A few thoughts on the cast and characters of the film version of Neither Wolf nor Dog

For those of you who love the book Neither Wolf nor Dog and wonder how the film will compare, I have a few observations, starting with the caveat that I have no idea how the finished product will look or feel or play.  What I do know from my few days on location is that the three primary actors bring some fascinating dimensions to the characters.

Chris Sweeney, the man who plays me, has a sharp edge to him that is very intriguing.  He is a veteran of the first Gulf War and carries a latent and watchful power within him.  I will be fascinated to see how he deals with the scenes where Dan and, especially, Grover and Wenonah, are pushing on him.  I could see in the few days of watching him with Dave Bald Eagle, the man who plays Dan, that the two of them had a deep respect and growing love for each other.  I would expect to see less wariness and wistfulness in his portrayal than I wrote in the book — that, and more overt love — beyond respect — for the old man.

Richard Ray Whitman, the man who plays Grover, seemed a man of deep and profound gentleness.  In the book, Grover was distant and self contained with a latent anger that was both personal and cultural.  He was written to embody a kind of person I know well from reservations — someone with an interior strength that admits of no compromise.  It is intimidating and humbling — the warrior as protector who, in the case of the book, had taken on the role of protecting Dan.  Richard, in my short time with him, seemed to have another unique characteristic of strong Indian men:  he had a kindness that is almost global in its expression.  This is hard to explain.  It has to do with being deeply at peace and possessing of a great forgiveness.  The character of Grover as written for the script was even more edgy than in the book.  How Richard, who has even less of this edginess than Chris, portrays Grover and serves as a counterpoint to the character of Kent, will be fascinating to see.  I am guessing we will see less of the severe moralist and more of the befriending teacher.  Grover in the book and the script took pleasure in knocking Kent around; I think Richard will approach it differently and, as a result, will create an incredibly interesting dynamic with Chris, who will very likely be stronger than my character as written in the book.

Dave Bald Eagle will simply be a natural force.  I did not see him work, but I listened to him around the dinner table.  Like anyone 95 years old, he husbands his emotional and intellectual energy, saving it to be revealed when needed.  When he moved into his own stories, everyone fell silent.  He is the embodiment of an elder who has earned the profound respect of anyone with a caring heart and a mind to learn.  There are people of great age who wear their experience as wisdom, not grievance or tragedy.  Dave is such a person.  Whatever he does with the character of Dan, if he is able to embrace the rigors of the acting craft at his age, will bring Dan alive like no other actor I can imagine.  When all else is forgotten or put aside, I look upon this film as a chance for me to have used my own talents, along with the talents of others, to give this worthy and even great man a chance to speak as an elder for the Indian people.

I can only speak for myself, but the book Neither Wolf nor Dog was always meant as a gift to the Native people for all I have received from my time among them.  Dave, as Dan, is the embodiment of that gift.  To see Chris and Dave connecting in a way that seemed almost spiritual, and to see Richard serving and honoring Dave in the humble and natural way that only a Native man could truly understand and express, made me think that there is magic here if it can be brought out.

We may have something very special here.

8 comments

  1. W. Wynne Zaugg says:

    I do not recall so looking forward to a movie. I wish everyone would be drawn to read this book and those that followed.

  2. Lin says:

    How amazing to read your impressions as I have felt all along that there is the potential for something very special here (no pressure, Steven). We need to be patient enough to give Steven room to do “his thing” but interested enough to keep the excitement alive and growing. Quite simply, I cannot wait.

  3. Shelley says:

    Mr. Nerburn, the first time I read (yes I said ‘first time’) NWND I kept telling my husband ‘this would make a GREAT movie’!! I just hope they inject your ‘humor’ into the movie… so many times I laughed out loud …the way you told the story of these 2 different cultures coming together was so so funny sometimes… I hope they manage to inject that humor into the movie ! I agree with W.Wyne — cannot WAIT for this movie ! I sure hope it will be available all over ? I will be so upset if I can’t see it here ! I do my share to spread the word on these 3 books !!! I’ve given them as gifts to everyone I know who reads and tell people all the time 🙂 Great job Mr. Nerburn !!!

  4. Phyllis Carnes says:

    I usually do not buy books about Natives,written by non Indian authors.I have no idea why I thought I should buy this one,but I sure could not lay it down and I even bought several copies and passed them out to friends then I bought the other two and did the same. I have done mission work on the reservations for 15yrs and this book is great to relate to. I have never been so excited about a movie. I am old so please hurry. My family and I are so looking forward to this. Thank you so much. You have been blessed with a wonderful talent. Thanks again for Neither Wolf Nor Dog and others.

  5. Glenn simmons says:

    I stand with the previous comments.waiting with great anticipation. Nothing can replace the books or the shaping it took in my life, so the movie will simply serve as an additional gift.

  6. Rachel says:

    Hello Kent! Thanks a lot for your work and sharing. When is the film going to be on? I live in Saskatchewan Canada and would love to see it. I’m reading the second book right now, the one about going to find Yellow Bird. I read this first one last weekend 🙂 It was great. It was lent to me by the guy who runs the Indian and Metis Christian Fellowship here, and the series was given to him by someone who told him he “had to read it.” He recommended it to a group of us at our church, where we were having a simulation called a “Blanket Exercise” (by Kairos) where people stand on blankets that represent land on Turtle Island / North Amer while historical information is read out and symbolic things are given to people that make them part of those who died of small pox, lost land for whatever reason, were taken to Indian Residential Schools, lost Indian status because they became professionals, etc., and they step off the blanket as the blankets are folded up and get smaller and further away like the land that was lost. It was pretty powerful for us non-aboriginals as well as for the aboriginal people who came. You can look it up on Youtube. Kairos Blanket Exercise. He said we “had to read” your books too, if we were interested in understanding the relationship between the two groups, which we are. And I plan to recommend your books to my brother, also, who is researching Indian Residential Schools and the relationships between indigenous peoples and governments. So, your books will keep “getting around” 🙂 and not make dust on shelves, that’s for sure 🙂 Thank you for writing them. I hope and pray for good things for you and your work. Rachel.

  7. Krystyn Knights says:

    Ah, so many years ago you sat in my living room with our daughters. what a prize you have turned out to be. I have read and loved “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” and loved it. I can understand how sometimes you felt so frustrated, you had no idea what was going on, it made me laugh at some of the situations you were in and how you didn’t know what to do or say at these times, but you were so dedicated and stayed with it.
    I will be so happy to see what the film maker does with it. I would have sent that book for an autograph too, but I don’t know which box it is packed in.
    May we meet again someday Kent, you are a wonderful man.
    God Bless.
    Krystyn

  8. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on tv. Regards

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