Interview with Michael Horse

Former Twin Peaks Actor Talks with aNm

Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to garner an interview with Michael Horse, an Indigenous artist and actor (and sometimes musician!) about his work on the Age of Empires III (“AOEII”)video game (thanks to fellow Caddo artist, Delores Purdy Cocoran, for putting me in touch with Mr. Horse!). Michael shares much information and anecdotes about his work in the entertainment industry over the years, from a Native perspective.

MS: Tell me about your work on AOEII.
MH: It was a wonderful experience. I really like doing it. I love doing voiceovers, because we know we come from a long tradition of story telling. I’ve always been — from the time I was very small — fascinated by animation. I’ve also been a visual artist way before I was in the movie business and had a fascination with animation.

MS: You’ve been in the business for a few years now…
MH: [Laughs.] Well, I didn’t mean to be in it this long, but yeah I’ve accumulated a lot of years!

MS: …and one of my 1st introductions to you in the entertainment industry was a film you did back in 1981.
MH: The Lone Ranger, yeah.

MS: I’m sure you get that quite a bit.

MH: Oh, it’s so funny: I had done stunt in movies and things – and I was a musician for years — but didn’t really want to be in the ‘movie business.’ I was renting my art studio from an agent and she said, “You want to be Tonto on the Lone ranger remake?” And I went, “?…no.” I said, “Lady, I’m an activist.” She said, “Well, what’s the matter with it?”

And I knew Jay Silverheels — loved Jay — but it wasn’t the story I was looking to do. But, finally I went down, met the people, and decided to do it. Terrible movie. Didn’t take me long to figure out that film is only going to be good as it’s written.

MS: Exactly.

MH: It can get worse — but, it’s only going to be good as its story.

You know, I’ve done some bad stuff; I’ve done some good stuff. I did Twin Peaks, which I thought was ground-breaking television and a great Native role. I did a series in Canada, a prime-time Native series, for three years called, North of 60.

MS: Yeah, I’ve seen both of those and I think Twin Peaks is avant garde, even by today’s standards.

MH: Yeah. I live in the Berkeley area and I have kids following me around. I go, “Can I help you?” and they say, “Are you the Hawk?” And I say, “Yes, I am!”

Lynch and I were friends long before that. I did something for the French bicentennial with him and Harry Dean Stanton. I said, “What are you going to do next?” He said, “I’m going to do a TV series.” I said, “Yeah, sure…you call me when that happens!”

There wouldn’t be all these things on television today if it weren’t for Twin Peaks opening up that door.

MS: Yeah, and all the careers that have been made from the series as well…

MH: Yeah, it’s the same story, over and over. I just saw the [Bury My Heart at] Wounded Knee thing and it was terrible. We’re dealing with a true, actual story dealing with our history — and once again Hollywood just decides to put characters where they’re not supposed to be, to condense things. This whole portrayal of Sitting Bull as being this sort of “suck-up” to show business…it’s just appalling.

MS: You know, I haven’t been able to force myself to watch that yet…

MH: Well, how about Mel Gibson’s movie? Sure it’s a little violent, but do I define the whole Christian movement by the Crusades? What about the [Aztec] advancements in mathematics?

I’m looking for stuff that deals with my culture from the 1920, 1930, 1940…you don’t see that. They rehash the same stories: it’s the Last of the Mohicans and Thunderheart, but there are so many wonderful stories to still tell out there. That’s why I’m really excited about digital film, because it puts back in the hands of filmmakers.

MS: I agree. Going back to AOEIII, what is your comment, if any, about Native Americans in video games?

MH: We still have a long ways to go. [Laughs] You know, they’re fun to do and sometimes you have to take it not too seriously.

I think it has great potential, especially for teaching Native and non-Native kids about other people’s cultures. It’s still in the hands of others, though…but, I think there are some really bright Native kids somewhere out there that are going to do some really great stuff [in video games].

MS: Certainly. When writing articles like this one, I continually say, “Ok, it is time for us Indigenous people to get in the creative seat.”

MH: There are so many things out there…there are environmental concerns and a lot of contemporary issues that deal with everybody on this planet…that could be seen through Indigenous eyes.

MS: Speaking of eyes, let’s get back to your visual art. What do you think of AOEIII from a visual standpoint.

MH: I’ve never seen it…like I said, I’m not a ‘video game guy’. I’d like to see it…is it any good?

MS: Actually, it’s pretty good; great attention given to culturally-specific clothing and articles.

MH: Oh good. I hear it’s quite popular.

MS: Yeah, it’s done pretty well. I think they did a pretty job with us [Native people].

MH: Oh, that’s nice. You know I do something and they don’t really give me whole story behind it. So, I go, “I hope I haven’t done something I shouldn’t have.” But really, what was given to me was ok with me.

MS: But, as you say, video games have a long way to go.

MH: Good storytelling — which is good gaming — good storytelling and good interaction have no racial boundaries. I think we have a long way to go with all of it; it’s still in its infancy. God, the graphics are amazing! Being an old-time guy, someone will show me something on the computer and I’m just awed at the graphics and quick interaction.

MS: Anything else you want to add?

MH: No, I just excited to see people like yourself and I know there’s a lot of young Native kids that are really interested in this media — and it grows so quickly and changes so fast! In the next 4 or 5 years I’m going to see what I’m really looking for — and it can be done anywhere!

That’s the amazing thing. It doesn’t have to be done in some major city; someone can do it on a reservation or urban setting.

MS: And laptops make it even more mobile to do these things. I really appreciate your taking time to answer my questions.

MH: Call me anytime. I thank you for letting me be involved. I think video games are a new step for Native entertainers and I’m fascinated by it.

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