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Lily Gladstone discusses new series ‘Under the Bridge’

Actor first Native American nominated for Oscar award

By Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times
Published: May 18, 2024, 6:04am
2 Photos
Lily Gladstone attends the premiere of Hulu&rsquo;s &ldquo;Under The Bridge&rdquo; at DGA Theater Complex on April 15, 2024, in Los Angeles.
Lily Gladstone attends the premiere of Hulu’s “Under The Bridge” at DGA Theater Complex on April 15, 2024, in Los Angeles. (Jerod Harris/Getty Images/TNS) (Bettina Strauss/Hulu) Photo Gallery

SEATTLE — A year ago, at the Cannes Film Festival, Lily Gladstone’s career shot into the stratosphere. “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Martin Scorsese’s based-on-fact drama about a mysterious series of murders in the Osage Nation in 1920s Oklahoma, made its world premiere at Cannes on May 20, 2023, to a nine-minute standing ovation. “The loudest screams,” wrote a Variety reporter at the time, “were directed at the film’s discovery”: Gladstone, who lived as a child on Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation and graduated in 2004 from Mountlake Terrace High School. She had already spent many years as a working actor in independent film, television and theater — but the Cannes screening marked the beginning of a new phase of her career, with bright lights shining.

The “Killers of the Flower Moon” role led to multiple honors, including a history-making Oscar nomination for best actress — the first for a Native American actor— and Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild wins. Chatting on Zoom this month in an interview to promote her new Hulu series “Under the Bridge,” Gladstone said that the past year has been astonishing — during awards season, “every day was packed with like five incredible, life-changing experiences.” (The flurry continues; two days before the interview, Gladstone walked the red carpet at the Met Gala, describing the event as “way chiller than I expected.”)

“Under the Bridge,” filmed after completing “Killers of the Flower Moon,” was a project Gladstone wasn’t certain she wanted to do, reluctant to follow one true-crime drama with another. But the series’ creator Quinn Shephard had Gladstone in mind when creating the role of Cam Bentland, a police officer on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, investigating the death of a teenage girl, Reena Virk. (Virk, who was 14, was killed in 1997 in Saanich, a community just outside Victoria; a group of fellow teens was accused of her murder. In the series, Virk is played by Seattle-based actor Vritika Gupta.) And Gladstone became intrigued during preliminary conversations, drawn by the series’ nonsensationalized view of the crime and the victim.

The project, she said, had an approach similar to “Killers”: “a self-awareness, a self-indictment … almost Brechtian, a great respect for the audience.” She was pleased by another similarity. Scorsese, Gladstone said, had optioned not only David Grann’s nonfiction book “Killers of the Flower Moon,” but also Native author Charles H. Red Corn’s novel “A Pipe for February,” which takes place during the Osage murders. Likewise, the “Under the Bridge” team optioned a manuscript by Virk’s father Manjit, “Reena: A Father’s Story” — “a source of material coming from the community most affected by it, from their perspective,” Gladstone said.

She’s proud that the series centers Reena, making her not just a victim but a fully realized character with her own story. “It’s so important to contextualize who she was,” Gladstone said. Though she’s not sure if she’ll take on another true-crime story soon, she sees the value of the genre: “It allows you to have real conversations about the systemic issues that are at play, because if they were pure fiction, you could just write it off as a political agenda or some kind of purpose the author has … But because it all actually existed, it happened in reality, you can’t avoid those conversations that it brings up.”

Her next project, however, will be something entirely different: a comedy. Gladstone will star with Bowen Yang (“Saturday Night Live”) in a remake of Ang Lee’s 1993 film “The Wedding Banquet.” The original featured a gay Taiwanese American man and a woman from China who agree to marry in order to placate his parents and get her a green card; the new version, Gladstone said, is “re-imagined for the aging millennial” in a Generation Alpha (the cohort after Gen Z) world. “It’s really lovely. It’s relationship-based, it’s farcical … it’s just so fun.” In a screen career that’s been drama-heavy, she’s thrilled to return to her roots: “My first moments stepping onstage as a kid, I was the comic relief character.”

Before she heads to British Columbia later in May to spend the summer filming “The Wedding Banquet” (a special treat, as she’ll be within a two-hour drive of her parents and dog), she’s got an important trip: back to Cannes, where this year she’s a member of the prestigious Cannes feature film jury, a nine-member group led by filmmaker Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”) that views a number of films at the festival and chooses the prestigious top award, the Palme d’Or. “I got the invitation, and I was just floored,” Gladstone said. “It’s such a huge honor, an incredible space to come into and bring some new representation to.” She’s also thrilled because of what it brings: a chance to watch movies. When a career catches fires, as hers has over the past year, it’s hard to find time to watch films “and that’s the heart of all of this,” Gladstone said.

For those who love to watch Gladstone, there’ll be plenty of opportunity: New episodes of “Under the Bridge” continue to drop on Hulu, and Erica Tremblay’s feature film “Fancy Dance,” in which Gladstone stars, will arrive in late June in theaters and on Apple TV+ (where “Killers of the Flower Moon” can also be found). And sometime after “The Wedding Banquet,” she’ll begin filming the drama “ The Memory Police,” based on Yoko Ogawa’s 1994 science fiction novel and adapted by Charlie Kaufman. (It’ll be later, Gladstone said, because director Reed Morano “wants snow on the ground.”)

It’s been a remarkable year, full of experiences that were “exciting and could be fun and frivolous but also be really deeply meaningful,” she said.