The Canadian First Nations actor plays Elk Dog in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Oscar-nominated drama.
If Leonardo DiCaprio and director Alejandro G. Iñárritu go on to win Academy Awards for The Revenant – and after their film received 12 Oscar nominations Thursday morning, they have to be considered among the front-runners – don’t be surprised if both men give a shout-out to costar Duane Howard in their acceptance speeches.
Howard, a 52-year-old First Nations actor and stunt performer, appears in the key role of Elk Dog, an Arikara warrior whose search for his abducted daughter parallels the journey of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), the frontiersman obsessively searching for the betrayer (Tom Hardy) who murdered his son and left Glass for dead.
“What I got immediately with him is, through his eyes, I can see the interior life he has,” Iñárritu said of Howard in a Los Angeles Times profile story. “He has a very deep emotional baggage inside that you can easily perceive.”
In the same Los Angeles Times story, Howard admitted that the most daunting challenge he faced during the location filming of The Revenant wasn’t enduring the freezing weather conditions, or even conveying his character’s depths of emotions, but rather learning to deliver dialogue in Arikara, a language he does not speak.
“It's a tough language,” he explained. “It would be just like me asking you to learn my language, and vice versa.” (The Canadian-born Howard is a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth nation, and speaks their language to a limited degree. )
Iñárritu was impressed by Howard’s efforts. “To learn that native language is a very extraordinary task,” the director told the Los Angeles Times. “To make us believe you own those words, to convey that emotion, is a high-caliber level of demanding performance. He delivered.”
Howard — whose other credits include Into the West and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee — appeared on the red carpet alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy when The Revenant had its world premiere December 16 at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre. Here is a video of an interview he did on that festive evening.
Read our features on The Revenant and the legendary Hugh Glass in the January issue.