For the past eight months, Adam Beach has been working non-stop.
“I’m wondering when it will let up,” he says from New York as he boards a plane to Ottawa to visit his family, “and I don’t think it will.”
But all that work has already paid off in the past year – he appeared in the acclaimed Clint Eastwood film Flags of Our Fathers – and it’s about pay off 10-fold.
The producers of Law & Order: SVU have turned Beach’s guest-starring role this season as Detective Chester Lake into a series regular next season.
“Everything’s coming into a nice place. I like it,” says Beach, 34, who stars in Luna: Spirit of the Whale, airing on CTV this Sunday at 7 p.m.
But life wasn’t always so easy.
At age eight, Beach’s mother was killed by a drunk driver. His father died not long after in a boating accident.
As a young actor, Beach had a hard time picturing success. Happiness wasn’t his norm. Why would it be different in his career?
“All my life, I had been tackling the subconscious thoughts of, ‘when’s he going to quit, is he going to fail, they’ll never open the doors for him, he’ll never be that lead role guy.’ There’s always this negative nature out there that you can feel sometimes but I felt I had more strength to go against the negative thoughts. I lost my parents at a young age and I thought, ‘what can be worse than that?’ So I thought, I’m going to go and tackle this as strong as I can and just keep continuing.”
Beach, raised in Manitoba, had roles in films like Smoke Signals, Joe Dirt and Dance Me Outside, but he felt like he had beaten the devil inside his head for the first time when he was cast opposite Nicholas Cage in Windtalkers.
Now with Law & Order: SVU, he’s certain that he has silenced the negative talk forever.
“That role is definitely laying the groundwork and the stone to say, ‘you know what, there’s nothing bad we can say to Adam. He not only did it on a feature film level but now he’s doing it on a hot TV show. And he’s on one of the top TV shows as a regular!’” he says.
Beach also hopes the role will help other Native Americans get a chance in Hollywood.
“This is sending a message every week that we are a part of society,” he says. “It’s going to open the doors of, ‘wow, Adam is really doing good for that show, now we need another Native American in one of our shows.’”
Whether he likes it or not, Beach is a role model for Native Americans. No other Aboriginal actor has reached his level of success, and very few have had roles in mainstream cinema and television.
By default, Aboriginal youths have to look up to Beach, and he says he welcomes the responsibility.
“I don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs. I’m pretty square,” he says. “It is pressure but I look at it as honour because it’s putting me in a place where I have to be ready I have to be the best I can be.”
With Luna: Spirit of the Whale, based on a true story, Beach hopes the younger generation of Aboriginals can learn about the importance of their cultural traditions.
Beach stars as Mike Maquinna, who returns to Vancouver Island for the funeral of his father, the chief of the his village, and who is expected to take over as leader. An orca whale appears in the village harbour, and while a government official (Jason Priestly) prepares to transport the whale overland, the Mowachaht-Muchalahtdo people, who see the whale as the embodied spirit of Maquinna’s father, do everything they can to stop him.
“The character I play is struggling with his leadership roles in having to be chief,” Beach says. “Throughout my career, I’ve always been a leader in some form through acting, but at the same time, I’ve contemplated running for chief of my tribe. This film taught me the importance of having strong leadership in our communities and what it means to bring back the traditional values.”