HOLLYWOOD – With enough acting experience and resumes that just keep getting longer, actors and best friends Kiowa Gordon and Andrew Orozco have already established themselves in Hollywood. Orozco and Gordon both open up about their friendship, upcoming projects and what it really takes to make it in Hollywood as Native actors.
How long have you two known each other?
KIOWA GORDON: I met Andrew awhile back. We’re really close.
ANDREW OROZCO: Pretty good, we’ve known each other for about 3 ½ years. I grew up with Kiowa’s sister, we went to the same high school and then I met Kiowa. We worked together throughout the years. We’re really good friends. We’re currently working on a few projects together, including Native Max.
Since you guys are best friends, what qualities do you admire most about each other?
ANDREW: What I admire most about Kiowa is that he’s a very down-to-earth guy, very cool to chill with, he cares a lot about people. He doesn’t let any of the fame get to his head, he’s very humble.
KIOWA: Andrew’s a really nice guy, hard-working dude.
What are some of the projects you guys are working on together?
ANDREW: Besides Native Max, hopefully a show, I just got a script sent to me. It’s a show called Dead Man. It was actually confirmed so if everything works out we’ll be working on that project together soon. Other projects are the 21st Century Skins Calendar. We also do a lot of events, signings and stuff like that together.
What about your separate projects?
KIOWA: I got a show coming out on the Sundance Channel, sometime in the early spring. It’s called The Red Road. I’m also in a movie called Drunktown’s Finest which is going to be in the Sundance Film Festival. I’m also going to do a film with my buddy Bronson [Peltier] in February. I also have t-shirts that I sell on Big Cartel called Walapai Clothing.
ANDREW:I have a film called Concrete 49, also starring Shiloh Fernandez, which will debut in the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a film about Native Americans and the stereotypes they face. The main character goes to New York to pursue acting and while he’s out there a lot of people stereotype him, like why is he out there. Throughout his journey he finds other Natives in which he stereotypes them as well. When he’s out there he finds himself spiritually. I’m really proud of that film. Another film coming out this coming year is Bangs to My Chest. I’m also going to be doing a music video with Tinsel Korey, in which we’re actually scouting locations for the next few weeks. Also in February we’re going to launch an action figure of myself.
Although you guys are established actors and only adding more films to an already lengthy resume, do you guys still get nervous when going into a casting or audition?
KIOWA: [LAUGHS] I’m not really fond of auditions. I go in and do my best but I do get nervous still.
ANDREW: Yes of course we get nervous. There are a lot of people there at a casting, sometimes it feels like you are competing against a wall sometimes; it’s intimidating. All you have to do is do your best, and know the character you are auditioning for; just give it your all and hopefully you will get the role. Overall I love doing that because it helps you get better at your craft. If you get that one role where there’s about fifty other people competing for the same role, you know that you got it because you’re the best actor there or you have something unique that the director was looking for.
As Native actors, do you get type-casted a lot at auditions?
KIOWA: Yeah, I get that sometimes. Like I go into a casting and see everybody sitting there, blonde-haired blue-eyed, and light-skinned. I’m sitting there thinking, “Man, I stand out” with all these people at the casting looking the same and then I get the call back saying I didn’t make it and if I’m watching that certain project and I see who got the role, then I think, “Oh they were looking for that certain look obviously”
ANDREW: I feel Hollywood type-casts a lot of the Native American actors which makes it a bit more difficult for us to get a bigger, mainstream role but overall I really feel strongly that there should be more mainstream Native American actors.
Do you feel there should be more Native actors in Hollywood?
KIOWA: Yeah. I think more Natives should try to make it into Hollywood.
ANDREW:Yes, I do think there should be more Native American actors in Hollywood and more mainstream. That is what I strive to do in my career, hopefully I can be a mainstream Native American actor.
Adam Beach mentioned in an interview that for him, Hollywood casting non-Natives to play Native characters set a dangerous precedent because it conveyed a message to Native actors that they were not good enough to carry a leading role. Do you find any truth to that statement?
KIOWA: Yeah. I mean, there’s that message that Hollywood puts our people on a lower tier than our Caucasian counterparts, so we do find it difficult to be able to get a job in Hollywood easily.
ANDREW: Definitely, especially when you’re Native American and they stereotype you and sometimes it’s hard for Natives to break into other things other than just playing a Native American. But I think it’s a good challenge if a Native American can break out into something that is more than that, more power to them for breaking stereotypes of Hollywood. For that I support Native actors that are trying to get into mainstream just as any other actor out there. That’d be pretty awesome to see one of our Native actors make it into mainstream, like Tom Cruise-level or whatever.
Has there ever been an instance in which you felt pressured to portray a version of who you are as a Native in a negative light?
KIOWA: Not so far, but I’m sure it’ll come up some time. Hope not. Hopefully, one day Natives will get away from the stereotypes that Hollywood portrays us as and show them that we are as talented as anyone else.
ANDREW: No, I haven’t experienced that just yet but I am sure there will be a time where that will happen. When it does happen I need to stay open to who I am and scripts that do not discriminate who I am as a person. This is why it is hard to get certain roles as a Native actor because some roles portray a Native in a negative light but you have to be open-minded and optimistic, but I will never forget who I am.
Do you feel any pressure to uphold a certain image of yourselves?
KIOWA: Sometimes. I just have my privacy and not worry about what people think about me.
ANDREW: Your image is like your role in acting, and that’s not who you are really, it’s the image you portray to the public eye. I get a lot of that misconstrued. I know who I am and that’s the only thing that matters. People can judge you by what they see but only you know who you are. Like for example: Before I made it to Hollywood and met these actors, I didn’t know what they were like. When I do meet these actors I’m like, “Wow this guy is really cool!” like I did when I first met Kiowa. So that’s why you can’t judge someone by who they portray in a movie because that’s not who they are.
Is it hard keeping your private lives private?
KIOWA: No. If you really want to you can stay under the radar, although it’s hard because of all the social media now. I find it fairly easy, I try to stay out of the limelight as much as I can because it sort of tears out your soul. You have to always watch out because you never know when someone’s trying to hurt you and you don’t know who you can trust. You always got to watch out.
ANDREW: You have to be cautious and always on guard with your surroundings and who you work with.
How do you not let success get to your head?
KIOWA: My family, having a close relationship with my family and friends. They constantly remind me of who I am and where I came from. I don’t let that noise or BS get to me. Once you do let that into your head you sort of turn into a puppet. You end up doing things for the wrong reasons and end up making mistakes. I don’t want that so I stay level-headed by staying close to my family, my daughter and my fiancé. Or staying home watching movies and playing video games [LAUGHS].
ANDREW: Well, you can never forget where you came from; you always have to be humble and not let anything get to your head, especially in this industry. I was brought up very old-fashioned and I always try to stay as grounded as I can. I am the same as everybody else, so I see and view myself as nothing special. The only special thing about me is that, I want to be the voice for Native youth; a positive influence so that they’ll have someone to look up to.
So, does staying connected and true to your culture and roots help?
KIOWA: Of course.
ANDREW: I believe it’s very important to stay grounded and true to your roots. Practice them as much as you can and be proud to be who you are. You need to learn and then you can teach your culture to your grandchildren someday. That’s why it is important to remember and be proud to be Native American.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in NativeMax. Used with permission. All rights apply.
Photographs by Mike Scabby.