Rodney A. Grant, who played a Lakota Sioux warrior in "Dances With Wolves," lives a life many consider glamorous. But he told students in eastern Utah recently that his life hasn't always been so nice.
Now much in demand, he travels constantly, speaking to American Indian students on the importance of self-worth and self-esteem. Last week he addressed student assemblies on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation in eastern Utah and was the guest speaker at the Miss Union High School pageant.The actor has been recognized for his portrayal of "Wind-In-His-Hair" in the Academy-Award winning Western. He starred opposite actor-director Kevin Costner in many scenes. He was also the lead actor in the made-for-TV movie "Son of Morning Star."
Grant says his favorite role now is acting as a role model for American Indian youth. He told students from the Ute Indian tribe they can accomplish anything in life if they want it enough. "Indian success isn't measured by white man's success," he said.
He said that before his days of starring roles a lot of people had basically left him for dead. "I was nobody. A drunk and a drug user."
The 32-year-old actor was born and raised on the Omaha Indian Reservation in Macy, Neb. He left there in 1977 and spent six years in the Marine Corps Reserves, as well as time in prison for drug and alcohol abuse. "I was in jail several times and went to prison in 1979. It was a minimum security prison, but prison is prison no matter which way you color it.
"I got up in the morning when they told me to, went to sleep when they told me to. I hated doing that. When you're in prison, your life stands still. Everything was the same way everyday. When I got out, so many other people's lives had changed. I missed some of that. I was thinking, `I don't want to spend the rest of my life doing this.' So I was forced into getting treatment for my alcohol and drug abuse problems. When you have your freedom taken away from you, you never want to lose it again."
After he completed treatment, Grant successfuly auditioned for a part in the 1987 film "War Party." He moved to Los Angeles in 1989 "to pursue acting, because I've seen so many movies done with non-Indian actors. So I thought maybe I'd have a chance."
Grant said he never had an acting lesson before being cast in "Dances With Wolves." "That's why I say, you can do anything you want and not just Indians. I speak for any underprivileged youth that have a lot of pressures against them," he said.
"I went out there with the intention of making something of myself and not realizing that you needed schooling, you needed training. You needed a lot of things. I didn't have the things they were asking for, but I had the drive and determination to make something of myself and that's basically what got my foot in the door. I was in the right place at the right time, but I was totally committed to making this happen."
Grant said "Dances With Wolves" - honored as the best picture of the year -involved a lot of hard work. "We had to learn the Lakota Sioux language and speak it like we meant it. We also had to learn how to ride a horse all over again because it was a different experience to do all the things they required of us."