HollywoodLife spoke EXCLUSIVELY with ‘Woman Walks Ahead’ star Jessica Chastain about shedding light on Catherine Weldon, the groundbreaking woman who journeyed across America to paint a portrait of Native American leader, Sitting Bull. Watch!
Woman Walks Ahead tells the story of Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain), a widowed New York City artist who travels alone to North Dakota in 1890 to paint a portrait of infamous Native American Chief Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes). In the course of her quest, Catherine forms a friendship with Sitting Bull and fights for Native American rights. HollywoodLife.com got the chance to sit down EXCLUSIVELY with Jessica, Michael, and director Susanna White at the movie’s press junket to discuss the film and the fascinating real-life figures that it was inspired by.
“I had never heard of Catherine Weldon, and then when I got sent the script I did a deep dive of research, and I was shocked that there wasn’t more space in the history books dedicated to her,” Jessica, 41, told HollywoodLife.com exclusively. “She really was an ignored voice, and I find that sometimes history books tend to ignore incredible women, so it was definitely a story I wanted to tell.”
Michael, 51, who is a Canadian actor, dancer and Plains Cree from Saskatchewan, was impressed with the script from the beginning, especially because Woman Walks Ahead shows a side of Sitting Bull no one has seen or heard before. “I think he might be arguably the most famous Native American in the world, but what attracted me to the script was its three dimensionality,” he told HollywoodLife.com. “His first line is hilarious. His first line with Catherine. Throughout the film, that rich humor, it formed a vein that was deeply familiar to me as an indigenous person. It reflected how we look at the world, and so almost from the first page, the first time he appeared in the script I realized we were looking at a different kind of representation, a kind of portrayal.” Michael tells Hollywoodlife.com that he had to learn to speak the Lakota language with the correct accent in less than two months for the 31-day shoot.
Casting Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull was easy for the director. Susanna admitted that Jessica has a lot of the same incredible qualities as Catherine. “Jessica was a no-brainer,” Susanna continued. “Not only is she a completely wonderful actress, but to me she has a lot of the feisty characteristics of Catherine. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for things she truly believes in. That was a complete joy to get Jessica to play that role.”
Susanna loved that Michael could play all the complex layers of Sitting Bull, who was murdered by police, who believed he was instigating resistance to the US government. “When I spoke to the Lakota people, the first thing anybody said about Sitting Bull was what a great spiritual leader he was. Michael’s not only a wonderful actor but has this quality of a beautiful gentleness,” Susanna said. “Michael has that beautiful gentleness, intelligence, sophistication, and the ability to play all the layers and the humor that Steven and I had written in the screenplay which I can tell you is not an easy thing to achieve. I was very blessed to get both these wonderful people to be in the movie.”
Woman Walks Ahead also stars Sam Rockwell and Ciarán Hinds.The movie is available exclusively on DirecTV on May 31 and in theaters on June 29.