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.