Antoinette Yazzie paced the floor of the conference room at the KwaTaqNuk Resort in Polson, eyes flicking down to the piece of paper in her hands, mouthing the words as she walked back and forth.
Yazzie, a Salish and Navajo member from St. Ignatius, was one of the dozens who filtered in and out of the waiting room at a casting call for an HBO miniseries called “Lewis and Clark.”
“Lewis and Clark” is based on the book “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen E. Ambrose. The miniseries is being executive-produced by the production companies of Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.
The casting was seeking potential actresses aged 17 to early 20s for the role of Sacajawea. It was also trying to find Native American and First Nation actors from 18 years old to elders who could speak Native languages. In particular, it called for people with knowledge of Shoshone, Nez Perce, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Blackfeet, Chinook, Clatsop, Walla Walla, Sioux and Shawnee.
Casey Affleck will be starring as Meriwether Lewis in the miniseries, which will be directed by John Curran. He also directed “The Painted Veil” and “Stone.
Each of the Sacagawea candidates was given a short section of text, then given some time to look it over before recording a performance on video, the first step of what will be a multi-stage casting process for the role.
All around Yazzie, other potential Sacagaweas and extras read over their papers, whispering their lines under their breath and waiting for their number to be called.
“Everyone in my family was telling me I should do it. My boss took over my shift today, and she said I needed to go try out. It’s exciting to think about the possibility,” Yazzie said. “I’ve actually got stage fright. I’m shaking just reading this.”
Casting director Rene Haynes, who grew up in Great Falls, said even though some of the candidates might have little or no acting experience, that didn’t mean there was no chance they would be chosen.
“I’m pretty well known for casting first-time Native actors,” she said. “It’s more about finding the right person with the right look and temperament.”
The Polson session on Saturday was the second of three in western Montana. The casting team will be in Browning on Monday for another casting session at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites from noon to 6 p.m.
Those unable to attend the casting calls can submit a taped interview. More information is available at rhcsearch.com.
“I think it’s an important opportunity to share the culture of the Native people,” said Honani Polequaptewa, a member of the Hopi tribe who lives in Thompson Falls.
He acknowledged there is also a personal opportunity in getting to be a part of a major production like this, but said he’s happy the casting seems to be taking a very serious approach to getting Native Americans who are actually from the places where the series will be set at.
“It would just be interesting to be a part of a production like this, to see how it all comes together,” he said.
Stormie Perdash, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock from Ronan, said her friends told her she should come to the audition because they think she looks like Sacagawea.
“I’ve been growing my hair out for three years now,” Perdash said, standing up so that her black hair fell all the way down to her mid-thigh.
She said she’d never done any sort of acting before, but that even if she didn’t get called back for another audition, it was fun just to have been a part of it.
“I’m surprised there’s not even more people here. Nothing like this has happened around here before,” she said.
One of the questions asked on the form each candidate filled out was how much experience in horseback riding they had, as the production was looking for adult Native men for the parts of “lean, fit and skilled riders.”
Gavin Eldridge said he was hoping more than a decade of riding would be the skill that might land him a part as an extra in “Lewis and Clark.”
“When I signed up, they said because I can ride horses, I should make sure I stick around,” he said.
Eldridge, 23, is currently in school for Native American Studies at Salish-Kootenai College, but said he eventually wants to go back to the Shoshone-Bannock reservation in his hometown of Fort Hall, Idaho, to do his part to keep the history and culture of the tribe alive.
“A lot of places now, they don’t have the long hair, they don’t speak the language, and we need to preserve that,” he said.