Yancey Red Corn and Talee Redcorn had a once-in-a-lifetime experience when they were asked to attend the world premiere of Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” at the Cannes Film Festival.
Both Osage men walked the red carpet wearing red and blue ribbonwork blankets, their hair in two braids and black tuxedos. Yancey wore a hat and Talee wore a turquoise bolo tie. As hundreds of cameras took their images and they stood on the red carpet next to some of the world’s biggest stars, the two men were also thinking about their fathers.
Yancey’s father is the late Osage author Charles Red Corn, who wrote the book, “A Pipe for February,” which also takes place during the Reign of Terror. Talee’s father is Jim Redcorn, the late Osage artist whose renowned works can be seen across Indian Country. The two men were brothers, making Yancey and Talee first cousins, or brothers in the Osage world.
Both Yancey and Talee brought their families to Cannes and their families also attended the premiere.
On May 21, the day following the premiere, Yancey, who portrays Chief Arthur Bonnicastle in the film and Talee, who portrays an Osage spiritual leader, sat down with the Osage News at the Hôtel Barrière Le Majestic Cannes to talk about their experience.
The film, based on David Grann’s best-selling book of the same name, goes into the lives of the Kyle family of Grayhorse during the Reign of Terror in the 1920s. Murder, death and sorrow surround them as the plot unfolds.
Osage News: So, what did you guys think of the film?
Talee: (whispers) Oh my gosh …
Yancey: I loved it. I cried a couple of times.
News: That’s not the first time you’ve seen it though, correct?
Yancey: That’s the first time I’ve seen it completely done. I saw it back in October. They didn’t have music … there was stuff I hadn’t seen at all. So, it was a good thing, but it was not done. So now it’s seven months later and it changed a lot.
They took out my 10-minute scene, no … (everyone laughs)
News: What about you, Talee? Did you like the film?
Talee: Oh yes, I really liked it. I thought … I guess I’ll just explain it like this. To me it was Titanic, The Godfather series and Dances with Wolves all rolled into one to tell a powerful story. Because, you have Robert De Niro leading the charge of this destruction, and he’s well versed at it. And then, you have Leonardo trying to screw it up and save the situation; and I just saw the powerful imagery of Natives, us, coming together and I just thought “Man, this is a powerful movie” and I was on the edge of my seat toward the end. I thought it was great.
News: How did you prepare for your role?
Yancey: Well, I remember Wakon Iron, from when I was a kid and how he talked and then all of the older, older men, like, Henry Lookout. When I was little, he was the Head Committeeman and my dad was a Whip Man. They talked very measured and so I wanted to talk like that, which I thought was great with Everett. He and I are kind of different, well, a lot different, but he was great. So, I tried to do my cadence and speak eloquently, especially when they were in the roundhouse meeting and because he’s a leader, and so I did that.
I also read my dad’s book, “A Pipe for February” like a million times and the way he wrote when the old ones were talking they had a certain cadence as they did and he really did listen to them. They were born in the 1800s. Wakon Iron and my dad, and his dad Jim (Redcorn), was basically their grandfather but his other name was George Redcorn, and he’s the younger brother of Raymond Redcorn Sr. So, when Raymond Redcorn Sr. was poisoned, my dad didn’t get to know him, Wakon Iron took over as the grandfather and so he was always around when I was little.
That’s how I kind of just remember those old people and how they talked. And I’m sure Talee remembers them too. Talee talks like them right now; you know, he’s an elder … he’s my elder (Talee begins to laugh and then everyone laughs). I don’t do anything until I ask Talee. (continued laughing)
Talee: That’s not true, he’s older! (everyone laughs) You know how we are as Osages, we gotta wait for them (points at Yancey) because he’s older. So, he’s the oldest, my whole life.
News: How did you prepare for your role Talee?
Talee: I started under Lottie Shunkamolah Pratt and Lucille Roubedeaux, learning this language. They passed away and then I went on to whoever was available and ended up with Mogri Lookout and Bill Lynn and we started this group … Bruce Cass, Vann Bighorse, and have just been involved and loving our language. So, when the movie came out, they asked me if I spoke the language and I said yes, and they asked for some examples and they kept coming back and so then I knew.
Right now, in my room, I’ve got books, recordings, I just love to hear it, it relaxes me. So, when it came time, I use the language program, however they put it together. I told Janice Carpenter that I want our kids to hear what I’m saying and go back to them and learn and just use it as a tool.
Then, when the scenes happened and the lights are shining on you, I thought about my dad and Yancey’s dad. Because to me they’re the image of what Osages are. Just the way they dressed us and the way they took care of us, said things to us as they were doing this and that. I just kept that in my mind when I close my eyes and look up. I just had to concentrate on them, because if you start thinking about it, we’re in a room with 15 to 20 cameras, and you can lose it. That, I just kept that in my mind all the time, each time I do anything I kept those two individuals on my mind.
Like, Yancey’s dad would give me an armband and he’d tell me something and my dad would tie on my roach and tell me something. That’s what I did. Of course, you practice. I drove up and down 60 (Highway 60), went through all our reservation, looking here and looking there, going through all these lots and trying to get the feeling of what I was really saying.
