Calif. - Throughout the past decade it seems only three Native actresses
have garnered worldwide acclaim; Irene Bedard for her animated voice
of "Pocahontas" (1995), Tantoo Cardinal for her string
of supporting roles from "Dances with Wolves" (1990) to
"Smoke Signals" (1998) and Elaine Miles for her secretary
role in TVs "Northern Exposure" (1990-95). A crop
of beautiful actresses followed ready to stake their claim in film
and television if only in supporting or guest starring roles. They
include Kimberly Norris Guerrero in "Seinfeld" (1993),
Kateri Walker in "Stolen women, Captured hearts" (1997)
and Jade Herrera in "The Doe Boy" (2001). Today several
new actresses have emerged with a number of high profile TV projects
including Delanna Studi in the ABC TV mini-series "Dreamkeeper"
and Alex Rice in the PBS murder mystery "Coyote Waits."
Both are busy working and it looks like they might stay around for
a long time to come.
past 11 years Sheila Tousey, Menominee, has been a hard-working
actress whose work seems to always go unnoticed. She burst onto
the scene back in 1992 with the lead female role in "Thunderheart"
starring Val Kilmer and Graham Greene. She followed with TV projects,
voice over narration and the Sam Shepard film "Silent Tongue"
(1994). That year Tousey also returned to the University of New
Mexico to direct her first play "An Evening at the Warbonnet."
It may have been her last go at directing but Tousey would always
return to the stage where she learned her craft as an actress. She
performed on and off Broadway as well as in regional theater.
working in TV and film with "The Way West" (1995) and
that same year in Clive Barkers "Lord of Illusions."
Then came her strongest role in four years, with the HBO drama "Grand
Avenue" (1996). At the time, Irene Bedard was getting all the
publicity over the groundbreaking Native drama. Entertainment Weekly
magazine said, "The real star here is Sheila Tousey
They were right as Tousey stole the movie. As the troubled Mollie
with two teenage daughters, she tries to live in the inner city
while desperately holding onto her Native culture. Many believe
Tousey deserved an Emmy nomination for her work.
1997, Tousey worked on "All the Winters That Have Been,"
"Sparkler" and "Song of Hiawatha." Then, she
landed a role in the suspense horror film "Ravenous" (1999)
starring Guy Pierce and Robert Carlyle. Even though it was an unglamorous
role with Tousey dressed in rags, she played the part with an unmistakable
beauty and strength.
Tousey went back to the stage working again with writer and director
Sam Shepard in "The Late Henry Moss." The play had a powerhouse
cast including Sean Penn, Nick Nolte and Woody Harrelson. Tousey
was the only female cast member and Shepard said, "Shes
a great actress and has a lot of guts. She will hold her own with
the guys." That same year Tousey appeared in "Backroads"
and "Coming to light: Edward S. Curtis and the North American
Indians" on PBS.
Tousey helped co-produce an Independent film called "Christmas
in the Clouds," a comedy starring Graham Greene, M. Emmett
Walsh and Tousey as Mary the manager of a Native-run ski lodge.
Unrecognizable at first, because of a huge hairstyle, she provided
wonderful comic flair among a vast Native ensemble. The film went
to the Sundance festival and screened across the country winning
numerous awards. It was even screened at the White House for fire
fighters after the disaster of Sept. 11.
received the role of Emma Leaphorn in the PBS murder mystery "Skinwalkers"
in 2002. The First Americans in the Arts honored her with a best
supporting actress award for that film last February Her latest
television work is as Judge Danielle Larson on the NBC cop drama
"Law & Order SVU (Special Victims Unit),"a reoccurring
role she has held since 1999. She even appeared in the original
"Law & Order" back in 1990 as Mrs. Vilardi.
appeared two more times as Emma Leaphorn in "Coyote Waits"
and "Thief of Time" on PBS. This Christmas you can see
Tousey in the ambitious ABC mini-series "Dreamkeeper."
She portrays Janine who is concerned about her father who wants
to take a trip to the All Nations pow wow in Albuquerque. She was
nominated for best supporting actress for that role with the American
Indian Film Festival in San Francisco. However, she lost to co-star
Delanna Studi for the same mini-series.
clear that someday Tousey will be honored for her underrated work
as an actress, but for now her acting speaks for itself and we hear
her loud and clear.