HomeEntertainmentLily Gladstone’s moment is here. It’s a lot to carry.

Lily Gladstone’s moment is here. It’s a lot to carry.

Lily Gladstone, the breakout performer of Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” was driving with an old friend when a text pinged from Emma Stone. The “Poor Things” actress has become “my sister in all this,” Gladstone would later say, this being the award season that is currently in full throttle. They are widely viewed as being in a two-woman contest for the Oscar for best actress, which will be presented March 10. Gladstone’s friend told her, “I don’t understand your life anymore.”

Often, Gladstone doesn’t either.

In a matter of months, after more than two decades of acting, she has become a star, a role model, a potential engine of change. It’s a lot for anyone.

At 37, Gladstone has made history, the first Native American to score a best actress Oscar nomination and the first to win a Golden Globe actress award, which she accepted speaking partially in Blackfoot. Gladstone’s father is of Blackfeet and Nez Percé heritage; her mother is White. “As an Indigenous woman, Lily has broken through a wall that has never been broken in this country, certainly not in Hollywood,” said Julie O’Keefe, an Osage who worked as a “Killers” wardrobe consultant. It was O’Keefe’s first movie job, only to pick up a Netflix series. Gladstone is helping to lift all boats.

Indigenous roles, often played by White performers during the reign of the Western, became so rare — less than one quarter of one percent of all speaking roles in a survey of 1,600 movies over 16 years — that Stacy L. Smith of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative named the “Killers” actor’s achievement “The Lily Gladstone Effect.”

Among the October study’s prescriptions: “nominate Lily Gladstone for all awards,” which has basically happened. “There should be lots of people like Lily Gladstone,” Smith said. Now, nominations are not enough. “I want her to win,” Smith said of the Oscar.

“Lily is a wonderful artist, and she has a presence and a face made for cinema,” Scorsese wrote in an email. “All I can tell you is that I would love to work with her again. Actors with that kind of talent are extremely rare.”

What is it like to be in the center of the awards maelstrom? “It’s wonderful, but it’s a lot to carry,” Gladstone said late last month, over a lunch of salmon, salad and green juice in a splendid hotel owned by co-star Robert De Niro. She appeared remarkably calm, happy even, despite the constant travel, punishing schedule and nonstop press. She had deglammed between television appearances, in black pants and top, and a bone-white wool coat, suggesting the newly obtained perk of being driven places. Gladstone had removed the substantial jewelry that she favors to promote Indigenous artists: “I’m giving my ears a rest.”

Almost every day erupts in another boldfaced moment. She met her acting idol, Cate Blanchett, at Cannes where Gladstone received a standing ovation. She sat between Daniel Day-Lewis (who knew her work in 2022’s “The Unknown Country”) and Patti Smith at the National Board of Review. Gladstone won that, too. Also, the New York Film Critics Circle.

Gladstone and Stone — two Stones in the awards pod — are “rooting for each other so much,” she said. “I’m getting all these sweet texts from her. Or we’re needing to vent about stuff. It’s a very sweet friendship.”

There is little normalcy in Gladstone’s current life. She doesn’t really live anywhere anymore, unless you count the award-and-publicity circuit. Suburban Seattle is “where my mail gets delivered,” she said.

She is the rare actress who never decamped permanently to either coast, spending much of her career in Montana, where she was born and raised until age 11 on a Blackfeet reservation and returned for college at the University of Montana. She was wary of a life of constant auditions.

“If I just heard nothing but ‘no,’ it might kill my love for this,” she said. “A lot of my professors were flabbergasted that I wasn’t getting cast in shows but, I get it, I’m a hard one to cast.”

Yet Gladstone landed steady work in regional theater, a stream of acclaimed indie movies and one lauded television series (“Reservation Dogs”).

Part of this is due to her commitment to a part and project. Kelly Reichardt directed Gladstone in “First Cow” and “Certain Women,” the latter central to landing “Killers.” When Gladstone auditioned for Reichardt’s “Certain Women,” she “didn’t just do a reading. She dressed for the part and put her arm in a cast,” the director said. During filming, Gladstone moved in with the rancher where they were filming outdoor scenes and took to doing the actual chores that her character performed. “She’s a workhorse. She has a great presence. She sticks out,” Reichardt said.

“I was absolutely riveted by Lily in the film [“Certain Women”] — by her presence, by her trust in quiet and simplicity,” Scorsese noted, “and by her command of her ‘instrument,’ as some actors put it. It was like watching one of the great silent actors.”

Killers of the Flower Moon” tells the true story of the Osage murdered for their oil headrights in the early 1920s, based on David Grann’s acclaimed book. Gladstone is the movie’s center and moral compass playing opposite De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio as her love interest, Ernest. She illuminates it. Praise for her performance as Mollie Kyle Burkhart has been universal. “Played with serene knowingness,” wrote The Post’s Ann Hornaday. Gladstone’s life blew up in the best possible way.

“Lily’s always believed she deserved to be where she is right now,” Reichardt said. “And now the gods have smiled down on her.” This moment was envisioned from an early age. “My Dad has always hung the word ‘Oscar’ in the air since I was a kid,” Gladstone said. “It’s what a good parent does to encourage their kid with a dream.” Her yearbook, as has been widely reported, predicted that she was “Most Likely To Win An Oscar.”

Lily Gladstone made history. The Blackfeet Nation found a champion.

When Scorsese mentioned to his longtime casting director Ellen Lewis “we obviously need to be thinking about Mollie,” she told him, “I think we’re going to be fine.”

