For Leland Prater (Cherokee) the idea of being in movies was always just a dream. Growing up in rural Oklahoma he felt that Hollywood was worlds away. Little did he know that the film industry would find him right here in his home state. Now, having been in several films shot in Oklahoma over the last years, Leland’s dream of being an actor is coming true.
Leland has been an extra in the big Oklahoma films, from William H. Macy’s Rudderless, to the play-turned-star-studded-movie August Osage County. When he heard that Martin Scorsese was coming to film the highly anticipated Killers of the Flower Moon he knew he wanted to be a part of that legacy as well. Leland landed a speaking role in the film and when it premieres he will be sharing the screen with legendary names like Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio. CNFO had the chance to ask Leland about his experience as an actor, and why it’s so important to establish Native representation in Oklahoma’s fast-growing film industry.
You’ve been in several productions based in Oklahoma—what is it like seeing the film industry grow in your home state?
Watching what’s transpired as the film industry seemed to discover Oklahoma and large studio productions come to film has been something I never imagined seeing. When I was young and coming out of high school, many, many, many moons ago, something like The Outsiders would come along, and that was a huge event. Hollywood was somewhere anyone wanting to be in the business had to pull up stakes and go to, along with most everyone else in the world. It was like wistfully imagining a pot of gold at the end of a distant rainbow. Now however, suddenly, we’re looking out our windows and finding that rainbow’s end just across the pasture.
What is the best part of filming in Oklahoma?
Besides the commute? Honestly, it’s probably seeing so many familiar faces on set and having so much in common with everyone. You know that we’re all in the same boat here and we’re all being blessed with a chance to do something we love in ways that many of us never really imagined being able to do. So there’s a family experience among a bunch of us Okies getting to live our dreams and like in the case of Killers of the Flower Moon, getting to play with the biggest of the big boys. You can grow up dreaming about that, wondering about it, but all of a sudden when you find yourself right in there doing it; then you almost have to keep reminding yourself that yes this is real and that I may actually belong after all.
Why is Native representation important to you?
I think, personally, it’s about validation. As individuals we all want it, though we shouldn’t even really need it. Native people as a whole though have always been creators, inventors, storytellers, and just every sort of artists in general. Our works have been collected, admired, emulated, appropriated and valued even while the ones responsible for them have been left out. Nothing springs from nothing, and that rich legacy, which continues to this day, springs from the same peoples with the same visions and history and traditions that runs through their veins to this day. We are still just as talented and just as creative, still every sort of artist that any of us sets our minds to being, in whatever medium we choose. Finally, with something like Reservation Dogs being the hit that it is, that undeniable fact is on display.
What would your dream project be?
Truthfully, the moment I stepped on set and met Martin Scorsese, shook the man’s hand, and realized that I was about to be directed by him I pretty much felt that whatever dream I didn’t even realize I’d dreamt or how far from reality it’d wandered, had just came true.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the film industry?
I usually say it was equal parts lack of common sense and an abundance of blissfully ignorant overconfidence. I’d always loved movies, every aspect really, but how something on a sc
reen could draw you in, tweak you emotionally, and suspend every other bit of reality for a time. There was magic there. So I was the kid in elementary school going to the Hominy Library and checking out books on monster movies, or reading about how they made Star Trek and Batman and Jaws. I was fascinated by the process both in front of and behind the cameras. I was in this little bitty town in Osage County, Oklahoma and there was no way I’d ever get to do anything like that, but still I wondered. And more than that, and this is where that abundance of blissfully ignorant overconfidence came in, I knew that I could do that stuff too. I mean, how hard could it be, right?
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their career in film?
Just do it! Start, somewhere. Then start again, because that’s what it’s going to take. You’ll fail, sputter, race forward, get knocked backwards, and start again and again however many times it’ll take and then always that one more. The thing is, if you want to do anything, the most important thing to do is just start. Otherwise, it’s just a dream. Dreams are wonderful, but to make them real you have to take that inspiration and then use it to fuel action. Each start is a chance to learn, and you’ll always be learning in this business, which is wonderful. That’s how you hone your tools. That’s how you get better. That’s how you succeed. And success doesn’t mean being a superstar with your face on the cover of a tabloid. You succeed when you’re happy with what you do. Creating worlds and playing in them is a pretty happy place to be.
You’re a writer as well as an actor—do you have any plans to bring any of your own work to life?
I enjoy creating and storytelling, and I’ve been blessed with much more a writer’s face than a leading man’s, so you eventually realize and play to your strengths. I’ve got some screenplays in various stages of life and some of those I may want to be a part of if that’d work out, but it’s not necessary. I write stories to entertain or to shed light rather than to be a personal vehicle. Hopefully, most every tale I tell comes to life in some form or another. There’s a one act play that I wrote being prepped right now for a performance in New York City over Christmas that I was initially going to be a part, but the uncertainty still over Covid had me write my own part out and instead divide it among the other existing players. On the positive side they’re very good and after sitting in on the rehearsals I’m not even missed. Which in one way might be less than a positive side really.
Do you have any other projects lined up that you can disclose?
The one project that’s fairly near and dear to my heart, that after a few years of work is finally in the budgeting phase to go before investors, is a retelling of the story of Ebenezer Scrooge called Ebenezer the Traveler. It’s the untold twist in the life, or death, of Ebenezer Scrooge. I came along, rather accidentally, about four years ago when again drawing upon that abundant overconfidence I offered my opinion on the current concept and offered my suggestions. To illustrate my point I wrote a partial screenplay for a one hour episode and offered it. “Can you do another,” they asked. So, I sat down and knocked out another. Six screenplays later I was novelizing those to put out in a series of books and then doing the screenplay for a two-hour pilot movie. I was also invited early on to write myself in, which I did, and though it was initially just a small one as the read-throughs progressed and people’s input came in, the role grew into basically becoming Scrooge’s foil. The very stodgy, very English, Assistant Undersecretary for Undead Affairs, Mr. Simon Onyx. As of now locations are being scouted, budgets put together, and preproduction ramping up.
Who would you thank in your Oscar’s acceptance speech?
Besides the ones you would have to that were responsible for whatever project brought you there, because… networking and schmoozing. And besides your mama and the Good Lord, because you don’t want either of those miffed about being left out. I’d probable be all the little voices in my head who haven’t shut up through so many years, who’ve offered up inspiration and justification to just go ahead and try because what have you got to lose, and for so many really bad ideas that eventually a few good ones were bound to shake out of there as well.
You can see Leland in Killers of the Flower Moon when it comes out next year, but until then you can find him in our Native directory.
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