Into the West
"I’m not just another pretty face. I know who I am and where I came from." Michael Spears
First appearing on screen in the early 1990, Native American actor Michael Spears, a member of the Sicangu Lakota (often called "Sioux") Lower Brule Tribe of South Dakota, has been frequently cast as a Native American in such films as "Dances with Wolves" (1990) and "Skins" (2002), as well as TV's "The Broken Cord" (1992), which earned him a Young Artist Award nomination, "The Broken Chain" (1993), "Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee" (1994), and the Steven Spielberg-produced miniseries "Into the West" (2005). The 6' 2" actor with long hair was recently seen in the films "Imprint" (2007) and "Shadowheart" (2008).
"Your hair is a part of you. If I cut it, I cut a part of me. Keeping my hair long is part of my Lakota tradition. I keep it long to honor my ancestors and our fallen warriors. Besides, [smiles], I don’t want Iktomi (a trickster spider character) to steal it." Michael Spears
Childhood and Family:
Son of Native American parents, Michael Spears was born in South Dakota on December 28, 1977. He has five brothers, one of whom is actor Eddie Spears (born on November 29, 1982), and one sister. A member of the Lakota (often called "Sioux") Lower Brule Tribe of South Dakota, Michael can speak Lakota but is not fluent in it.
Michael, whose favorite actor is Brad Pitt, attended and was a mentor at the 2nd annual HatcH audiovisual festival in Bozeman, Montana, in October 2005. HatcH is a film and arts festival whose mission is to provide mentorship, education, inspiration, and recognition to the next generation of creative innovators.
An accomplished hand drum player and singer who was in a band called “Bad Nations,” Michael often performed at Native American gatherings and in non-tribal venues. He was the opening act for Rita Coolidge and Friends at her 2005 concert in Great Falls, Montana.
"Through music I’ve been taught a lot of who I am. It’s hard being my age today and trying to live a healthy life. I don’t drink. I want to do things that bring my self to life and not hinder my inner spirit." Michael Spears
He also enjoys sports, particularly football, basketball, wrestling, track, horseback riding (western & bareback), archery, boxing, and tae kwon do. During his free time, Michael often travels as a celebrity speaker concentrating on inspirational and educational topics including sustainable energy, and mentors youth in South Dakota. He works with his father and brother as part of the Inter-Tribal Group, whose goal is to encourage creation of natural sustainable energy sources.
"I’ve spoken at MSU (Montana State University), at Mormon schools, at juvenile correction facilities and on public television. I speak whenever and wherever I can, hoping to light a fire, to inspire young people." Michael Spears
Michael has two children, Jasmine and Noah.
The Broken Cord
In 1990, when Michael was about 13 years old, he made his film debut with a supporting role as Otter in the Academy Award and Golden Globe winning epic film "Dances with Wolves," which was directed by and starred Kevin Costner. The film that follows a United States Lieutenant, who travels to the American frontier to a military post and eventually befriends a local Sioux tribe, was extremely popular and is often praised for its humanistic portrayal of Native Americans.
Following his big screen debut, Spears retreated to the small screen. He received a Young Artist Award nomination for Best Young Actor Under Ten in a Television Movie for his turn as Adam, the troubled Native American child adopted by a single anthropology professor (played by Jimmy Smits), in the made-for-television movie "The Broken Cord" (1992), a drama based on Michael Dorris' book. He was also seen in the TV movies "The Broken Chain" (1993), a Revolutionary War drama starring Pierce Brosnan and Girard Swan, and the true story-based "Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee" (1994), a TNT original movie starring Irene Bedard, Tantoo Cardinal, Lawrence Bayne, and Michael Horse.
In 2002, Spears was cast in "Skins," a feature film set on the fictional Beaver Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which was directed by Chris Eyre and based on the novel of the same name by Adrian C. Louis. The movie starred Eric Schweig, Graham Greene, and Gary Farmer, with Winona LaDuke making a cameo appearance as Rose Two Buffalo. That same year, he also acted in writer/director Christopher K. Young's supernatural drama film, "Seeing: Homecoming," starring Gwen Ferguson.
2005 saw Spears win Western Heritage's Bronze Wrangler for Outstanding Television Feature Film for his work in the Steven Spielberg-produced miniseries "Into the West.” Spears was featured in the miniseries with such well known performers as Josh Brolin, Gary Busey, Michael Spears, Skeet Ulrich, Sean Astin, Rachael Leigh Cook, Alan Tudyk, Graham Greene, Tom Berenger, and Lance Henriksen. On his character Dog Star in the miniseries, Spears explained, “Running Fox and Dog Star are brothers who are very competitive. Running Fox is kind of in the shadows of his older brother and is always trying to prove himself. He is smaller and wants to be like his big brother. They have different views on what they think the Lakota people need. Running Fox believes that they need to trade with the whites and to embrace what’s coming and be a part of what’s coming, while Dog Star feels they have everything they have to sustain a way of life. We have existed this way for thousands and thousands of years, why change now?”
About the accuracy of the miniseries, he said, "Everything that they did was true, down to the language, down to how we wore our feathers, how we dressed, where we sat, our mannerisms, everything. We basically got taken into a school; we walked into a gymnasium where they pounded us with information and we had an advisor who helped us tremendously with the language. Everything in this was done to be as accurate as possible. I think students will learn much more from this than from their books. I hope this can inspire them to want to learn more and to give them a deeper appreciation for what their ancestors went through to make this country what it is. I want my grandkids to someday watch this movie and learn from it."
Spears recently starred opposite Tonantzin Carmelo, who played a Native American attorney prosecuting a Lakota teen in a controversial murder trial, in Michael Linn's thriller film "Imprint" (2007). He also supported Angus Macfadyen and Justin Ament in Dean Alioto's recently released western drama film, "Shadowheart" (2008).
"Anything is possible, no matter who you are or where you come from. If you want something badly enough, nothing can stop you." Michael Spears
Western Heritage: Bronze Wrangler - Outstanding Television Feature Film, "Into the West," 2005