Lewis and Rene Haynes, who specializes in finding actors for Native American parts, cast the movie, which features 63 credited Indigenous roles. For Mollie, they suggested four or five actresses, “but we pretty well knew that Lily was going to get the role,” Lewis said in a phone interview. “There is a gravity and a stillness and an intelligence in her that was so essential for the role of Mollie.”

Scorsese’s initial screenplay, co-written with Eric Roth, “had only three scenes between Ernest and Mollie. It was focused so heavily on the FBI,” Gladstone said. In other words, the White saviors. “It made me suspect Mollie was a very tertiary character. It was upsetting.”

But it was also Scorsese. An actor doesn’t say no to Scorsese.

DiCaprio, originally cast as the FBI chief before switching to play Ernest, also had issues with the script, according to the director. “Leo said, ‘Where’s the heart?’ I realized that the heart of the story was with Ernest and Mollie,” Scorsese recalled.

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Then, the pandemic. Crickets. Life stalled. So, seemingly, did “Killers.” Gladstone believed Scorsese had moved on. She was about to register for a data analytics course, debit card in hand, to land seasonal work tracking murder hornets for the U.S. Department of Agriculture when she got another call. Also, a completely revised script.

“Everything I was concerned about the year before went away,” she said. “This is a character who has space to have some thought. I was just floored.” (Instead, it’s the FBI that became tertiary, entering the three-hour-and-26-minute film at the two-hour mark.) Gladstone had exactly one Zoom reading with Scorsese, another with the director and DiCaprio, and the role was hers.

“I was struck by her intelligence, her understanding of the role,” Scorsese noted, “and almost immediately I knew that she was going to play Mollie.” The part, which requires Gladstone to fall seriously ill and mourn many, many deaths, felt “like a multitiered marathon,” the actress said.

Gladstone chose to spend the morning of the Oscar nominations in Osage County, Okla., where “Killers” was filmed. There, she had grown close to members of the community, learned the Osage language and drawn from the memories of Mollie’s granddaughter, Margie Burkhart. “I wouldn’t be having any of this moment without having told the story of the Kyle sisters and Mollie. I wanted to be there for this,” she said.

The enduring family trauma behind ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

After New York, she would travel to Washington, co-hosting a panel with Scorsese at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and meeting Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, who had already called Gladstone after her Golden Globes triumph. Then it was off to London, Madrid and Rome.

While Gladstone is known for the stillness and grace of her performances — Mollie carries her blankets like royal robes — “my proclivity for acting arose from being overly expressive and exuberant,” she said. Bernadette Sweeney, who directed Gladstone during college, said that “Lily has a fantastic range, and she’s very funny. There’s definitely room in her repertoire for that work as well.”

Gladstone’s first love was ballet. “I was very performative, very big, very loud as a kid. Even when I was dancing, I was considered more of an actor.” Said Grace Perez, a dear friend from high school, “Lily’s actually really goofy, a massive nerd” — with an unabashed love for the Ewoks from Star Wars — “but also a lovely person who has never hesitated to bring people along or use her platform for good.”

In life, “my motions are grand and exaggerated, but for the camera you scale back because it will pick up everything,” Gladstone said. “Stay interested and you’ll stay interesting. When I watch films, I’m always looking at the person who’s listening, the one who is piecing things together because that’s what you’re doing as an audience member.”

There is this “trope of the stoic Indian, and Mollie is a very stoic character. There’s a lot of nonverbal communication,” Gladstone said. “That generation of Osage was very much like that in public. It was a bit of a survival mechanism. But when you get a bunch of them together, like when the sisters are gathered, there’s no need to have that kind of decorum.”

Perhaps Gladstone can solve one of the unsolved mysteries of “Killers.” Not the murders, but the romance. Mollie is wise, observant and vastly rich from her share of the oil money derived from Osage land. DiCaprio’s Ernest is a lazy pillock, a bad bet, a blurter who admits quickly to loving women, whiskey and money. Why would Mollie take up with such a lunk?

“There’s something about marrying simple, particularly for Osage women. It’s a matrilocal society, and they’re alive at a time when they’re told they’re ‘incompetent’ to handle their own finances,” Gladstone said. “Mollie found a nice-looking malleable guy who could write the checks that she needs him to write.” Even with greasy hair and prosthetic teeth and nose, Gladstone noted, “you can’t make Leo look bad.”

Gladstone has established herself as an actress who exudes power in the quiet. “There’s stuff happening between the lines. She doesn’t have to express herself verbally,” said Seminole filmmaker and “Reservation Dogs” co-creator Sterlin Harjo, who directed Gladstone in two episodes. “The monologue is in her eyes. When she does speak, it’s the cherry on the top. The way she carries herself in those silences and in life is powerful.”

For Gladstone, “the opportunities are limitless. I think she’s a great, great actress,” Lewis said. In decades of casting movies, she’s felt this way only once before, when she found the then little-known Margot Robbie for Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Said Lewis: “The rest is history.”

Indeed, the scripts have flooded in. Gladstone has landed in that magical place where she chooses the projects, rather than the other way around. She’s signed to star in “The Memory Police” with a script by her favorite screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), helmed by Reed Morano (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) with Scorsese serving as executive producer.

The role is not specifically Indigenous, but “any character that I take, whether it’s explicitly Native or not, is going to be Native because that’s who I am,” Gladstone said.

“She can play any role. Lily is not going to be defined by being an Indigenous person in an Indigenous role,” said Haynes, who specializes in casting Native actors. “But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that everyone who calls me now is looking for Lily. Everyone wants Lily.”

Sometimes a nomination, a win, becomes something more. “Everyone in Indian Country feels for her, and has her back,” Harjo said. “Lily is of the world now. That’s a big win. That changes everything for everyone.”

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is now streaming on Apple TV Plus.

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