Interview with Aldred Montoya as Loki in Out Of Focus

Aldred Montoya was interviewed by Colette Finkbiner, writer/blogger with Three Horizons Productions – Summer of 2012

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 Three Horizons Productions’ upcoming movie, Out of Focus, stars some wonderful and thoughtful talent. The supernatural thriller stars Lucinda Serrano as Aella, a young woman pulled from her workaday existence into a struggle against otherworldly powers, and Aldred Montoya as Loki, a mysterious stranger who may or may not have Aella’s best interest in mind. Having recently interviewed Ms. Serrano, who spoke highly of Mr. Montoya’s work, I was eager to interview Mr. Montoya and learn a little about him and his craft. His intelligence, humor and professionalism shone through the conversation. This gentleman had fascinating insights into acting as a second career, roles for Native Americans, the art of acting and luring the film industry to the American Southwest.

Aldred Montoya as Loki in Out Of Focus
Aldred Montoya as Loki

I started out by asking Mr. Montoya about wolves and wolf-dogs because I had read an article he did with Native Cinema in which he spoke of his wolf-dogs.

Do you still run the wolf sanctuary?

Not as much. We had to downscale with the economy. So we weren’t able to do as much as we wanted to. Sometimes we would have as many as eleven – usually kept it around four or five. Some were ours. Some were in transit. We would foster them overnight or up to two weeks until they went to wherever they were going for their final home.

How did you get into acting?

Actually, I was laid off from another job in Los Angeles. At the time, I was dating a bartender in Burbank. She said, “Why don’t you become an actor? You’ve got a good look.” I never took it seriously, but I needed to bring in some money. I went to a casting agency and did a couple of background shows. Then I was contacted by The History Channel. This guy asked me if I had ever heard of the show Wild West Tech. I didn’t have money for cable, but I told him, “Yeah! I think I’ve heard of it.” Well, he says, “I’m casting this Native American episode. Can you ride a horse?” I said, “Yeah, since I was a little boy.” Then he said, “I know this sounds stereotypical, but do you know how to shoot a bow and arrow?” I said, “Yeah, no problem.” He said, “Can you shoot a gun?” “Yeah.” So he cast me as Crazy Horse. Since it was a Western-themed show, I worked all of the time. Then, I fell in with some Native guys who formed a small production company called Graywolf Productions. And we went through the first season of Wild West Tech and did the second season. We did a few more for the third season and then the show got cancelled. But that was my start.

Then one of my very close friends said, “Hey, I heard they need stunt riders in New Mexico. It’s a Steven Spielberg movie. You want to go do it? It’s four months.” It was Into the West. So from February to April, we did stunt riding. I got back to LA and another buddy of mine referred me to his agent. She saw I had done a lot of work for The History Channel and Into the West. That was June 2005. I had an audition the next month for a feature film and I got the role. It was opposite Mickey Rourke, set in Toronto and I was there for almost 4 weeks.

Is there a particular genre you prefer?

I like serious drama. I am not a comedic actor. I like characters that have a positive effect on the audience. There are so few Native American actors who have a voice. I thought if I ever had a voice I would want to be able to have young Native Americans say, “That’s cool. I want to be like that. I want to go to school. I want to see the world. I want to be a positive role model.” I am more particular about what I choose. If I see something I like, I call my manager and try to get the part.

Aldred Montoya (Loki) and Lucinda Serrano (Aella) Rehearse an Out Of Focus Scene
Aldred Montoya (Loki) and Lucinda Serrano (Aella) Rehearse an Out Of Focus Scene

How did you get the role in Out of Focus?

From what I understand, the casting director, who I knew before, gave me a call one day and told me about this part. Then, fast forward to a year and half later, we’re on set. The casting director told me that Remi had gone through all these people and she wasn’t satisfied with them. The casting director mentioned me. I went through the usual and got the part.

Lucinda Serrano has said she learned so much from you and appreciated your professionalism. How did you approach the part?

I was talking with Remi when I first got to Phoenix. I gave her some of my thoughts about Loki. I thought it was so cool that she cast an Indian. Because I am Native American, everyone thinks I can bless them like a medicine man – as though all this sage advice just rolls off my tongue. Part of the whole script is fooling these people. He’s manipulative. I told Remi I wanted to wear braids. It evokes a certain image. People will think, this guy’s a nice guy.

Aldred Montoya (Loki) In Makeup Session on the Out Of Focus Set
Aldred Montoya (Loki) In Makeup Session on the Out Of Focus Set

What do you remember most about the shoot?

