An Emmy Award nomination would not be “just for me as an individual. It's for all native performers who have come before me.” PrevNext. LOS ANGELES >> The topic of Hollywood awards diversity can be both dismaying and clinically dry: so many fine ...
By Lynn Elber Associated Press
Posted July 12, 2016
July 12, 2016
Updated July 12, 2016 12:05am
An Emmy Award nomination would not be â€œjust for me as an individual. Itâ€™s for all native performers who have come before me.â€
LOS ANGELES >> The topic of Hollywood awards diversity can be both dismaying and clinically dry: so many fine minority actors ignored, so many statistics proving the stubborn whiteness of the Oscars and other honors.
But Kalani Queypo chooses to be optimistic. The Hawaii-born actor was glad to earn critical acclaim for his role as Squanto, a Native American who helped the newly arrived Pilgrims survive, in National Geographicâ€™s miniseries â€œSaints &Strangers.â€
Sweeter still would be hearing his name announced as an Emmy Awards nominee for best supporting actor in a movie or miniseries Thursday. As a person of color, he said, he has faced the daunting challenges of any actor â€” and then some.
â€œHow do I ingratiate myself into this industry that has, historically, just not been thinking about us? How do I infiltrate myself, get noticed and get valued?â€ Queypo said.
An Emmy nomination would deem his portrayal of a complex Native American something â€œto sit up and pay attention to,â€ he said.
â€œBut itâ€™s not just for me as an individual. Itâ€™s for all native performers who have come before me. And I think about native kids who are watching, and an experience, like a nomination, especially a win, it creates an opportunity for them because the dream doesnâ€™t seem so far-fetched. Itâ€™s within reach, you know? Itâ€™s someone who looks like them.â€
Emmy recognition would place him in an exclusive club, one occupied by the small number of minority actors nominated in the Emmysâ€™ 68-year history. Asian-, Latino- and Native Americans especially are lagging.
Queypo, who traces his motherâ€™s side of the family to Native American roots, said his career experience and determination have given him reason to hope for more good fortune.
He worked in â€œThe New Worldâ€ (2005) with director Terrence Malick, appeared in TV series including â€œNurse Jackieâ€ and â€œMad Men,â€ and has been cast in the upcoming drama series â€œJamestown,â€ from â€œDownton Abbeyâ€ producer Carnival Films. He wrote and directed the independent film â€œAncestor Eyes.â€
Queypo also is a stage actor, including a decade-plus working with Native Voices at the Autry, which develops and produces new works from native playwrights and is connected to the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles.
From the start â€œhe was fantastic to have in a room because he brought so much immediacy and life to a character. â€¦ He was always prepared and had good questions, so the playwrights adored working with him,â€ said Jean Bruce Scott, the theaterâ€™s producing executive director.
Queypo has been consistently cast in plays and workshops since then, and in a variety of roles, said Scott and Randy Reinholz, producing artistic director with Native Voices.
â€œThatâ€™s the exciting thing about Kalani: He can play the hero, he can play the best friend, he can play third guy from the left,â€ Reinholz said.
For the actor itâ€™s all a far cry from his previous life in Hawaii, which superficially sounds idyllic: As a child in Waikiki, he danced in a hula act with his two sisters (â€œI was adorable,â€ he confirmed, smiling), and his father was in a band called the Tikis.
But his dadâ€™s death left the then 9-year-old Queypo and his family struggling to survive, an experience heâ€™s developing into a screenplay about â€œgrowing up in paradise but in poverty, and the juxtaposition of that existence.â€
His dream of becoming an actor pushed him to New York at age 18, with $500 in his pocket and a friendâ€™s offer of a place to stay.
Singled out at an audition for his grace, Queypo threw himself into dance classes â€” while also studying acting and voice and working two jobs â€” and performed with, among others, an indigenous dance company. But acting remained his strength and his passion, he said, although he struggles to name a performer who inspired him as a youngster. â€œGrowing up, I didnâ€™t see a lot of people (on-screen) who looked like me or looked like my family,â€ he said.
Heâ€™s upbeat about the opportunities heâ€™s found since moving to Los Angeles, while at the same time acknowledging that heâ€™s often been cast in roles that put his ethnic appearance â€” heâ€™s found that â€œpeople want to label youâ€ â€” as well as his talent to work.
â€œI look almost with envy at Johnny Depp or Ewan McGregor, who have access to these incredible roles. I think, well, itâ€™s a possibility for me but a slim one,â€ Queypo said. â€œBut Iâ€™m always thinking positive. We have our own path and our own things.â€
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