News: Well, speaking of your dads, and that opening scene where they bury the pipe, what was that like? Knowing they took that from “A Pipe for February” or based it on it.
Yancey: They took it verbatim.
News: Then to see it lived out … what was that like?
Yancey: Well, that was one of the places where I got really, really emotional because I was thinking about my dad and how proud he would be and really proud that Talee’s doing it, it’s his best friend’s son and his nephew doing that Nonhonzhinga burying the pipe … he just would’ve been … well, I’m sure he’s watching and your dad too (motions to Talee). Hanging out together and saw him and was like … I was just thinking about my dad during that scene.
News: It was a beautiful scene, that was so captivating. I think it will be emotional for all Osages, watching that, especially for those who loved the book, so many of us did. But I was thinking about you, you and Moira (Yancey’s sister) when that was going across the screen.
Yancey: I had to get away from her. Not get away from her, but she stayed in my room and it was yesterday morning and she went and got breakfast, I slept in, and she came back and I could hear her and she goes “Yeah, I’ve just been crying all morning, thinking of Dad.” You know, and I was just like, oh my God, I don’t want to think about that right now. (laughs) Because I’ll start … I just got my makeup on (everyone laughs). But, I did at the movie. I cried when they opened that up and those scenes with Mollie were just heart-wrenching.
News: The scenes that you all did are so serious. Then thinking of your father and your uncle, the pressure had to weigh on you, because that’s when our people buried our ways. What was that like preparing for that? Or dealing with the pressure Talee?
Talee: Well, you know, we closed the book on La Flesche, we don’t do that. Uncle Mog (Lookout), we talked about it and I wouldn’t do that anyway. Don’t talk to me about it, talk to somebody else because they say it can bring bad on you. So, I tried to express that to people around us and I said, “We can’t do that.”
I love the language, but I don’t use any of that I use other resources. It helps me understand who we are as Osages, that description without having to go into all that. But this is clear because it’s out of this book, and Uncle Charlie wrote it and I’m sure with whatever he had to struggle with in all that, dad did the same thing. He painted all these images of that but not really trying to tell the story. So, you go to the museum and you can see all those elements throughout his paintings and the artwork that he did to try and convey the pureness and the power of our people. So, I use that, all that, and it kind of accumulates to the dance.
Like your son (George Shaw), now he’s a Drumkeeper, that’s a high honor. You know we come up underneath just like Yancey, he’s a little older than me, you know I’m not the oldest, I’m the second son. But you know, I have to follow our older brothers, like on the council, Everett (Waller) and Myron (Red Eagle) you know, I’m the youngest, one of the youngest so I let them do what they need to do. They’re my Wizhi.ehs, my older brothers. And to me, it’s like a spiritual thing. You know I see Wizhi.ehs as heavenly, and Wisompahs, we’re earthly. So I try to keep that vision like my dad told me. When we move as Osages you’ve gotta do that. So I just used what I was taught.
The best way to do that is acknowledge your elders and your older brothers and do what they told you. Carry that out the best you can. There were sometimes that I was worried I would mess it up. But like Yancey said, you can’t think of that stuff when they’re filming because you could lose it, you could lose it all.
News: Was this your first time acting?
Yancey: I did a play 10 years ago that the Oklahoma Civic Center, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I was Chief Bromden. It was really funny because it was a dare and I auditioned for it and I got the part. I thought, “if it’s like the movie I won’t have many words and it will be easy.” The first day I get there for rehearsal and they’re like “Stage Left” and I’m like okay, and everybody there was a professional actor. They said, “Exit Stage Left” and I walk off the stage and I’m looking at the script and he’s like one of the main characters … the play is different than the movie. (Everyone laughs)
So, it was the hardest four months of my life. (Continued laughter) I mean it was every night, memorizing my lines, and I was like “Oh my God.” So that’s the only time though. So that was 10 years ago.
Talee: I’ve never acted before.
News: Seeing you both on the red carpet, the standing ovation, all of it, what was that like?
Yancey: Well, what was really interesting was I woke up this morning and I hadn’t looked at my phone and I had so many people who texted and said they watched the red carpet and all these little things and then somebody sent me a little video of me getting out of the car. And I’m just like “Oh my God,” and I was just looking around and I was just like, “This is crazy.”
This whole thing, here, me talking to you is surreal. I mean, look! (He points to the window and the view is villa rooftops cascading toward the mountainside)
It’s beautiful! It’s bananas. I mean, last night I had a really long conversation with John C. Reilly about his films Step Brothers and Ricky Bobby (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) and it was hilarious and that’s surreal. I hung out with Salma Hayek, that’s surreal.
Talee: To me, coming out in Osage things, I treat it just the way that I would when I’m getting ready to go into that dance. I’m getting ready to go … you all are going to bring that drum in, you know. That’s just powerful. And you gotta do it right. We’re trained as Osages to do that, all of us, I think. You know, we know how to follow, we know how to prepare, we keep it simple and we walk. That’s what my dad said and I told my son, “Walk like an Osage.” When we go into that dance and when I got out of that car, I could hear my dad’s voice, “Walk like an Osage.”