It was very hot! Amazingly hot. We didn’t have a trailer. You just had to suffer through it. But it was a good kind of suffering. I liked when part of the set was done in an office. A lot of the crew was really nice. That was a big difference because in Los Angeles a lot of people aren’t very nice.

What are some of your best memories from the movie?

Probably when I shot the general store scene with Lucinda. It was fun to be able to work with her. There was some time between scenes and I said, “Let’s go look at the tape.” That’s the best part is when you see what the camera sees of you – how little angles make a big difference in getting a point across or a making a moment happen.

Do you find reviewing the daily shots helpful in getting that subtle turn of the character?

Oh, yeah. I learned that in a film I did with Mickey Rourke. I had to do a scene with Thomas Jane. He’d say just a minute and go over and ask to see a playback. You have to learn from yourself. For instance, in Out of Focus, in one scene, Lucy and I are in a car. I just kind of appear, but she is sitting in the car with her arm draped over the seat, looking right at the camera and she appears so relaxed. It was a big difference from the beginning. That was fun to see her come along that way.

She has said working with you was a positive influence on her.

When I was working with her, I would watch her – there was a scene in an old, old house – I was thinking to myself, you’re very focused, you’re really good. I told her I was going to talk to my manager about her. Now we’re represented by the same agency. One of Lucy’s films just came out – Savages with John Travolta.

Aldred Montoya (Loki) Gets Ready For Car Scene In Out Of Focus
Aldred Montoya (Loki) Gets Ready For Car Scene In Out Of Focus

Did you have a learning experience as well?

No. Everyone was just nice. It was a good set. Really positive. Everybody worked together in a nice, nice way. That would be my best image of the film – starting at the top with Remi – even going back for the looping. She reminded me of what big name directors are like when they are away from everybody else. When you’re offset, doing looping, they’re nice. My point being… that in Arizona everybody was like that on set,  no one had any “Snob I’m so  and so” attitude.  Everyone was just… polite and kind and respectful and… real. That’s a very rare trait for a set let alone a director… and Remi was the kindness so rare. Everyone was “country”  and considerably kind. Amen.

What films have you done recently?

I just did a short film here in New Mexico. It’s called The Ballad of Don Solomono. It’s also known as Moses on the Mesa. It’s the story of a young Jewish man, Solomon Bibo, who comes from Germany to the Albuquerque area in the 1870s. At the time, the white people and the Spanish people were trying to take land from the Pueblo people. Solomon sees this as a bad thing and tries to help this tribe, the Acoma. Acoma is west of Albuquerque. It is the oldest city in the United States. Acoma Pueblo has been there for thousands of years, on top of a mesa. He becomes such good friends with the Acoma they elect him to be their leader. It was unprecedented. It’s a true story. He marries into the culture and they adopt him as their son. He helps them keep their land. He stands up with them. I play his friend and future father-in-law, Martin Valle. It was a good film. I liked it because it is an actual historic tale.  It’s true, and those are the best kind of stories I like to be a part of truth.

It’s a short film that hopefully will be remade into a feature film. I only asked for gas compensation in that,  when I read the script and thought, “This is an amazing story.” I wanted to be a part of it.”  My manager said, “Well you won’t get paid for it.” But I like the story. I’ve done that a few times. There’s another film I did like that – Dancing on a Dry Salt Lake. I think it was ultra-low budget. I didn’t get paid much, but that was fine with me because I liked the character. The production company was from Rome. Most of the crew was from Rome and Berlin. It was completed and shown in Europe. I haven’t gotten to see the full film! I did get to see a cut of my scene

s. That was a nice film to do. Sometimes a story will pique my interest that I won’t care about the money. I just really like the story.

Do you have a favorite movie?

I would have liked to have been on the set of Billy Jack. That would have been cool.

What has been your favorite role so far that you have done?

I liked the Three Birds character in the Comanche Moon series. I studied the Comanche language for 2months prior, and was complemented on my speech by the Comanche advisor during filming. I lost 15lbs for that role. I was kinda “scantly” dressed, so the “abs” had to show.  “Smile” 🙂

Aldred Montoya plays Loki in Out Of Focus

So, I understand a lot of Native people have concerns about how their cultures’ histories have been depicted as well as the modern cultures. How do you feel about these depictions?

It’s funny you should say that. At times, our Native group of guys would get into little arguments with the “History Channel” directors,  because they wanted us to do a particular thing in a scene. One of our guys was a Native American historian, and not only knew the “white calvary/press” side, but also the story as it was told by the actual Native people who saw what was going on.

As a group,  We would say, “That’s not how it was, that is not how it happened or how the elders tell the truth of the situation.” In short… Many times we would lose out to the “Hollywood” writer. At that point, it’s the writer who is  the one writing the history for that moment on television. Sad.

