Blackfeet actress Misty Upham had a big year in 2013 with important roles in two major movies: Jimmy P. and August: Osage County. She and Michelle Thrush walked the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival—the first Native actresses to do so—for Jimmy P. Her work in the August: Osage County ensemble has been recognized by the Screen Actors Guild, the Hollywood Film Festival and several critics’ societies.
But Upham has been just as busy off the screen with professional and personal activities. She recently spoke with ICTMN about what she’s doing when she’s not making movies.
You’re already winning plaudits for your work in August: Osage County. Tell us about that.
It was expected, but sort of strange to have awards when the film wasn’t really out yet. I remember with all of my other films we had to work for up to a year just to get recognized. Star power.
What was it like seeing your fellow cast members again at SAG Awards?
It was great seeing them. I never realized how busy everybody is including myself. I will never doubt or scoff at a headline that says someone was hospitalized for “exhaustion” because I’ve been hospitalized twice in the last six months. They really are the hardest workers. If people think getting to that level is tough, try maintaining it.
You’ve started your own acting troupe called Indigo Children. What’s the idea there? How does it differ from other acting troupes?
I am teaching my actors the technique I was taught, which is all about energy. You don’t have to say a word or make an expression. You project energy and that’s what touches people across the world who are watching it in a theater.
[The actors] will also be trained in every form. From singing to dance to business. I’m preparing the Navy SEALs of Hollywood.
We also have plans to give back to the Native community. Acting saved my life. I recognize that.
What are your plans for Indigo Children?
To not only become a troupe in the true definition of what a troupe originally was (a family), but to recruit only the best of the best. I have very strict rules. We started out with almost 30 members, but I had to let a lot of people go and some chose to quit. It ranged from flakiness, intimidation, lack of commitment, fear and drama. I’m teaching them the business and how to navigate the pitfalls. Nobody did that for me. I had to learn on my own.
You’re also active in charitable work. Tell us about the causes you support.
I am involved with Caring Across Generations (caringacross.org) which aims to educate the world about our elderly and incapacitated members of society. Many older people are dumped off in nursing homes and just left to die. They are very lonely and broken. This goes for young and ill people as well. Natives have always kept the generations connected. That’s why they chose me.
I am also an ambassador for domestic workers rights. I was a house-cleaner for many years and suffered great abuse and was treated less than human at times. I also had many wonderful bosses who were great. We just want to make it legal for fair wages, sick days, maternity leave, overtime pay, bio-hazard protection and in general a sense of respect.
An organization called Fuel – We Power Change helped connect you with these causes. How does that work?
Fuel – We Power Change has a headquarter in Los Angeles. Ai-Jen Poo, one of Time magazine’s most influential people of the world, contacted me to be an ambassador after hearing my story and struggle. Glad to help and educate people on these two great causes.