When Wes Studi sat in front of the television as a child, he noticed something was missing — people who looked like he did.
“I somehow felt left out of the whole thing,” said Studi, a Cherokee. “It was maybe only once a year that I would actually see someone who looked like an American Indian on film.”
In the 1950s, the Oklahoma native from Nofire Hollow, near Tahlequah, dreamed of starring on the big screen. But those days are long gone.
For the next 50 years, he appeared in dozens of films, including award-winning blockbusters and iconic films depicting strong American Indian characters.
On Monday night at the Oklahoma History Center, he was the guest speaker at Oklahoma's version of “Inside the Actors' Studio” for a crowd of more than 300 people.
The event highlighted the center's newest exhibit, “Oklahoma at the Movies,” a showcase of Oklahoma's role in filmmaking and Hollywood throughout history.
Studi drew laughs from the crowd during the hourlong presentation, drawing on stories about his past.
Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society and moderator of the question-and-answer segment, told Studi during the presentation that the interview would be available online.
“I wish you hadn't told me we were on camera,” Studi said. “Hi mom.”
Studi appeared in the Academy Award-winning films “Dancing With Wolves” (1990) and “Geronimo” (1993), and many other notable films. Most recently, he was the voice of Eytukan in James Cameron's “Avatar.”
But he has been one of few American Indian actors to star in leading roles in Hollywood films in the past century. He addressed the status of American Indians in film before the questions began.
“I don't know that we've hit mainstream screens or mainstream television,” Studi said. “It's just something that we continue to work at. I suppose one day we will have our American Indian star that can be one of the A-list actors of the world.”
But Studi, who lives in Santa Fe, N.M, with his wife, Mara, said he's not ready to pass his baton to another American Indian actor quite yet.
He has a recurring role on AMC's television series “Hell on Wheels” and is in the planning stages of a travel-host television series that tells stories about the Southwest. He said he also is scheduled to be the voice of a heavy-lift helicopter in Pixar's digital film, “Planes,” set to release in 2013.
The “Oklahoma at the Movies” exhibit features movie props used by Studi in some of his most famous films.
Studi said he was skeptical at first when Blackburn asked him to be part of the showcase honoring Oklahoma American Indians in film.
Studi, 64, laughed. “I don't think I'm old enough to be part of a museum at this point,” he said.
For more information about “Oklahoma at the Movies” and the video of Studi's interview (to be released in the coming weeks), go to okhistory.org.