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Activist-actor Russell Means takes his first stage role

November 13, 2009 |  5:09 pm

Russellmeans He was a controversial figure of the '60's and '70's counterculture movement. He participated in an armed standoff of American Indians against the U.S. government in 1973 at Wounded Knee. Later, in 1987, he ran for president (as a Libertarian). Now activist-turned-actor Russell Means is entering yet another phase of his career -- he's taking on his first role in a stage play.

Means will star in the world premiere production of "Palestine, New Mexico" at L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum. Written by Richard Montoya of the group Culture Clash, the drama tells the story of a military officer who is investigating the death of a soldier in Afghanistan. Her search leads her to the soldier's father (Means), who is guarding a secret about his son.

The production opens next month and runs through Jan. 24.

Having acted in both movies and television, Means said he has become fed up with Hollywood portrayals of Native Americans. "Hollywood doesn't treat us with any respect. They've returned to a 1940s stereotype of Indian people," he said. "It's sickening to have to keep righting the wrongs of the scriptwriters."

He said that "Palestine" treats "our people with respect."

"It's a role that has a deep dark secret," he continued. "A shameful secret -- the character is honor bound
to keep the secret. And it's the death of his son and the way he dies which allows for the secret to be told. So that everyone can see what a ridiculous secret it is."

Lisa Peterson,who is directing the production, said the drama is in the vein of Culture Clash's politically engaged "Water and Power." She said the play will run slightly under 90 minutes, with no intermission.

"We showed [Russell] the script early on and luckily he really loved it," she said. "He surprised and
delighted us by accepting it."

Means, who recently turned 70, is a genial raconteur who is more than willing to reminisce about his eclectic career as an activist, politician and actor. Of his presidential bid, he said: "It was 20 or 30 years premature. It was a breaking of the ice as well as one hell of an education."

Of the Wounded Knee incident: "We had been pushed into a corner. Like any natural animal, it's a matter of survival. We did not expect to come out of there alive. But it was worth it."

His favorites of the movies he's appeared in: "'The Last of the Mohicans' is up there. I thought Wes Studi deserved an Oscar nomination -- he spoke three languages in the movie. 'Black Cloud' and 'Windrunner' are also up there. And 'Pocahontas' [he supplied the voice of Powhatan]. It's the finest film about American Indians. What's great is that it's a Disney film. It's the first image of American Indians that a lot of kids will see and I can't think of a better film."

-- David Ng

Photo: Russell Means. Credit: Agence France Press

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