Wanna-Bes : Auditions for Indian Roles Bring Out Least Likely of the Mohicans


American Indians wish that the epic frontier movie “The Last of the Mohicans” had been the last of its kind.

White actors such as Randolph Scott portrayed Indian characters in that 1936 film. These days, Indians are more likely to be cast in key roles in films such as “Dances With Wolves.”

So Hollywood’s corps of Indian actors was pleased when an independent production company issued a casting call for “Native American males . . . willing to undergo rigorous training prior to filming” for a remake of “The Last of the Mohicans.”


But they weren’t so happy when they discovered that the Forward Pass film company failed to specify that aspiring actors should bring their official tribal identification cards with them for tryouts Thursday evening in Hollywood.

There were more than a few actors acting like Indians among the 100 performers who turned out for the auditions. People like brown-haired, blue-eyed Lance Patak.

“I’m Indian,” insisted Patak, 18, of Hollywood.

“I’m 7%. What was that tribe--let me think. It starts with Ch . Say something with Ch ,” he said, shrugging.

Was he Cheyenne? Chumash? Chippewa?

Patak thought it over a moment before finally answering. “It’s Czechoslovakian,” he said. “I’m 7% Czechoslovakian.”

Patak wasn’t the only one at the Hollywood audition for whom American Indian culture may have been a foreign commodity.

“These people are just taking away jobs from a lot of Indian people,” said Delbert Pomani, 30, of Oceanside, a full-blooded Sioux who worked in the film “Powwow Highway.”

“I lived on a reservation all my life. I know what being an Indian is all about,” he said.

Other aspirants said they were willing to try to learn.

“I’m an Indian in disguise,” said Mike Haney, 35, of Glendale, who has had roles as drug agents and a Marine in past films. “Maybe I can be a cowboy.”

Shannon Ratigan, 32, of Woodland Hills, whose most recent role was in “Life Stinks,” said he is part Canadian Indian and is “a good canoesman and stuff--I’m in good shape.”

Fabian Cordova, 31, of Canoga Park declared himself “part Apache--a small percentage. A very small percentage.” He said he has portrayed the legendary Aztec Montezuma in children’s shows at Forest Lawn Memorial Park and is “athletic. . . . I run 10Ks and lift weights.”

The most Indian-looking things about Lionel Denson, 25, of Van Nuys were his moccasin-type shoes. “Hey, there were black Indians,” said Denson, who has acted in “Harlem Nights” and “Murder, She Wrote.”

Sabino Villa Lobos, 25, of East Los Angeles, who said he had a role as a drug dealer in a TV movie, sported a beaded headband over his shoulder-length hair. He pledged to shave his head for a Mohawk-style haircut if he gets a part in “The Last of the Mohicans.”

The Mohawk-haircut requirement, however, was irritating to the audition’s real Indian actors--those who said they were authentic members of American Indian nations. And some Native Americans in the crowd were not happy that their rivals were actors trying to act like Indians.

“I won’t cut my hair. It’s symbolic of what I am,” said a Menominee named Apesanahkwat. The 42-year-old, who has had roles in “Bagdad Cafe,” “Annie Oakley” and “Dudes,” said his braided, gray-streaked hair has not been cut in 15 years.

More than 225 Indians are registered as actors with the Hollywood-based American Indian Registry for the Performing Arts, said Bonnie Paradise, executive director of the nonprofit group.

“There are a lot of wanna-be Indians in there,” Paradise said from outside the audition, which she helped organize. “It bothers me. There’s no shortage of Indian talent.”

The film will have six male leads and about 300 other Indian parts, she said. But advertisements for the film should have mentioned the hair-cut requirement and the need for Bureau of Indian Affairs tribal identification cards, according to Paradise.

A spokesman for Forward Pass stressed Friday that only one role has been filled for the planned 20th Century Fox release. Daniel Day-Lewis, who won an Academy Award for “My Left Foot,” has been cast for the lead role, he said.