Piikani actor grows his career and influence

·4 min read

Owen Crow Shoe’s introduction to the world of acting happened almost by accident.

After returning home from playing football in the CJFL with the Kamloops Broncos, Owen’s dad invited him to tag along to the set of Hell on Wheels, where he was working as a background actor riding horses.

“I was actually getting to watch the whole scene, getting to watch the actors do what the actors do, and it inspired. I was thinking, ‘You know, I can do that — I want to do that.’ ”

He continued working periodically for the series, keeping an eye out for other chances to get in front of the camera. It’s no exaggeration to say his next break was for one of the biggest films produced this century.

“I got the opportunity on The Revenant to actually audition,” he recalls. “The director said he liked me, but I didn’t end up getting the role I was auditioning for. But he still wanted to feature me a little bit, so he wrote me in for some other stuff.”

Although most of his scenes didn’t end up making the final cut shown in theatres, the experience working on a production of that scale with some of Hollywood’s top talent — the movie had a budget of $153 million and grossed $533 million, and was nominated for best picture and won Oscars for best director, best cinematography and best actor at the 88th Academy Awards — gave Owen a confidence boost.

“It got me really thinking ‘Maybe I can do this.’ It gave me that much more motivation to keep going,” he says.

Enrolling in acting classes in Calgary helped further his skills that landed him roles with increasing screen time.

CBC’s Hudson, Netflix’s Black Summer, Amazon Prime Video’s Barkskins and Tin Star, and APTN’s Tribal are recent series with episodes starring Owen as the lead character.

So far, Black Summer has been one of his favourite productions to work with.

“The thing that I liked about Black Summer was there was a script, but we never really did anything by the script — it was always just show up and do the improv, and that’s what I really enjoyed about this role. It was all about showing up and having fun for a day,” says Owen.

“It was probably the best experience I’ve ever had on set. The whole cast, the whole crew — everyone was friendly.”

Other acting gigs have taken him to Vancouver and Quebec City, though the majority of productions he works on are set right here in Alberta.

This past summer saw Owen get cast in another large production overseas: the remake of the 1971 Swedish film The Emigrants, a story about a family who emigrate from Sweden to the United States to escape economic hardships in the 19th century.

The original film stands as one of the few non-English films nominated for best picture in the Academy’s history, which has helped generate much online excitement about its December 2021 release. Without giving the plot away too much, Owen shares that he plays a Dakota man the family meets while travelling.

Experiencing working on a foreign set was a highlight for Owen.

“It was a really down-to-earth kind of set,” he says. “I really enjoyed it. It was different than anything I had filmed here in North America. They were more of a laid-back kind of a thing; there really wasn’t as much as a hierarchy.”

While looking forward to taking on increasingly complex roles, Owen believes keeping a simple focus is the most important thing to develop.

“A lot of it is just being in the moment at the time,” he explains. “It helps you relax when you’re not thinking about the camera, and you’re not thinking about acting either. You’re just being in that moment. That way you have almost genuine reactions. That’s a big thing for me.”

Equally important for Owen is recognizing that his increasing screen time is offering a shift in media representations of First Nations people in Canada.

With other indigenous actors in Alberta picking up roles on the big screen, such as Kainai’s Eugene Brave Rock starring in DC’s Wonder Woman and Bigstone Cree First Nation’s Alyssa Wapanatahk being cast as Tiger Lily in Disney’s upcoming Peter Pan live-action remake, Owen sees a bright future for First Nations people on the silver screen.

“It’s a good platform for First Nations to be able to get their story out,” he says. “Let people know who we are and that we’re still here — that’s the way I see it when I go out and do what I do.

“That’s always in the back of my mind, that I’m telling my own story at the same time I’m telling the story that’s going on in the script.”

As it stands, it seems that story — the story of a young man’s journey from small-town Brocket to Hollywood stardom — is well on its way.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze