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Lily Gladstone’s Oscar nomination allowed her to shine a bright light

By Adam Graham, The Detroit News
Published: June 24, 2024, 6:00am
3 Photos
Isabel Deroy-Olson, left, and Lily Gladstone in &Ccedil;&fnof;&uacute;Fancy Dance.&Ccedil;&fnof;&ugrave; (Apple TV+/TNS)
Isabel Deroy-Olson, left, and Lily Gladstone in ǃúFancy Dance.ǃù (Apple TV+/TNS) Photo Gallery

Even if she didn’t take home the best actress trophy at this year’s Academy Awards, Lily Gladstone’s nomination was still a win.

The 37-year-old was the first-ever Native American to be nominated for the award, which she earned for her role as Mollie Burkhart in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.” And the recognition she received help lift other projects she was in, including “Jazzy,” which premiered at this month’s Tribeca Film Festival, and “Fancy Dance,” which opened Friday in theaters ahead of its June 28 arrival on Apple TV+.

“Fancy Dance,” in which Gladstone stars as a woman living on Oklahoma’s Seneca-Cayuga Nation reservation who is trying to track down her missing sister, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2023. But the slow-burn family drama didn’t find a distributor until Apple, which also released “Killers of the Flower Moon,” picked it up in the wake of Gladstone’s Oscar nomination, due in large part to her elevated profile.

“I guess the biggest hope about having as much exposure and as much light shown on me through the campaign was that it would bring interest to other projects, and other projects by Native filmmakers, particularly,” says Gladstone, on the phone this week from Newark, New Jersey, before boarding a plane to Vancouver, British Columbia, to finish filming a remake of Ang Lee’s “The Wedding Banquet,” opposite “SNL’s” Bowen Yang. “When you have so much light shining on you, you can kind of tilt what direction that mirror is pointing and cast some really concentrated bright light elsewhere, and it’s a gift to be able to do that.”

“Killers of the Flower Moon,” which took place in 1920s Oklahoma and is based on a series of real-life murders of members of the Osage Nation, brought Gladstone to the next level in her career. But she says she’s happy “Fancy Dance” technically premiered first, “because I got to hang onto my indie cred a little longer,” she says with a laugh.

In “Fancy Dance,” Gladstone plays Jax Goodiron, a resourceful woman living on the edge of the law who is taking care of her niece, Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson) while trying to track down her sister, who has gone missing. It’s a tough story told with nuance and grace by director Erica Tremblay, a Native American documentarian making her narrative feature debut.

Gladstone was able to use her “Killers” platform to the film’s advantage: When she won IndieWire’s award for best performance for “Killers,” she used the acceptance speech to stump for “Fancy Dance,” and the film was picked up by Apple two weeks later. “I’m so happy that these two films are living in the same house, on the same channel, and that they’re accessible in the same way,” she says.

While they tell two very different stories, separated by a century, the two films share a lineage which she says “Killers” helped bring to the fore.

“In reality I don’t think audiences knew what they were missing before watching Marty’s film,” says Gladstone. “I think Marty’s film gave audiences a chance, in a really large way and maybe for the first time at that level, the opportunity to fall in love with Indigenous women, and to really care about what happens to a family, to the sisters of Mollie. People wanted more from her world, because there was that general feedback in the filmgoing world, having this sort of ache to have that story more developed. And suddenly a film like ‘Fancy Dance’ had special interest and it finally got to be revisited.”

Gladstone grew up in northwestern Montana, where she was raised on the Blackfeet Reservation, which butts up against the Canadian border. She started acting when she was a child but her breakthrough role came in Kelly Reichardt’s 2016 drama “Certain Women,” in which she stole the movie from her A-list co-stars Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams and Laura Dern.

“Certain Women” put her on Hollywood’s radar, and suddenly her father’s predictions that she would grow up to win an Oscar didn’t seem so far-fetched. But to many in her community, she says, she did win the Oscar, even if the trophy ended up going to Emma Stone for “Poor Things.”

“One of the funny things that I just love so much about Indian country is when I won the Golden Globe, I think a lot of people thought that was the Oscar,” Gladstone says. “But the perk about the film’s wins was getting to see how Indian country responded to that, and the ripple effect of how it has resonated. Now it’s possible. We’re not going to ever live in a world again where little res girls are not seeing themselves on the major awards stage, speaking their language.”

Gladstone gives credit to those who came before her — “I don’t feel like I’m carrying anyone on my shoulders,” she says, “I’ve always felt like I’m being carried on the shoulders of other people” — and says she was able to find moments of happiness for herself on the grueling, monthslong Oscar campaign trail.

“I haven’t had nearly as many little breakdowns or cry sessions as I thought I might,” she says. “There’s a lot more opportunities to laugh and enjoy all this than I ever anticipated.”

In addition to “The Wedding Banquet,” Gladstone is also due to star in “The Memory Police,” a sci-fi film penned by Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). And after years of fighting to find her place in Hollywood, she’s finally on sure footing, which makes her want to seek out her younger self and let her know everything’s going to work out.

“Sometimes I wanna hug that boisterous, weird, chubby little res girl that couldn’t contain her energy and just had to perform,” she says. “It’s like, ‘good job you little weirdo, you did it.’”

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MPA rating: R (for language, some drug content and sexual material)

Running time: 1:32

How to watch: Now in theaters Friday and streaming on Apple TV+ June 28


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