There is the Michael Horse who is a respected Native American jeweler and painter. Then there is the Michael Horse who is an actor. One has a serious devotion to his art, which he has been making for 25 years. The other is ready with a joke about a profession he sometimes has trouble taking seriously.
Busy enough to be mistaken for two people, Horse is currently riding high in his second profession. He has a big romantic part in a hit Canadian television series, and is basking in north-of-the-border limelight. Recently, his picture graced the cover of Canada’s national weekly TV magazine for a cover story titled “Native Wit.”
His star vehicle is Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s “North of 60,” a drama set in an Arctic Indian Village. In it, Horse has become a national heartthrob as the leading lady’s new boyfriend.
“He’s hot stuff right now,” said TV writer Michele Marko of the Vancouver Sun.
“North of 60,” according to Toronto Sun TV writer Claire Bickley, is kind of a “Northern Exposure” done as a quirky soap opera. It attracts up to 1.5 million viewers per episode, placing it among the nation’s top-rated shows. Horse plays Andrew One Sky, a children’s therapist from the city who takes up with Michelle Kenidi, a lonely Mountie (played by Tina Keeper), who is stationed in a remote Indian village near the Arctic Circle.
Southlanders need a satellite dish to pull in “North of 60,” but they needn’t go far to find Horse’s other work. He’s in several movies in video release, his voice is in TV cartoons, and his artwork is widely displayed in museums and galleries. He was in an episode of “The X-Files” last season and he even rode in last month’s Tournament of Roses Parade.
Home is here in the San Fernando Valley, where he returned after filming wrapped for the fourth season of “North of 60.” He was deep into preparations for an art show in Florida when he took a break recently to talk about all the Michael Horses out there--the voice-over actor, the producer, the artist.
How about Michael Horse the Academy Award winner?
“I’d like to win an Oscar and then refuse it so I can protest the way they’ve treated Marlon Brando,” he quipped.
Tall and youthful looking at 45, Horse folded his lanky frame into a chair at his ranch-style suburban home in North Hollywood. He wore denim jeans, a blue work shirt and, hearkening to his Yaqui, Mesceloro Apache and Zuni Indian roots, a few pieces of jewelry: a silver and turquoise bracelet and slab turquoise earrings.
On the wall behind him, a framed animation cel of a hogtied Lone Ranger frantically looking for Tonto, recalls his first major role: as the Masked Man’s faithful companion in the 1981 “Legend of the Lone Ranger.” It was an art client who urged him to audition. She had a friend in the production company. She also knew that Horse had once performed in rodeos.
His big-screen debut--not a critical success but a tremendous showcase for the young actor--was followed by the meaty role of the laconic but perceptive Deputy Tommy “The Hawk” Hill in the TV classic “Twin Peaks.” Now he works steadily in westerns and adventure movies: He was a villain in “Passenger 57,” an Indian brave in “Wagons East.”
But Horse would rather stay home and make jewelry than do some of the work he has been offered.
“I’ve actually [talked] myself out of some parts because I said, ‘Did you read this? This stuff stinks.’ They say, ‘Who are you?’ and I go, ‘Well, I can read.’ ”
Horse shows off a heavy gold dinner ring he has been working on--a clear demonstration of how easy it would be for him to walk away from Hollywood. The ring is decorated with an inch-tall kachina doll wearing a tiny diamond necklace and holding a microscopic feather and a colorful shield of inlaid precious stones.
He makes things big and small. A silversmith by trade, he creates bridles and bowls and spurs. He also paints. Last fall he and Glendale muralist Bernie Granados Jr. designed and built the room-size installation “Spirit Horses” at the Southwest Museum in Mount Washington.
The exhibit blends contemporary artwork with ancient objects such as blankets, fetishes and beaded saddles. Horse contributed petroglyph cave paintings and ledger drawings.
At the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, Horse will narrate the major summer exhibit, “Inventing Custer--Legends of Little Big Horn,” which capitalizes on the public’s lingering fascination with the ill-fated U.S. Army general who was defeated by Chief Crazy Horse.
Autry production director John Langellier said Horse was chosen because he has a pleasantly conversational style.
“He is more of a storyteller, and we wanted it to be a native voice,” Langellier said. “He’s a genuine talent. And believe me, if he didn’t have talent, we wouldn’t use him.”
If Horse’s schedule already seems impossibly full, there is more. He also owns a company in Oklahoma that produces and distributes public service announcements for television, which are aimed at reducing social problems such as drunk driving and child abuse among Native American viewers.
And he recently spent a day at home working with writers on a movie project titled “Scorpia,” about a female adventure hero. Horse’s character is a mystical Indian who empowers her to fight for justice.
“It’s kind of a corny concept, but it sounds like fun,” he said. “I like being outdoors. I like action films.”
Which explains why he’s perplexed over his latest romantic-hero persona. “I did my first love scene in 15 years of my career and didn’t care much for it,” said Horse, who has been married four times. “I’d rather be on my horse than be with the girl.”
Actor, artist, narrator, producer, even action-adventure hero. What more is there for one man to accomplish?
Horse has studied film direction and thinks it’s time for a Native American director to step forward for a major theatrical project. “But I don’t know if I can do it,” he said. “An actor gets to take a nap, but the director is working hard from dawn till midnight. I’m kind of lazy.”