Larry Sellers is good at turning any situation into a positive thing. The Oklahoman native and Osage, Lakota and Cherokee Indian actor flew into Oklahoma City recently to help judge the American Indian Film and Video Competition for the Red Earth Festival, which ends today. Winning films will be shown today beginning at 10 a.m. at the Myriad Convention Center.
When Sellers arrived at Will Rogers World Airport, he found the silk shirts he had packed had been taken from his luggage. The only shirt he had -- a collarless, soft-white cotton pullover -- was on his back. "It is very frustrating," said Sellers. "I guess I'll go out tonight and buy some t-shirts." Still, when it was time to meet the press, Sellers put that calamity behind him and talked about his place in Hollywood and how he's able to help change the way people view American Indians. The actor stars as Cloud Dancing on the hit TV series "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."
He has appeared on "Walker, Texas Ranger" and "Beverly Hill 90210," and his film credits include "Wayne's World II" and "Crazy Horse." Sellers is a spiritual man. His children have traditional American Indian names and he has moved from the bustle of Los Angeles to a quiet Colorado city whose name he prefers to keep to himself. He finds it interesting that many people are discovering the American Indian heritage and then want to know more about the background and the culture involved.
"Problems arise when people want to immerse themselves in that little bit of their heritage and forget who they are," he said. "They must understand the entirety of their self. They must learn about that and incorporate that." Unlike many actors, Sellers didn't grow up wanting to be a star. He was born in Pawhuska [Oklahoma], where he lived until he graduated from high school. After a stint in the Navy, he graduated from Arizona State University. With a degree in education, he taught American Indian history and culture for seven years.
At the same time, he became a rodeo cowboy, competing in saddle bronco and bare- back horse events. "I enjoyed the agony of victory, the devastation of defeat and the sympathy of the ladies," he explained with a devilish smile. He left the world of education and rodeos to take a job with a friend in a live stunt show. "I learned to crash cars, fall from buildings and kick box," he said. He also moved from Arizona to California, where he lived for 19 years working as a stuntman, translator and technical advisor.
Sellers got the part of Cloud Dancing almost by accident. "I was offered a part in Kevin Costner's movie, 'Dances with Wolves' but I had to take of two days during the filming to attend a spiritual ceremony. They wouldn't let me go so I turned down the part. For me, the spiritual always comes first." After the ceremony, Sellers returned to Los Angeles and got a call from the executive producer of "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman." They talked and the part of Cloud Dancing was offered to Sellers. He immediately began to flesh out the sketchy character written into Dr. Quinn scripts.
"Cloud Dancing was originally called Black Hawk," he said. "They just wanted a representative American Indian, not a character. I came up with Cloud Dancing and became the technical adviser for Native American concepts and thoughts." His technical adviser role gave him a chance to present American Indians of the past as regular citizens in a town. "One of the things never represented in movies or TV is an interracial relation- ship between a white woman and an Indian man," he said. "Indian men treat their mates with kindness."
Sellers said "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" is letting the public get to know an American Indian male as a human, and color plays no part in his character. This season ended with a possible romance between Cloud Dancing and Dorothy, the town's newspaper publisher. The pair has traded glances and flirted, but nothing else yet. And Sellers isn't divulging anything. "I still have to work within the framework of Hollywood," he said. "The show is entertainment, not a documentary."
Even with his busy acting schedule, he makes time for what he thinks is important. He is active in the Reading is Fundamental [RIF] children's literacy program, and emceed a program at the White House in April. "I asked if I could get involved with them. Literacy is a key to freedom," he said. "The ability to read stimulates imagination and eliminates fear. I'm hoping RIF will be one of a few platforms I can use to help kids see that reading is fun."
He also was chosen as a Fellow at the Newberry Library Center for the History of the American Indian [Chicago]. Curriculum for secondary and college level courses were developed using his studies on language, societal structures, genes, political structure, spirituality and metaphysics, warrior or soldier societies, kinships and extended families.
Even with all the serious work, Sellers has a sense of humor, too. He said he had a great time in "Wayne's World II" where he played the "Weird, Naked Indian" whose appears with Wayne [Mike Meyers] and Garth [Dana Carvey] several times throughout the movie.
He laughs when asked about his very un-Indian name, saying he tells some people his name is Chuck Roast or Luke Warmwater. When he wants to make a point, he will look a person straight in the eye and solemnly say, "Honest Indian." "It's a great thing to happen to a poor little Indian boy from a reservation in Oklahoma," he said. "Honest Indian. I can say that." [Sandi Davis: "Actor's Indian Heritage Adds Dimension to Roles;" Oklahoma City, Sunday, June 15, 1997]
Last Updated on Sept. 20, 1997
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