SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
99¢ per month for 3 months

‘Certain Women’ a breakout for star Lily Gladstone

The Native American actress shines in a bright cast in director Kelly Reichardt’s drama

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Certain Women” stars a knockout cast that includes Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams and Laura Dern, yet it’s Lily Gladstone who walks away with the movie.

Lily who?

They won’t be saying that for long.

Gladstone, a 30-year-old Native American actress from Montana, stars in director Kelly Reichardt’s film as a character known only as “The Rancher.” She’s a silent type who develops a deep affection for Stewart’s character, an out-of-town lawyer teaching a night class for adults, and the rancher’s quiet desperation is the heart-rending soul of the movie.

“I was shaking while I was reading it,” says Gladstone, who had been “isolated in snowy ranch Montana wondering what I was going to do with my life” when the “Certain Women” script came her way.

Gladstone had been acting for years — her first job was as a paid extra in the film “This Is the Disk-O Boyz” when she was 12 — but she knew “Certain Women” would be different.

After buying a flannel audition shirt to slip into the rancher’s skin, she began preparing for the role. “The way I looked at it,” Gladstone says over coffee at September’s Toronto International Film Festival, “I wasn’t prepping for an audition, I was getting ready to go to set. And that’s what I did.”

After “Certain Women” premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Gladstone began getting high marks for her work. But she’s “difficult to place,” as she says, and offers haven’t started pouring her way yet.

“Even with something as exciting as this, it takes a long damn time for anything to happen,” she says. In the meantime, she landed a lead role in next year’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival, lined up new representation, met with several top casting directors and is currently in heavy talks for an adaptation of a “very, very well known novel,” she says.

So for now, Gladstone still exists in relative anonymity. She has around 600 followers on Twitter — she had half that before Sundance — and rather than stay in a hotel, she elected to crash with a friend and couch surf during TIFF. Her highlight of the festival: “I got to meet Natalie Portman!” she gushes like a fan.

Gladstone grew up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana, where she was a self-described “weirdo” who was picked on by other children. But her dad instilled in her strong sense of self-confidence. “He used to tell me, and I guess I really took it to heart, ‘They’re all going to change their tune when you win your Oscar,’ ” she says.

Ballet was her first love, but teenage bouts with eating disorders turned her toward acting. “When I found theater it was like, ‘Oh, I can do this without hurting myself?’ ”

After studying acting at the University of Montana, and while many of her friends went off to Los Angeles and New York after graduation, Gladstone stayed in Montana. She worked with children, dedicated herself to social causes and even manned a cash register at Staples rather than chasing acting work. As her father put it in a philosophy he imparted on her, “prey runs to the hunter.”

Gladstone is talkative — when asked if she smokes cigarettes, she tells a two-minute story about the time Benicio del Toro offered her a smoke on the set of “Jimmy P” and discusses tobacco as an “indicator of inter-connectivity” to the land, before reasoning, “I don’t not smoke.” And she’s knowledgeable about the film industry without being jaded toward the process.

She’s also deeply spiritual, talking about how her connection to animals and to the land — particularly in Montana — helps her find her center.

“I’ve always really believed you put your heart where your heels are,” says Gladstone, who has a small role in “Buster’s Mal Heart,” a film at this year’s TIFF. “You try and stay as close to whatever it is you think your purpose is, and the good stuff finds you. Be true to who you are as a human being and you’ll get everything that you need.”

She smiles and takes a sip of her coffee. “It’s been working out so far,” she says.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

Twitter: @grahamorama

‘Certain Women’

Rated R for some language

Running time: 107 minutes

Opens Friday