Billy Black actor talks of role on eve of visiting LaPush

By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News

LAPUSH -- On film, Gil Birmingham, who portrays the "Twilight" saga's Billy Black, has been a village leader for the fictional LaPush.

On Saturday, for the first time, he will visit the real location during the Quileute Days celebration, which begins today and runs through Sunday.

"I have such a respect for the Quileute people and am so honored to portray that on screen," Birmingham told the Peninsula Daily News.

"I hope that I do so in a way that they are pleased with."

Birmingham will be part of the Quileute Days parade at noon, and will sign autographs at 3 p.m. in the Quileute Tribal Council Building. Admission is $20, a fundraiser for Quileute elders.

The actor, who portrays the fictional Quileute tribal chief in the "Twilight" films -- which are based on the four-novel vampire series set in LaPush, Forks and Port Angeles -- will make a 4 p.m. guest appearance at the Talent Showcase on the main stage in front of the tribal office.

He also will meet with the real Tribal Council, including Tribal Chairwoman Anna Rose Counsell-Geyer.

History of the ancestors

"The thing I try to bring out with Billy is that he is living with the history of the ancestors and has the larger universal view of what is going on," said Birmingham, a member of the Comanche tribe.

In his "Twilight" role, Birmingham, an actor with more than 40 roles under his belt, offers knowledge of the past to young men who begin transforming into werewolves to protect the tribe and other humans from vampires.

In author Stephenie Meyer's mythology, vampires had not lived nearby for some time, but when the vampiric Cullen family began to dwell in the neighboring Forks, the teens began to go back to their shape-shifting roots.

The Quileute have no legends about werewolves, but do have a creation tradition that they were descended from wolves.

"Billy Black is in an interesting position, being older than those that are in the wolf pack and also being a descendent of the original transformer," Birmingham said.

"He sort of carries the key to the secret of the tribe."

In the "Twilight Saga: Eclipse," released on June 30, Billy tells a group of fledgling werewolves about how the werewolves developed to protect the people.

Sense of dignity

An overriding element of his career is trying to bring a sense of dignity to the characters he portrays, Birmingham said.

Birmingham started his entertainment career at the age of 10 as a guitar player and later performed also as a singer before moving into television and movie roles.

"I was offered some small part and really liked it," he said. "So I decided to explore this film thing."

Prior to starting work in the blockbuster franchise, Birmingham said he spent a lot of time researching.

"I learned a lot about the culture and history and the nature of their survivors," Birmingham said.

"They were great sailors and whale hunters."

Although the books were at the top of bestseller lists, Birmingham said the massive response of fans to the movies was unexpected.

"We all knew it had a large fan base," he said.

"But how that transferred to the films and to this degree and how it has happened, I don't think any of us as actors expected that."

Birmingham couldn't hint at what would be happening with the next movie installment, which will split the fourth book, Breaking Dawn, into two movies, the first of which will be released November 2011.

Excited about role

Birmingham said he was excited about the "Twilight" role because it shows Native Americans in modern situations.

"I try to bring a respect to the role because we are just as competent as any other group," he said.

"We have doctors and lawyers and everything else. But somehow we are very underrepresented [in film roles]."

He said that many times, people refer to Native Americans during times of spiritual crisis or need for fulfillment.

"They look toward us because there is a need to connect to Mother Earth and that is something we've always understood," he said.

"It is a kind of a getting-back-to-basics thing."

Birmingham also has performed in "End of the Spear," "Dreamkeeper," "Skins," "Gentle Ben," "The Doe Boy," "Love's Long Journey," "Nip/Tuck," "10 Items or Less," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Veronica Mars" and "Body & Soul."

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 16. 2010 1:07AM
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