ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - How does a young Tlingit-Athabascan from Yakutat become one of the "Magnificent Seven" in a feature film released today starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke?
Martin Sensmeier says it’s by never being afraid to chase a dream, no matter how crazy it may seem.
“I guess dreams can come true if you work hard enough at them,” he said in an interview with Channel 2.
The remake of the 1960s western is directed by Antoine Fuqua of "Training Day" fame.
Sensmeier, 31, grew up living a subsistence lifestyle in the Southeast Alaskan village. He says he played basketball in high school and studied welding at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, before taking up a job on the North Slope.
But his dream took him in a different direction. While working two-week rotations on the North Slope for Doyon Drilling, he began flying to Los Angeles on his off-weeks to take acting lessons. That’s when he ‘caught the bug.’ He quit his steady, high-paying job on the slope in 2011 and move to L.A.
He started modelling – a job that took him across the globe. But Sensmeier’s real passion lay in acting.
“I just looked at [modelling] as a stepping stone,” he said. “I actually had some great opportunities to move out to New York and model out there but I decided that I wanted to be in L.A. and pursue film and so that’s what I did.”
As an Alaska Native actor, Sensmeier says it was difficult to break in to Hollywood.
"There’s not a lot of roles written for Native people,” he said.
That is something Sensmeier would like to change. He says it took a long time for him to book a speaking role but it didn’t matter because he loved being on set and so he kept auditioning.
Eventually, he acted a movie called "False Memory Syndrome," and says he’s been busy ever since. “It feels good to have found success in this industry and to be able to represent my community, my family and my tribe and my home state.”
"The Magnificent Seven" is undoubtedly Sensmeier’s biggest film yet. In the movie, he plays Red Harvest, a Native American warrior and archer. Preparing for the role was grueling.
“I really wanted to portray him accurately as an artist and in the 1800s, Native Americans were very fit because of the diet -- traditional diet -- and just having an active lifestyle,” he said. “I think the hardest thing for me was getting in the best shape of my life and then maintaining that for five months.”
Sensmeier also had to learn how to ride bare-back on a horse and practiced two hours a day besides also going to the gym and following a rigorous diet.
“I started cooking my own meals because I was eating super clean and I basically just had to eat more or less the same thing every day,” he said.
In the near future, Sensmeier wants to keep building his Hollywood career, but he’s tied to his Alaskan roots.
“I try to make it home for a couple of months -- as much as I can -- to just be Tlingit and do things that are consistent with the tribal reality,” he said. “That’s been the biggest struggle is not being able to do that.” Eventually, he says he would like settle down in Yakutat and work with young people in his community.
“[The] inspiring thing is that finding success in the film industry has created a platform to do good work in the community,” he said. “I think that’s a very important responsibility.”