Oklahoma actor ‘stood a little straighter’ after learning he would play Kiowa chief


Dorothy WhiteHorse DeLaune and Gary Tsoodle pose for a picture together on the set. Photo by Lynda DeLaune.

After nearly 30 years of playing indigenous characters, Kiowa tribal member Gary Tsoodle finally played a Kiowa.

Tsoodle, 62, has a growing resume acting in these roles after his contribution to the Oscar-nominated  “News of the World,” a movie starring Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel.

Known for previous roles in “Last of the Dogmen” and “Last of the Mohicans,” Tsoodle was chosen to play the Kiowa Chief in the “News of the World,” which was released Christmas Day 2020.

Tsoodle learned he would portray the Kiowa chief shortly after arriving at the cast’s hotel in Sante Fe, New Mexico, in 2019.

“I immediately felt honored,” Tsoodle said. “I stood up a little straighter at that point. To be doing something like that, to be in that position, I took it as a feather in my cap.“

Tsoodle, who works for the city of Anadarko, has been responding to casting calls since the 1990s. He said he appreciated the Kiowa research that was done by the producers and the fact that they used indigenous acting talent.

“This particular instance, they contacted the Kiowa tribe because the Natives in the movie were Kiowas,” Tsoodle said. “So I thought that was a good positive step, you know, get Kiowas to play Kiowas, because I’ve been Cheyenne three times in different movies.”

While there have been several movies loosely based on other tribal nations, such as the Lakotas in “Dancing with Wolves,” the Apache in “Geronimo” and the Mohican tribe in “The Last of the Mohicans,” few have been specifically about the Kiowa Tribe, Tsoodle said.

Gary Tsoodle stands in regalia preparing for his role in the film. Photo by Lynda DeLaune.

Tsoodle said it was “about time” that Kiowa culture started getting better representation in the film industry, and he would like to see a movie where Kiowas are at the center.

“They were nomadic and they were warlike, and they were horsemen,” Tsoodle said. “They didn’t really go around like all Natives have been shown to be in movies, where they were the savages and they were the out-of-control beings that they were.

“You know, they were pretty sophisticated, and had their way of life and lived it. Didn’t bother nobody unless they were bothered,” he said.

In the movie, Johanna, the 10-year-old girl played by Zengel, has a life-saving encounter with a band of Kiowa who apparently kept watch over her during her travels with Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, the Civil War veteran portrayed by Hanks. Without the assistance of the Kiowa, the lead characters in the movie probably would have perished.

The indigenous film industry will be prominent this year in Oklahoma, as the Osage story “Killers of the Flower Moon” directed by Martin Scorsese and the Muscogee Creek television comedy series “Reservation Dogs” are set to be filmed here.

Tsoodle said his career began when he was cast in part three of a television mini-series called “North & South” (1985-1994) based on John Jakes’ novel about the Civil War and its effect on two families. Later, he shot scenes in “Last of the Dogmen” in Mexico and Canada, and after that people “were calling him for different things,” Tsoodle said.

“And so I kind of thought I might have been on to something, but I had a daughter at home and I was single and raising her,” Tsoodle said. “I couldn’t just up and leave.”

With “News of the World,” Tsoodle is ready to take the casting calls again.

Gaylord News reporter Nancy Marie Spears is a member of the Cherokee Nation.

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.