I interviewed Misty Upham November 2013 for Starpulse. I felt an extra responsibility to her as a person of Native American ancestry. She was a talented, beautiful woman. She wanted to use her platform to change the world. Her star was just beginning to sparkle. She had her challenges dealing with being bipolar. My heart and soul aches over her death. As you read her candid interview, you will see her spirit shine through.
Misty was reported missing by her family on October 5, 2014 in Muckleshoot, Washington. Her body was found along a river on October 16, 2014. It is unclear if it was suicide or foul play.
May you find peace in God’s arms, Misty.
Here’s the interview:
What was your audition process like for August: Osage County?
The casting directors called my manager and asked me to come in. I was working as a house-cleaner to support myself (something I REALLY enjoy is cleaning and organizing) in Los Angeles. I asked my boss for the next afternoon off, put my last ten dollars in the gas tank and drove to Burbank and read for John Wells and the casting people. He asked me about my background and my experience and then I read through it once and John said, “Thank you.” He was very vague (something I would learn is part of his nature) and I thought I blew it. A friend came to give me money to get home. A week later I was cast as Benicio Del Toro’s love interest in Jimmy P: Psychotherapy Of A Plains Indian, which was shooting on my reservation in Montana. So I left L.A. with a prayer in my pocket.
What did you do when you found out you got the role of Johnna?
The production people on Jimmy P were all rooting for me to get the role and one of the most influential producers said her husband was working on that production. So she called one of the producers and told them, “You have to hire Misty. We love her!” They all promised to throw me a party because they knew I would get it. We wrapped Jimmy P. and the day I was driving home I got a call from my manager. He asked, “Where are you?” “Somewhere in the mountains of Montana.” He then said, “I just heard from the studio and they are offering you the part!” Then he told me the details and the phone went dead. I couldn’t call him back. I looked up and noticed the blue sky, the clouds and the mountains and knew this would be a moment I would never forget. I began to cry and I told my dad, “Dad! I got the part! I’m gonna work with Meryl Streep! And I’m not poor anymore!!!” My dad grabbed his camera and took a picture of me. It’s on my Facebook page.
How did you prepare for this role?
I was trained in a special kind of acting. It was really useful with most of my early work. It’s energy acting. Only a few people are aware of it. It’s very spiritual. My teacher was one of my first loves. We grew up in Seattle. He taught me how to convey a feeling or thought without moving my face or saying a word. It’s all energy. I have an acting troupe called, The Indigo Children. I’m teaching them this secret formula. I think it’s a new era of acting. Anyone can tell when someone doesn’t want you around, or when you walk into a room and realize everybody’s just been talking about you. It’s energy.
Who is Johnna?
Johnna, is a young woman who had to drop out of college to support her family when her father died suddenly. She is a Cheyenne Indian, but most of all, an independent and compassionate person. She’s hired to take care of Meryl Streep’s character that is falling through a downward spiral of pill-addiction and chaos. She’s the silent person, the observer and the secret holder. But she’s also a tough chick when it comes to protecting women.
What was it like to be in an all-star cast?
Intimidating. I was so nervous. It took about two weeks before I could step onto set without feeling faint. Then you get to know some of them and realize they are regular people. Some I didn’t want to know because they have been such a presence throughout my life with their work. I didn’t want to ruin the fantasy that their “star-power” gave me in times when I wanted to give up. That’s what happens when you work on sets. You learn that people are humans. Just like everyday. It’s just a bit more complicated with the fame and power.
What is August: Osage County about?
It’s about family, dysfunction, selfishness, sacrifice, frailty and love. One of the lessons I’m learning is that you can love someone without them loving you back. Love is given. Love can never be taken. And if someone doesn’t want to give it, all you can do is love him or her anyhow. That’s the beautiful part of this movie. Forgiveness doesn’t always happen in our lifetimes. More times than not it happens too late.
What was your first acting role?
Theater, I was in a play by my first company Red Eagle Soaring based in Seattle, WA. I played the creator. God. In my first film role, I played a young mother who was domestically abused by her drunken husband. It was a rez film.
Please share about Chief Heavy Runner.
My grandfather, Chief HeavyRunner, was a peaceful man. Very forward thinking. He made a treaty to protect our people and the U.S. Gave him a paper and said, “If anybody tries to attack you, show them this paper and your people will be safe.” January 23rd, 1870, at the winter campground of HeavyRunner, the U.S. Calvary attacked under the command of Col. Eugene Baker. Chief HeavyRunner ran out waving the paper and they shot him on site. 173 women, children and elders were killed. 90 survivors were forced to walk to find shelter. It was 40 below zero and snowing. HeavyRunner’s two daughters and two sons survived. One of his sons, Comes-With-Rattles, was saved by a man name Hiram Upham, and Englishman, who adopted him, at Fort Benton. His name was changed to Billy Upham. Billy had two sons, Joe and Donald. Joe had a son named William Upham. That is my father, Charles Upham’s father. So I am a daughter of Chief Heaveyrunner.
Are you inspiring Native Americans to pursue the arts?
I am inspiring new standards: No limitations and no excuses. Everybody told me I had no chance in hell. For nineteen years I’ve fought those words and now I’m starring with Meryl Streep. For any actor, not just Natives, work hard, learn, work harder, be professional and work harder than ever. One day, if you don’t give up, you can make it. And age, race, weight, type will hold no power over you.
If you could change the world, what would you do?
I would give people the ability to recognize that no matter how bad a person is, how many mistakes they’ve made, whatever their faults are, at one point they were an infant with all the possibilities in the world. Some get love, some get the other. View the world like that and it will give more understanding. That is why I have no hate towards White people, or any race. It’s all learned and inflicted upon us. I don’t think any of us start out and are like, “I want to be a monster!” I would give understanding. I think that would change a lot of things.
Here is August: Osage County trailer