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The Revenant: ‘A giant hipster convention in the woods’

Melaw Nakehk’o is building up to the NWT premiere of her work in The Revenant on Friday, January 8.

The Fort Simpson artist-turned-actress spent a year working opposite the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio in her portrayal of Powaqa, a character in the tale of 1800s frontiersman Hugh Glass.

Ahead of walking down Yellowknife’s red carpet on Friday, Nakehk’o – who attended the world premiere in Hollywood last month – talked to Moose FM about her work on the Oscar-tipped movie.

I’m pretty excited about it and interested in how everybody is going to react to the film.

When the casting call came to Yellowknife, it was a Saturday.

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I have three kids – they had gymnastics, hockey and everything, so I’m pretty busy on Saturdays and wasn’t too sure if I could make it. But when I was at the grocery store, the guy at the produce section told me I should go! So I found a babysitter and made it to the casting call in the last 30 minutes.

When I got the part, I went back, I saw him and I said thanks. He was like, ‘I knew it!’ He was pretty stoked.

I got the script, read it and talked with the casting lady about the character and some of the things she goes through. I was confident that I’d be able to do it. But having been to the premiere and seen the film – how it is now, what the story is now – it’s different from what was in the script and what we shot.

It’s still all beautiful. It’s a beautiful movie. Really harsh but also very beautiful.

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
Leonardo DiCaprio in a promotional still from The Revenant.

It’s pretty violent. It’s this really intense story, this epic journey when the season is changing to winter, it’s cold, people are displaced from their homes. When you’re not ready for that situation, you’re in survival mode and lots of crazy stuff happens.

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I’m in about five minutes of the movie. So this NWT premiere? This is, like, a pretty big deal for five minutes! A lot of the scenes I was in got cut.

There are two female characters in this movie. Being a part of the production for the year was just me on set with all of these dudes. 

It was like being at a giant hipster convention in the woods. All of the characters had to grow beards as they were portraying fur trappers in the 1800s, so all of the crew decided to grow beards as well. Everyone had beards and rugged outdoorsy clothes.

The director did a really great job in casting Indigenous talent. For a mainstream Hollywood movie to have Indigenous people playing Indigenous people is really huge and I’m glad to be a part of that at this level of film. There were cultural advisors on different aspects of the film like language, set and costume. A lot of the stunt guys were native bronco riders. It was cool to see those guys working and talk to them about the stuff that they do, like rodeo.

Melaw Nakehk'o
Melaw Nakehk’o

We filmed in Montana, LA, outside Calgary and in Argentina. There was this crazy warm spell in Calgary, for over a month. Everything melted. They were trucking snow in from the mountains and had a snow machine. Then I got a call in June saying we were going to Argentina for two weeks.

I was super-interested in the costume. The designer is going to win awards for this movie. There are all of these amazing people at this level of film-making, people who have won Academy Awards for hair and makeup, costume and set design. I would sit down and end up talking to these guys about their different experiences in the film industry.

Doing this movie has opened up opportunities for me, in certain ways and on different levels. If the opportunity to work on something like this comes up again, I’d enjoy that.

Melaw Nakehk’o was speaking to Moose FM’s Mike Gibbins.

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