We chat with Film Independent Spirit Award-nominated actor Chaske Spencer about his roles in Wild Indian and The English.
Cowboys & Indians: You have a wide range of credits on your résumé, ranging from the 2013 drama Winter in the Blood to the Twilight movie franchise. But you made an especially potent impact recently in Wild Indian, the indie drama in which you play Teddo, the tattooed ex-con who must come to terms with his role in a murder committed decades earlier by Michael Greyeyes’ Makwa. What was the most challenging part of playing this character?
Chaske Spencer: I think what was more difficult for me was staying in the zone with that character for a period of time. Taking on characters like that is a double-edged sword. It can be fun because you can explore that dark side — but also you have to take the negativity and all that stuff that you’ve been working on to correlate with what the character is going through in that script. So staying in that zone, it can be a very difficult thing. I didn’t really enjoy that part of it that much.
C&I: And the tattoos!
Chaske: [Laughs] The thing is, I had to leave the tattoos on my face because it’s so difficult to keep reapplying them. So we just left them on throughout the whole shoot. And I couldn't go anywhere because once I left the hotel room…
C&I: You scared people?
Chaske: Actually, I went to a local fast food restaurant, just to get a quick bite of something. I walked in and, like, I got the Carhartt jacket, I got the shaved head, the tattoos. I felt everyone’s eyes look at me. And then I felt some guys, who looked like they worked on a road crew, just mad dog me, and I had forgotten I had the tattoos on. So I went to order my food, and the lady was very uncomfortable taking my order. And then it dawned on me that that’s what people were responding to, this character's facial tattoos.
And I have a real quick story to end with. When I finish wrapping, this man, he looked like he worked on a road crew, he was in my hotel and we’d come down for breakfast early in the morning. I would be down there getting ready to get picked up to go to set. And he came down and he had real facial tattoos. He looked like he’d been around some. He looked like he had a major story in his past. Big dude, tattoos. He looked at me, I looked at him. And I looked away real quick, because he scared me. And then I realized I did what those people did to me in that fast food restaurant. And I felt really bad. And then come to find out, I heard from the hotel staff, he’s one of the nicest guys you ever want to be. So you see: You don’t judge a book by its cover. And I got a taste of that, and hopefully I won’t ever do that again.
C&I: OK, I have to be careful about asking questions that could be spoilers…
C&I: But your finest moment in the film comes when Teddo breaks down while confessing to someone close to the murder victim. Was that your most challenging scene? Or did it actually come as a relief?
Chaske: You know, the funny thing is, it was both. I can’t speak for all actors, but for me, when I work, it’s easier to cry or be really extremely happy. And it’s easy to do those emotions because they’re so extreme. But on the flip side of that, you’re sitting on that emotion for a long time until you get to that scene — and then you just don’t know how it’s going to turn out. I didn’t really expect to have that type of emotional reaction when that scene came around. It’s just, I’d been working on some things, the sort of things I do as an actor, but then when I finally got on the set that day — that was just what happened that day. And it was a relief, it was definitely a relief. I was very happy to get that scene over with. Because it’s just hard to sit on that type of emotion for a long period of time.
Working on scenes like that, they can take a lot of energy. I mean, if you're crying throughout most of the day, at the end of the day, we just want to numb out and go watch some really stupid TV, or just not do anything. And so that was very difficult for me, and I was very glad it was. I appreciate the scene and I appreciate the work I was able to do in it. But at the end of the day, I was very glad that it was behind us because we were done that day.
C&I: And then there was that key scene with Michael Greyeyes.
Chaske: What I liked about working with Michael is that we knew each other for a long time. So there’s that safety and that trust. So when we went in, we just were in character the whole time. I loved it. It’s like kind of a method acting with him. But it’s nice because we know each other, and we know when to turn it on and turn it off, and know when we’re in character and not in character. And he’s a lovely man. He’s a really good, really solid human being. And working with him was fun.
C&I: What can you tell us about your upcoming Prime Video series The English?
Chaske: OK, now it’s my turn to be careful. I’ll state that The English is a series written and directed by Hugo Blick. It stars Emily Blunt and me, with a very amazing supporting cast. And I can also say it’s a western, a revenge-romance/adventure, and I’ve never played a character like this before. I had one of the most fun times ever working on this set. Emily Blunt is just one of the best, most decent and genuine human beings that I’ve ever worked with. But I can’t really go too much into it. I wish I could.
C&I: Can you at least confirm that your character, Eli Whipp, is an ex-Cavalry scout and a member of the Pawnee Nation?
Chaske: Yeah. What’s crazy is that I’m enrolled as Lakota Sioux. So I’m part Sioux, and part Cherokee Creek. I have some Dutch and French in there as well. But I didn’t know anything about the Pawnee. I mean, it wasn’t my tribe. I didn’t know the history of the Pawnee. And I didn’t know that they were scouts at one point, and they took a lot of pride in that. And in The English, well, there’s a saying: My enemy’s enemy is my friend. And during that time and era, there was a lot of fighting over land. And, of course, gold. It was the Wild West.
The lines were blurred in a lot of situations. And there was really no right and wrong. And Eli Whipp, he’s a product of that. Without giving too much away, I just looked at him as a veteran who’s watching his country change, and wondering if he fits in this place anymore. And where does he go from here?
Wild Indian is now available on DVD/Blu-ray and streaming platforms. Chaske Spencer is a Best Supporting Male nominee in this year’s Film Independent Spirit Awards.
From our February/March 2022 issue
Photography: Chris Comfort; Illustration: Jonathan Fehr