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Lily Gladstone hopes ‘kicking the door in’ empowers others

Growing on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana, a self-proclaimed “nerdy rez kid,” Lily Gladstone fell into acting in plays as a way to escape the local bullies.

Something clicked. Lily Gladstone’s class of 2004 high school yearbook declares under her senior class picture: most likely to win an Oscar.

Gladstone, 37, is now the first Native American to be nominated for a best actress Oscar, a front-runner in the category for her turn in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

It’s not just about a gold statue for her. She believes in the power of sharing joy to inspire others.

“My Oscar nomination is a moment of kicking the door in and hoping that everyone gets to run through it,” Gladstone says in a Zoom interview.

“There is an old saying in the Blackfeet Nation that translates into ‘I feel the goodness of what you’ve done.’ It means that I am shaped by my community. I’m here because there are so many people who have done so much good who have stood before and beside me — and move me forward,” the University of Montana grad says.

“It has been so touching to share this moment with so many people I’ve never met in my life,” she adds.

In “Killers of the Flower Moon,” based on David Grann’s 2017 bestseller, Gladstone plays Mollie Kyle, an Osage woman who has to reach for her joy. She suffers while friends and family are killed for their oil-rich Oklahoma land.

Already, the Oscar nod has been good for Gladstone, who was recently cast in “Memory Police,” a sci-fi film written by Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich”).

Her good life tips:

Celebrate with family

Gladstone happily recalls the moment she heard about her Academy Award nomination. “I got the news in Osage County in Oklahoma,” she shares, adding that she FaceTimed her parents in suburban Seattle just before the nominations were announced. “All I wanted was to see my mother and father’s faces. … Sure enough, I could barely hear my name. I saw my mom fist-pump in the air, and my parents clasped their hands. And then I knew I was an Oscar nominee.”

Don’t relent

It wasn’t easy to break into acting as a Native American. A few years ago, Gladstone was thinking about quitting but couldn’t bring herself to do so. “After one audition, I was sent an email in PC language saying basically you don’t sound Indian enough,” she shares.

Why not quit? “I’ve always known that acting is my activism,” she explains. “When I was struggling to pay a $300 rent in 2011, holding a lot of different jobs, there was a woman named Lucy Simpson from the Navajo Nation who saw work that I did with children using art and activism to strengthen and bring out their voices. She told me to keep going. That drove me.”

Learn from each other

“I would love to see more opportunities for Native people to see themselves on the screen. Marginalized voices need to be heard. We have so much to learn from each other,” Gladstone says. “There are so many world views we don’t know or have been placed in such fringe. Learn where the heart of things are for others.”

Gather and rejoice

The photo from her high school yearbook has served as a reunion of sorts. “It’s brought our high school drama club back together,” Gladstone shares. “They’re going to watch the Oscars from our old high school theater. When the Golden Globes were announced, Osage had a party and watched together. The point is, there is strength in numbers, and when you join forces it results in some of the greatest times of your life. It’s our sacred joy to uplift each other.”

Big win for ‘little me’

Gladstone says her success was the result of many tiny steps along the way. “You need love, dedication, hard work,” she says. “But you also need to enjoy the process. Thank yourself for each step along the way. I look back and congratulate my childhood self for trying so hard. “The ‘little me’ got me here today.”

‘Your voice is unique’

“Shift your lens and find the most authentic version of you,” Gladstone says. “You are valuable. Your voice is unique and needs to be heard. Keep following your passion because the world needs you. I can’t wait to see what you will do.”

Crank it up

Gladstone says that a good day is filled with music of all kinds. “The soundtrack of my life is Robbie Robertson. My father loved him, too. I used to create dances to his songs,” she says. Robertson, who died in August, created the music for “Killers of the Flower Moon.” “He played on the red carpet at our premiere in Cannes, which is when it dawned on me: Music is the heartbeat of your life.”

Stay interesting

Gladstone says that it’s important to stay informed. She lives by the words of one of her first acting professors: “Keep yourself interested and invested in the world and you will stay an interesting performer and person.”

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