Graham Greene: The RD Interview

Veteran Canadian actor Graham Greene on paying the bills, dancing with wolves and channelling a higher power.

Graham Greene, Canadian actorPhoto: Jake Giles Netter

15 Minutes With Graham Greene

Reader’s Digest Canada: You play God in your new movie, The Shack. How do you get ready for a role like that?

Graham Greene: Well, I never really prepare. That particular day, after I got made up, I looked into the mirror and based the character on an elder who was one of my teachers before he passed away. His gentleness was incredible.

The Shack is a faith-based film. Did that affect your decision to sign on?

I’m not a churchgoer; my beliefs are personal. I’m a working actor with a mortgage to pay. If I don’t work, 
I get edgy and miserable. To make themselves interesting, a lot of performers come up with horse-poop ideas about why they took certain parts. The role looked intriguing; it was offered to me and I accepted.

Many people know you from your Oscar-nominated performance in Dances With Wolves. More than 25 years later, what do you remember most about that experience?

My horse. He and I got on like a house on fire. On the last day I was shooting, this kid came up and told me it had been his—turns out he’d had to sell it. After filming, I went to the producers and said, “Make sure this kid gets his horse back. Take it out of my salary if you have to.”

You also starred opposite wolves in Twilight. You clearly don’t subscribe to that adage about how a smart actor never works with animals or children.

I also did a TV series called Wolf Lake with Lou Diamond Phillips.

Any advice on dealing with vulpine co-stars?

Don’t. The ones in Dances With Wolves were pretty unpredictable. They were supposedly trained, but you never really knew what they were going to do. They were wild animals.

You recently appeared in Te Ata, a biopic about a Native American entertainer in the early 20th century. Is it important to you to tell the stories of First Nations people?

Not particularly. I’ve played old Jewish men, New York police officers, French soldiers. I’m a fan of diverse casting. I hate that phrase, “Graham Greene, Native actor.” You don’t hear people say, “Denzel Washington, black actor,” or “Kevin Costner, white actor.”

Maybe it’s a reflection of the fact that there aren’t enough working First Nations actors.

I don’t know about that. There are a lot more Native actors out there than there were 40 years ago, when I started. When kids ask for advice, 
I say learn how to wait tables, get your cab licence and develop a thick skin.

You’ve said you never intended to be an actor. What would you be doing now if you hadn’t chosen this route?

I’d probably be a welder. I started out as a carpenter, a welder, a draftsman, a carpet layer, a roadie and an audio tech. I stumbled into acting and I thought, These people keep me in the shade, give me food and water, take me over to where I say what I’m supposed to say, then they take me back. Wow—this is the life of a dog!

The Shack is in theatres March 3.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada