When Adam Beach heard that Clint Eastwood wanted him to read for the role of the real-life Ira Hayes in his Iwo Jima war epic “Flags of Our Fathers,” Beach hadn’t been picking up his phone — but not out of any actorly airs.
“I was under the flu for three days, and finally I answered my messages,” Beach recalls. “My lawyer said, ‘Adam, when Clint calls, you call.’ ”
Beach scrambled to videotape himself, and a few days later he had the part. Now Beach wonders if his ailment brought something special to the audition. “I was so sick, it gave it this anguish, you know what I mean?”
Hayes was touted as a hero for being part of the famous flag-raising at Iwo Jima, but he died a broken man in the 1950s, a victim of alcoholism and the horrors of war that never left him.
“We don’t have many role models for our people,” says Beach, a Saulteaux Indian from Canada. “Ira was a very patriotic man, and this film was a dream come true for me. I accomplished what I wanted to do when I started acting, do a film that represents our people as human, and not stereotypical.”
With so many emotionally draining scenes, Beach knew he had to be a vigilant actor for Eastwood, who is known for often shooting only one take.
“It brings out the best in you,” Beach confesses. “He doesn’t tell you what to do, but knowing you have one take, the confidence that comes out of you is unbelievable. You don’t ever want to complain or be lazy or say, ‘Can I get a coffee, I’m cold!’ I think he knows his actors are out to impress him, and all you want to do is bring your A-game.”
Beach will also never forget the love he got from Hayes’ family and friends after the film was screened. “Hearing them say to me, ‘Finally, we understand why Ira didn’t want to talk about the war’ — that to me was my world.”
Beach ultimately hopes that the response to Hayes in “Flags” opens even more doors for Native American actors.
“We have to re-create the image of the Hollywood Indian, show that we are human beings,” Beach says. “I would love to see a show like ‘Law & Order’ where a receptionist is just an Indian woman. We want leaps and bounds, but to start, we have to be put in those little places.”
Favorite film of the past five years: “Elf.” “I thought it was very imaginative and new, and Will Ferrell? I think if he was just walking down the street and slipped and fell, I would laugh.”
Actor who impressed you greatly after working together: “Mandy Patinkin (“Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale”). The guy changed my life and how I look at myself and how I respect my family. He taught me how to demand respect on set for being an actor.”
Next project: “I’m shooting a film with a writer-director buddy of mine named Adrian Langley. He’s someone to watch for. It’s called ‘Paper Games,’ and I play a hit man who has to uncover a counterfeit deal that went bad.”