Wesley "Wes" Studi (born December 17, 1947) is an award-winning full-blood Native American actor and film producer from the Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma near Tahlequah, and who has won critical acclaim for his portrayal of Native Americans in film.
He has appeared in well-received Academy Award-winning films, such as Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves, Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans (1992), and the Academy Award-nominated films Geronimo: An American Legend (1993) and The New World (2005). He portrayed General Linus Abner (an analogue to the biblical Abner) in the NBC series Kings, and Eytukan in James Cameron's box office blockbuster Avatar.
Early life and education
Studi was born Wesley Studi in Nofire Hollow, Oklahoma, a rural area in Tahlequah named after his mother's family. He is the son of Maggie Studie, a housekeeper, and Andy Studie, a ranch hand. Until he attended grade school, he spoke only Cherokee at home.
In 1967, he was drafted into the Army and served 18 months in Vietnam. After his discharge, Studi became politically active and participated in the Wounded Knee Incident at Pine Ridge Reservation in 1973.
He taught classes in the Cherokee language and syllabary (writing system), and helped found a Cherokee-language newspaper. He went into ranching. After his marriage ended in divorce, Studi left ranching and started to study acting - a friend had recommended it as a place to meet women.
Studi appeared in his first film, The Trial of Standing Bear, in 1988. He is best known for his roles as ruthless Native American warriors, such as a Pawnee in Dances with Wolves (1990), and Magua in The Last of the Mohicans (1992).
A year later, he was cast with Eric Schweig for TNT's film The Broken Chain, about the Iroquois League based in present-day New York state. It was shot in Virginia. This was part of a group of productions shown over 14 months on TNT as its "Native American initiative", including three television movies and several documentaries. A six-hour history series was told from the Native Americans' perspective.
In 1993 Studi had the lead in Geronimo: An American Legend. He showed a talent for comedy as the superhero Sphynx in the 1999 film Mystery Men. In 2002, Studi brought to life the character of Lt. Joe Leaphorn, for a series of PBS movies based on Tony Hillerman's novels set in the Southwest among the Navajo and Hopi. It was produced by Robert Redford.
In 2005, Studi portrayed a character based on the Powhatan chief Opechancanough in The New World, directed by Terrence Malick.
On April 20, 2009 Studi appeared as Major Ridge, a leader of the Cherokee before removal to Indian Territory, in Trail of Tears, the third episode of five in the PBS series We Shall Remain, portraying critical episodes in Native American history after European encounter. The ground-breaking mini-series affirms Native history as an essential part of American history, and is part of the public television's acclaimed series American Experience. Studi spoke only his native Cherokee in his performance.
In 2009, Studi appeared in James Cameron's science fiction epic Avatar. He played Eytukan, the chieftain of a Na'vi tribe.
In Santa Fe, Studi serves as honorary chair of the national endowment campaign of the Indigenous Language Institute.
After an early marriage and divorce, Studi married again. He and his wife Maura Dhu Studi have three children, and in the 1990s moved to a ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Studi and his wife perform in the band "Firecat of Discord". They have a son, Kholan. Studi has a daughter, Leah, and a son, Daniel, from a previous marriage.
- 1994, Won a Western Heritage Award (shared with cast and crew) for Geronimo: An American Legend (1993).
- 1998, The Dreamspeakers Film and Festival honored Studi with its Career Achievement Award.
- 2000, Motion Picture and Television Fund's Golden Boot Award.
- 2000, Artist of the Decade at the First Americans in the Arts Awards.
- 2005, The New World was nominated for an Academy Award.
- 2013, Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers - Western Heritage Award, Oklahoma City, OK
- Wes Studi's official website
- Wes Studi at the Internet Movie Database
- "Wes Studi", Native Networks, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
- 2006 interview with Wes Studi (Interview with Jon Niccum)