..... certain monologues that hit home with them. They do them and it comes right from their heart..... and it's pretty wild to watch them do these kind of things..... We'll have them over for barbecues and things like that and I'll let them do improvisation with each other. It's pretty good.... you see a lot of them come out of their shells, especially the quiet ones...... the really, really inward teenagers. All of a sudden they just start busting out. That's good because anything that can ...... you know what I'm into in? Keeping kids away from anything to do with ..... I wouldn't want them to live like I lived from.... you know.... when I was drunk for 10 years..... Because it's ugly and it's not us. So, anything that I can do to keep them from walking that road .... I'll do it.
MP: Then this must be a source of satisfaction for you.... to work with them?
ES: Yeah, they teach you too .... I teach them and they teach me. It's pretty cool, and that's part of the whole process. They could either.... because they'll wind up either dead or in jail. I know in the Hollywood community nobody ...... there's a real ugly part of it that..... well, people like me..... I don't like to, you know..... These kids are our future and they're gonna end up going to bat for us...... when we're sitting around at 80 years old on the front porch. The general public doesn't like to see that kind of ugliness but it's the truth. It's also the truth that you have to do something about it.
MP: And they need nurtured.
ES: Yeah, absolutely. People are treating kids like animals. In Africa and South America they're chopping them up with machetes and, I don't know.... I don't get it because those are our babies.
MP: Do you think society ... all societies.... have lost their sense of nurturing and protecting.... or seeing children for what they are?
ES: Yes. There's these assholes running around kidnapping kids. You know..... just in town here, right beside the baseball field..... and this is a small town, there's about 10,000 people.... right beside the ball field, this young girl, about a year and a half, two years ago, Jessica State .... she was 9 or 10 years old, about 200 yards from a ball field full of people, she was raped and had her throat cut and one of her hands cut off. Right THERE! They haven't solved it. It's retarded. Nobody gives a shit and it makes me nuts. You know.......... psychopaths running around. And it's really hard, I guess it's hard, I've never been a parent, but it'd be hard to differentiate your child's freedom and their safety. Try to balance it, you know........ go out but don't stay out too late. And try to teach them to watch out for the warning signs.
MP: It is really scary to be a parent now. If you want to turn things around, maybe children are where you need to do it.
ES: Yeah, it's a drag man, our children usually wind up paying the price for society's sins.
MP: Do you see that on the other end of the spectrum too, with the elderly?
ES: Yeah, it's the same way. Uhm hmm. They wonder why .... They put them in....... You know the difference between Indian elders and a lot of other elders? Why they go stir crazy and they forget .... and they loose their memories? I don't believe there's such a thing as senility. Senility is a social disease. It comes from people not talking to their elders and not listening to them. They don't have anybody to talk to and nobody to listen to them. They take their sense of history and their wisdom and..... of course they're not gonna care and they're gonna forget everything. Where as Indian people, for the most part, everybody listens to their elders, everybody takes care of them. We have feasts around here and they eat first. They're very well taken care of and respected and THAT is what makes them, keeps them wise. You know what? A lot of elders are sharper than most 16 year olds... 20 or 30, they're sharper than people half their age. That's because people listen to them.
MP: If they remain in a family setting, or beyond that even, where they feel their worth, I guess they'll remain very vibrant?
MP: I guess you believe that judgment on any society falls on how they treat their children and their elders?
ES: Yep! And their dogs too. That's no lie either. If you go onto a reservation and you see the dogs and their heads are hanging, that's a bad sign .... you know, people don't care about them. It's cool, everything's cool.... well, it's getting better, it's getting much better here. Year by year.
MP: Regarding the children's drama group that you're involved in .... your girlfriend's name is Gail?
ES: Uhm hmm.
MP: She's working with you with these kids?
MP: Any plans of showcasing them, or giving them their day in the sun?
ES: Oh yeah! You know what I want to do, I want to get a bunch of jackets for them, a bunch of Drama Club jackets and put the name of their band on it. They'll get a kick out of that. Because they really need a sense of belonging and that sort of gives it to them.
MP: Lots of luck with that........ Okay, you're a carver, an actor, a musician, and a drama coach. Would it be accurate to say you're attracted to the arts in general?
