McDonnell Learns Another Way of Life Making ‘Dances With Wolves’

“We had the best caterers in the entire universe,” quips Mary McDonnell. “I never ate such good food on a daily basis.”

The 37-year-old McDonnell also had the best time of her life starring opposite Kevin Costner in his critically lauded Western, “Dances With Wolves.” The New York-based stage actress plays Stands With a Fist, a white woman, raised by the Sioux after her family had been massacred by another tribe, who falls in love with Lt. John Dunbar (Costner).

Before filming began, McDonnell had to learn to speak Lakota, the Sioux language. “It took a while,” she says. “They sent me an audio tape with my lines translated so I started working by myself.

The thing that struck me immediately and made me very sad was that I had never heard this language. Here was one of the native tongues of the country I live in and I had never heard it. I thought that appalling.”


Learning the language wasn’t difficult, McDonnell explains, “but trusting that it was good enough was the hard part. Learning to ride bareback day in and day out was hard because we would become sore. And the weather could be hard. I remember shooting a scene where Kevin and I meet and roll around in the snow. It was absolutely freezing. It was so cold that I cry when I see the scene.

“But there were just so many things about making the film that were so incredible, you didn’t notice you were out on the prairie in South Dakota for four months.”

When “Dances With Wolves” premiered last month in Washington, D.C., McDonnell, Costner and co-producer Jim Wilson were each adopted by a Sioux family. “I was adopted by Doris Leader Charge and her family,” says McDonnell. “She was sort of my best friend on the film. Basically, what they have given us is an open door to their families and their lives and their love and support from now until the day we die.”