Actress Misty Upham dies: Five notable film roles

Misty Upham's films include "Frozen River" and "August: Osage County."
(Todd Williamson / Invision)

The life and career of Misty Upham has been cut tragically short, with authorities in Washington state positively identifying a body found at the bottom of an embankment as that of the Native American actress.

Upham, 32, was neither a major star nor a prolific screen presence, but in her time earned a measure of recognition and worked with such talents as Meryl Streep, Quentin Tarantino and Benicio Del Toro. Here are five of Upham’s notable film roles.

“Frozen River” (2008). Upham earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for supporting actress with this crime drama written and directed by Courtney Hunt. The film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, stars Melissa Leo as a desperate woman in upstate New York who begins smuggling illegal immigrants across the border with an outcast from the local Mohawk reservation (Upham).

“Django Unchained” (2012). Upham had a cameo in Tarantino’s neo-spaghetti western starring Jamie Foxx as a freed slave who teams with a German bounty hunger (Christoph Waltz) to rescue his true love (Kerry Washington). Upham played Minnie, the owner of a trading-post bar that becomes the backdrop to some startling violence (it is a Tarantino movie, after all).


“August: Osage County” (2013). Upham joined the star-studded cast of John Wells’ dysfunctional family drama based on the Pulitzer-winning play by Tracy Letts. Amid the pyrotechnic squabbling of Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch and other heavyweights, Upham played Johnna, the new live-in caregiver. Village Voice critic Stephanize Zacharek called Upham’s performance “blessedly understated.”

“Jimmy P.” (2014). In French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin’s drama about the psychoanalysis of Jimmy Picard (Del Toro), a Native American Blackfoot in the aftermath of World War II, Upham portrayed the title character’s childhood sweetheart. Upham herself was Blackfoot, and much of the movie was shot on her home reservation. At a news conference ahead of the “Jimmy P.” premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2013, Upham described making the movie as “coming a full circle to the reservation I left to fulfill my dream.”

“Cake” (TBD)

One of Upham’s final film projects was Daniel Barnz’s gritty drama starring Jennifer Aniston as a woman suffering from chronic pain who develops a relationship with the widowed husband of a member of her support group (Sam Worthington). “Cake” premiered last month at the Toronto Film Festival and does not yet have a U.S. distributor.


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