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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 14, 2001 - Issue 40


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'Windtalkers' Star is the Real Thing


 by Brenda Norrell of Indian Country Today Staff-June 27, 2001


photo of Roger Willie by Brenda Norrell

photo of Roger Willie by Brenda NorrellTSAILE, AZ - "Oh just to hear that cadence again," the sound of the military and marching, that's all Roger Willie really wanted after serving four years in the U.S. Army.

Willie's dream became a reality when he was cast as a Navajo Codetalker in the upcoming movie, "Windtalkers," produced by award-winning director John Woo.

So, how did a Navajo Army veteran with two bachelor's degrees and a family become an actor in a feature film?

"The old-fashioned way. I was discovered," Willie said as he signed autographs at the Native American Music Festival 2001.

Willie auditioned during open casting in Durango, Colo., reading lines on camera. But it was his fluency in his first language Diné that likely landed him the part.

"I told them I spoke Navajo," Willie said, weaving English and Diné through his festival conversations. "I'm really hoping this will enhance the perspective of how important our language is."

Playing Charlie Whitehorse in the movie, Willie is an older U.S. Marine with a background of traditional and cultural knowledge.

"Basically, he's a medicine man."

Fellow American Indian actor Adam Beech also plays a codetalker in the film, with the star lineup including Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater. Slated for release in November, Willie's scenes were shot for three months each in Oahu, Hawaii, and California.

During filming, the U.S. military helped line up 800 off-duty Marines in Hawaii to recreate the invasion of Saipan. There were also 300 service members of Asian descent cast as Japanese.

Reflecting on how he got here, Willie says he loved basic training while serving in the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C. He really missed his friends when it was over.

"I would love to run in formation and sing cadence one more time," he said he told himself.

"This is my fantasy being fulfilled. It is like Fantasy Island."

Did he think he would ever wind up doing this?

"Never. Before all this I never had any ambition to be an actor. But I know a thousand people who would love to do that."

Being an actor pushed him to his limits, he said. "It makes you look at how you handle situations. It really makes you take a look at yourself."

Laughing, he added, "I lost some weight for the film, so it probably prolonged my life."

At the festival, he was joined by his parents John and Annie Willie from Continental Divide, N.M., and a cheering section of family members.

Speaking in Diné through a translator, Annie said, "I already knew in my heart that he would get it, because he's just a wonderful person. I just can't explain to you what kind of a person he is. He's serious and he doesn't take things for granted. This was special to get.

"Roger prays everyday for good things, so we know this was what he prayed for when he was growing up. Deep inside, I knew he would get this role."

"I'm proud of him," Sister Juanita Ojeda said. "When you meet Roger you feel like you've known him for a long time. He's a gentle and loving person."

Willie said he believes "our moment's decisions determine our destinies."

With bachelor's degrees in art and American Indian Studies, the 37-year-old actor plans now to attend graduate school in American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona.

"I've always wanted to teach at an Indian community college," he said, smiling towards Diné College.

Maps by Travel

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