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February 23, 2002

Navajo actress has last laugh on Dharma and Greg

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The popular prime-time situation comedy “Dharma and Greg” chronicles the life of the mismatched couple of the New Ager, Dharma and her attorney husband, Greg. In a recent episode, viewers were treated to vignettes of Dharma and Greg’s lives prior to their meeting, and how they just missed meeting each other numerous times—proof that theirs was a love meant to be.

This episode also features Navajo actress Geraldine Keams as a sweat-lodge leading medicine woman—and she literally has the last laugh on the couple.

 

Fixing Dharma with a gimlet eye, she admonishes the actress. “Every time you come here, you bring a talker,” she intones dryly.

Keams has also appeared in movies such as “The Outlaw Josie Wales” and television series including “Northern Exposure” and “Twin Peaks.”

There is a lot to being an actor or actress, Keams allows. She advises Native youth that one has to have a thick skin and overcome the fear of rejection.

“You don’t have to beat yourself up. Your whole world won’t fall apart just because you didn’t get that certain part.” Many times, she said, luck plays a major part when you are up against so many talented people.

Her part in Josie Wales, for example, was auditioned for by thousands. “You must be totally comfortable with the camera,” she added. “The camera sees everything.” Despite how that might sound, Keams said that physical beauty is not the most important edge an actress might have.

“There are so many beautiful people running around Los Angeles without jobs,” she laughed. “Your character and personality is very important. Go in to an audition, have fun. You can expand on a role, use your creativity.”

Keams compares acting to a dance—like music, there is pacing and timing. A role has a rhythm. “If you lose your pace, you lose the audience’s attention,” Keams said.

She uses techniques such as learning other actors’ dialogues, allowing no question of when she is to deliver her own lines. “It’s very easy to go blank out there,” she said.

Another form of acting which she finds enjoyable is doing voice-overs—Keams’ voice was recorded for parts in the upcoming “Wind Talker’s” and in a recent Hallmark Hall of Fame special.

She joins other Native American actors and actresses in reworking the stereotyping of Indians in Hollywood. This hasn’t been totally effective—Keams said that sometimes instead of educating themselves on Native American culture, directors and writers will choose not to cast an Indian in a part.

“They are saying that ‘we won’t show them in headdresses, jumping up and down,’ but we are working to show that ‘Oh! An Indian can be a secretary or a nurse in a hospital scene.’ Indians are in the real world and we can put an Indian in the scene.”

Appearing on a prime time sit-com involves more work that one might think. “These sets run like ships—it’s like clockwork. One plays to three cameras at a time.”

Then there is the live audience—not all the laughter we hear on prime-time comedies is “canned,” Keams said. “It’s like working on a stage.”

One should also, she said, live in Los Angeles. “There are a lot of people who want to go to Hollywood. They come out and stay for a day or two, then leave. It won’t happen in a day.

You have to come here, get a job, get set up, then get out there. Let people see you. It’s a lot of work. 90% give up and go home. It’s the ones that stick it out that are getting the jobs.”

To those who want to work in the industry, but find it impossible to move to LA, Keams urges them to get involved in their own communities.

“Schools don’t have drama—our Native youth are locked in a cultural vacuum and I feel bad for them.” Community acting can play a role in creating a place for youth who might otherwise have nothing else to occupy their time—who might turn to gang involvement or substance abuse.

Keams was born in Winslow, Arizona and grew up on and off the reservation. Before graduating high school, she had attended 11 schools.

Perhaps that fueled her love of travel, and though Keams loves to come home, she finds that the things she needed for her career happiness just weren’t there. So she has made her home in Los Angeles.

But she frequently returns to the Navajo and other reservations to teach acting and storytelling to Native American students. She appeared last week at Arizona State University and the Greasewood Community School to do just that.


Author: S.J. Wilson, The Observer

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