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Lily Gladstone credits Montana childhood, UM education, for acting success

Lily Gladstone during her acceptance speech
Posted at 8:46 AM, Mar 01, 2024

MISSOULA — For Montanans, the Oscars will hit a little closer to home this year.

Lily Gladstone is the first Native American woman to be nominated for an Oscar. She is a Browning native, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, and a University of Montana Alumni.

She attributes much of her success to her time in Montana.

Gladstone grew up in Browning on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation until she was about 11 years old. She has strong memories of the Missoula Children’s Theater Little Red Truck coming through her community.

It was in those early MCT plays that her family and friends could see the potential in Gladstone.

“Everybody kept saying back then, 'Oh, we're gonna see her in Hollywood someday,’” she said. “I think a lot of small-town Montana kids who are creative know what that feels like. It's like your community just roots for you.”

Even after her fame has grown with her performance in “Killers of The Flower Moon,” Gladstone has made the time to speak to University of Montana students.

Educating the next generation has always been important to Gladstone, starting with her job at the Roxy Film Academy many years ago.

“It's always built into my schedule because that's where it started,” she said. “Like, I know what it is to grow up in, you know, a rural community.”

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Gladstone spent middle and high school outside of Seattle, where she was surprised to see such prevalent art education. She remembered how hard it was to come by comprehensive art programs in rural school districts.

“If there's any kind of a semblance of an arts program, it's because somebody has taken the initiative to put it there,” she said. “I just remember how much it meant to me when MCT would come through, you know, taking up some of these opportunities to do media storytelling workshops, and you know, filmmaking camps with kids, theater camps with kids in rural Montana locations. It's like I know in every single one of those classes there's a little me.”

When she graduated high school, Gladstone started looking at fine art schools across the country, including Juilliard and NYU, but she settled on Montana in order to connect once again with her roots.

“I was also so just in my bones lonely for Montana,” she said.

Lily Gladstone

UM has a 360-degree approach to acting. They teach students every aspect of filmmaking, from lighting to directing and costume design.

Being a student in a smaller program, Gladstone was able to build up her acting experience.

“Pretty early on I was identified by UM Media Arts as being a camera-friendly actor, so I was doing a lot of that there,” she said. “And when I left UM, I felt miles ahead of where I probably would have been if I'd come out of the Tisch School and had gone right into the New York acting circle because I left school with a full reel.”

RELATED: 'For every little rez kid': Indigenous voices across Montana praise Lily Gladstone's Golden Globe achievement

She says starting her acting career in Montana was the perfect path for her.

“You don't need to leave home, like truly Hollywood is everywhere but LA now,” she said. “You can, if you have a passion for it, you just find a way to do it, and there's absolutely, you know, Montanans know how to make it happen if they want to do.”

She hopes the spotlight she’s created for herself inspires creative indigenous students and other rural Montana kids.

“I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that early, early childhood support and, you know, people just really, really encouraging me along this path, and probably would have given up on it a long time ago.”

The 96th Academy Awards ceremony airs Sunday, March 10 at 5 p.m.