ES: Yeah, anything that .... you know, anything that'll..... I've always been into that, ever since I was a kid. It's too bad that I was born out of abuse, but you know, that's how most of us are. It's kind of difficult..... You see a lot of, well, I went to a school to speak in Denver. It was an alternative school for troubled teens who couldn't cope with a regular school curriculum so they booted them all out and put them all in a big building. They were troubled kids. They reminded me of me.... and I saw the most amazing art work in this school. It was incredible. They just.... a lot of it was really dark but it was incredible. I've never been, well..... they treated me like royalty. These kids were so awesome, they just blew me away. In between walking around the different classes and hanging around the smoking area, it was ..... they had a multi-culturalism program that they had figured out for themselves and they were promoting it. They scratched the money together and made T-shirts. Actually, the same school that had kicked them out, that couldn't handle them, were phoning them back and saying "How do we start this multi-culturalism in our school?" You know, what goes around comes around.
MP: True. It's sad whenever kids have an abusive childhood. But, take yourself. Do you see yourself as having an empathy with these kids, since you've walked in their shoes? Can you turn it into a greater good by reaching out to those kids?
ES: Yeah....it's a..... yeah. You know, bad things happened to me and I left home.... and I did bad things. And bad things happened to me again, so you have to.... I broke the cycle by not drinking and finding out what I'm NOT. And, you know, it's the life cycle. If you do good things, good things will happen.
MP: That's true. It sounds like you've done good things with these kids and you'll probably never know the rewards of that in your lifetime. It's there with each of these kids, though, and they'll carry that with them.
ES: Yeah, absolutely. Like this week.... there's 7 or 8 guys that I'm going to speak with. One of our problems is finding a voice and speaking up, speaking out really loud too, if you want to. You know, if you get beaten down for so long and then you find your voice, man, you can't shut up! So, that's what I'm going to try to do with these guys this week. I haven't met them yet, but I'm going to sit down and try to talk to them and try to get them out of their shells somehow.
MP: Do you still play the guitar?
MP: Any other instruments?
ES: Drums .... I love. And I'm a damn hand with a harmonica! I love jamming.... Yeah, I love playing blues.
MP: This is all for your own enjoyment?
ES: Yeah, I just get a real charge out of it..... so does anybody who's listening.
MP: I imagine they do! Okay, I just want to backtrack just a little bit. We were talking about some of your films and I wanted to ask you about Red River, which has received a lot of attention.
ES: Has it?
MP: Yes, it has.
ES: Oh no! I was afraid to hear that.
MP: Well, you'll have to tell us about it because we've not seen it. It has been spoken about an awful lot.
ES: Oh man. You mean from Europe?
ES: Well, as long as it doesn't come over this way!
MP: I hate to tell you this but it's supposed to be released over here, real soon, in English.
ES: Oh no! [Nervous laughter..... sighs]
MP: Is it that bad?
ES: Well...... oh man. It's about me and this guy...... his name is Christoph and he's from France. He doesn't speak any English so...... it was hard to, it's hard to color a picture if you only have one color crayon. There's this woman Claudia who's the love interest. And I get with her. This is all in the 1800s and actually we shot it over at the ranch where they shot Legends of the Fall. That's where their home is...... and we're fighting over her and I get with her and we start scrapping about this and that and he shoots me dead. Yeah, it's the most horrible death scene that I've ever done. It's so cheesy. I can't believe that they're gonna re...... I wish they wouldn't. [Laughing!]
MP: [Laughing!] So, should we start a letter writing campaign? "Please don't release this in English!"
ES: Yeah, start sending out pamphlets to customs ... [Laughs], just to tell them .......
MP: Okay. Well, like I said, Red River has received a lot of attention in Europe and people have described it as beautiful. It's going to be released here so just brace yourself.
ES: I guess I'll have to. [More laughter]
MP: I understand you worked with horses in that film. Is that something you had experience with before?
ES: Yeah. No problem. I've been around horses. I used to hate it but I got used to them after awhile.
MP: So, I get the impression you didn't like Red River much.
ES: No! [laughs]
MP: OK, take all the movies you've been in ... if you could only be in one of them again, which one would it be?