As an example, a lot of people have this idea with the Battle of the Little Big Horn Greasy Grass, that General Custer paintings show him on one knee, shooting, valiant. The real historic fact of the situation came from the Crow scouts who left before the battle and observed the battle from the neighboring hills. They left before the battle began. They didn’t go into battle with the cavalry. “We’re going to die and we don’t want to die.” They went and observed the battle. Their account shows that General Custer was one of the first to be killed in a gulley because he retreated downhill. And his officers dragged his dead body up as high as they could onto a rolling hill and propped him up against a horse. They wanted his men to be able to look back and have some kind of a presence. History isn’t always depicted as it was. History has not been told correctly from the Native American point of view many times. It has only been romanticized by writers who listen to or read from writers who where never near any of the actual situations or engagements. Sad.

Wow, I never knew that. You used to live in California. Did you grow up in New Mexico?

I was born in New Mexico. I lived on two reservations. My dad was from a reservation above Albuquerque, Santa Ana Pueblo. My moma was from a reservation east of Phoenix, White Mountain/San Carlos Apache Reservation. I would go between the two as a young boy. Then, we settled in California when I was about 5.

I know the film industry in Phoenix has concerns about tax incentives. I have been told New Mexico is doing it right. Do you have an opinion?

A lot of Westerns used to be shot in Arizona. It was a great thing. New Mexico was going good for a while, but the states seem to be affected by bad administration decisions on the film industry.  It’s true that Hollywood does have a ton of cash to invest in NM film shoots, more than any other industry outside of the military. But looking to tax Hollywood to pay for NM’s failed economy wasn’t such a bright idea. If you look Hollywood in the eye, you will blink first before they do. So a lot of films that were scheduled to be shot here in NM but left due to the high tax they would have to pay in NM. The film industry doesn’t operate like the auto industry or any other  industry. It operates on its own set of rules. Alabama and Louisiana have a lot of incentives going. Having done that film in Arizona, Out of Focus, I wish Arizona had a better incentives for Hollywood. It’s a great place for independent film making to be true, but not major studios.

I really think Arizona has a lot to offer in all the terms of industry, hospitality, locations, actors, creative screenwriters, etc., more than a “non-actor legislator” would know. And that’s the problem I think. It’s the same in NM.

I do wish I could work in AZ again. The Phoenix area is so big and offers so many different scene environments and a ready acting population. It would be perfect for many modern screenplays and television shows. I hope it/they come around.

Aldred Montoya (Loki) On the Out Of Focus
Aldred Montoya (Loki) On the Out Of Focus

I remember reading in the Native Cinema interview with you that for a while you were tired of “leathers and feather roles.”

Oh Yes!  For a little over a year, I told my agent I didn’t want to do any more of that Romantic image. But, now, I don’t mind them – maybe it’s experience or old age. Maybe it’s from being out here in the desert. When I did John Carter– most of the Native American scenes were edited out. We were in the Moab Plateau and goodness…” it was beautiful. I loved it there.” Being out there in “period” costume was reviving and I think that’s when I just came back to liking the “leathers & feathers” roles.

That’s the part about doing Native films – you’re always going to be set in the country on horseback… and that feeling… is not only fun… it’s historic re-lived. I wish we could have sets done in the country but modern.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work? Is it finding a role in a story that works for you?

The most challenging is just being cast or finding a role for a Native American.

There just aren’t a lot of roles for Native American men – or for that matter, women. I have long hair not because I’m an actor but because of my culture. It would be nice to be cast in a modern series as that. Some years ago, I attended a mixer at ABC/Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. There were about 25 Native American actors and actresses along with studio writers and producers from ABC/Disney. I was talking to the Executive director and the director  for “Boston Legal” and he asked me what I wanted to see.

I told him that I want to see writers who can write about Native Americans without having to put them on horseback. I always wanted to play a lawyer with long hair. I think that would be a good role model image for young Native Americans.

He looked at me an had a thoughtful look in his eye… and nodded.

So far, as actors, the only professional images Native men get is law enforcement – the Native American deputy or tracker.  Funny.  It’s like…”Put the Indian in there because they are good with that intuitive stuff like that.”

I want to break out of that.  That’s why I liked my role in Out Of Focus 🙂

It’s a great twist.

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Three Horizons Productions is a team of independent filmmakers who want to develop, acquire, and produce multi-media projects that showcase inspirational themes, compelling stories, and provocative characters to entertain or educate international audiences. Three Horizons Productions, located in Arizona, has a global outreach.