ES: Oh, probably Tom & Huck. Tom & Huck or Pontiac Moon ... if they were done differently, not Tom & Huck, but Pontiac Moon. It was a really good script and a good concept. It could have been shot better.
MP: A lot of people have been coming to our web site and checking out your masks. People from all over the world. You have a rather large following.
ES: That's great!
MP: As you know, our web site centers on The Last of the Mohicans. Many visitors have commented upon the quality of your masks. A lot of these people are among your biggest fans, which is why many of them came to our web site in the first place. Rather spontaneously, a gathering of LOTM fans has been planned. It's scheduled for June in North Carolina. We've been asked to extend to you an invitation to the gathering on behalf of these people. So, what they would like to know is what would it take to coerce you to be there?
ES: [Laughs] What are we gonna do?
MP: Well, I'll tell you what, if you said you'd consider it I think they'd say "anything"! Really..... if it were possible, we could work out something..... maybe we could do something to "showcase" the kids in your drama group. Or maybe it would be a good idea to have one of your masks displayed in the vicinity. We could work out something.
ES: Or even Vern. Maybe Vern and I can take one of them out there.
MP: Well, would that be something you would consider?
ES: If I'm not working, yep! There's absolutely no guarantee, but if I'm not doing anything ...
MP: Well, I hate to say "great" that you're not working, but if you're not working it would be great if you could come.
ES: I can see old Asheville. I love Asheville. You know what? That's one of the nicest small towns I've ever been in. Well, it's one of the biggest small towns. I really like it and I love shopping there. Where are you? Where's Marion?
MP: We're about 40 minutes east of Asheville. Over near Lake James.
ES: Oh yeah, Lake James. Could you do me a favor? If you're ever in Asheville, there's a guy that ran the restaurant downstairs from the hotel. Rick, I think. We hung out with him a lot. He's a really funny guy. Could you tell him Eric said "hello"?
MP: Sure, we could do that.
ES: Yeah, Asheville's really nice. I spent thousands of dollars at the Asheville Mall. The people at the music store said.... when I said "Well, we're almost done here. We're heading out." They said "We'll miss you!" [Sad voice. Then laughter] You know, I'd go in there and buy 50 CDs at a time.
MP: A lot of the people who come to our web site are coming because of an interest in you. Do you have a message for these people?
ES: Tell them, "Thanks for your support. I thought I was forgotten, apparently not. I'll see you at the movies."
MP: Okay! Thanks, Eric. We, and certainly your fans, appreciate it.
A few final comments. Eric Schweig has spoken freely about his alcoholism. He has said elsewhere that he credits his girlfriend Gail and his agent Deidre Sam with helping him in his recovery. Regarding Vern Etzerza, who has been Eric's carving "guru"; in previous conversations Eric has said Vern and he have known each other a long time and he considers Vern to be one of his best buddies.
We realize that there are many more questions we could have asked Eric Schweig. There are some we really WISH we asked. That, though, can go on endlessly. We hope all who read this feel they've gained more insight, or a better understanding of who Eric is. We were pleased with the results and hope you are too.
Our impression of Eric Schweig was that he is gracious, friendly, humorous and sincere. There was a real enthusiasm projected when discussing his masks. We were particularly struck by his comments pertaining to children which seemed passionate, heartfelt, and poignantly expressed. Hopefully, his voice will be heard on this; his "activism" emulated.
It was a real pleasure to have the opportunity to talk with Eric. As you've read in the interview, a film project is likely to materialize. We wish him a lot of success in all his endeavors and thank him for taking the time to speak with us.
You can find some of his films, including his two favorites, "Tom and Huck" and "Pontiac Moon", listed on our Book Store page. No, we don't have "Red River"!
Return To Part 1 Of ERIC SCHWEIG: AN INTERVIEW
MOHICAN PRESS VISITOR POLLS
See Eric As Uncas, From The DVD-version: UNCAS & ALICE
ERIC SCHWEIG TALKS CARVING.
A cause dear to his heart, read:
An oldie, but goodie ... 1992 ERIC SCHWEIG INTERVIEW
Both musical pieces heard during this interview are by Tudjaat, an Inuit duo!
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Remembering What Was ... What Could Have Been ...