By Eliana Alcaraz
In the world of independent film visionaries, the film festival grand daddy of them all is Sundance in Park City, Utah. For actors, newbies or veterans, it is the place you want your indie work to screen or premiere. And, for actor Norman Lehnert, from the moment he was cast in Wind River, it has been an exciting ride.
Wind River recently premiered at Sundance to great reviews. Hell Or High Water writer Taylor Sheridan steps in front of the camera for his directorial debut. And, according to a Sundance review, “With Wind River, Sheridan completes a trifecta of deeply layered, character-driven neo-Western crime dramas, and one that tops the other two, Sicario and Hell or High Water.
Lehnert portrays Dale, a Fish and Game Wildlife Officer trying to help the female FBI agent sent to solve a crime drama that happened on the snowbound Wind River Indian Reservation, his Wyoming wilderness turf.
Lehnert is part of Wind River’s stellar cast, Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Julia Jones, Kelsey Asbille, James Jordan and Graham Greene.
Lehnert is also TV director (90210) and TV actor with credits in Prime Suspect, and Undercovers, is also a short film producer, and best known for working on the Academy Award winning 127 Hours with James Franco.
Recently, Latin Heat talked with Lehnert about his experience of his first indie film premiering at Sundance.
LH: Congratulations! The buzz is Wind River is a winner—What was it like to be at Sundance with a film premiering?
Norman Lehnert: It was a lot of fun—the premiere, the Q&A, press and being part of an amazing cast—everything about it, I’ll never forget it. The camaraderie between the cast was warm and very friendly.
LH: How rough was it to film in the wild and rough terrain?
NM: Pretty brutal and extremely cold. I didn’t have it as bad as Jeremy [Renner] or Elizabeth [Olsen] but all of us had our challenging days.
LH: Tell us about your character, Dale.
NM: Dale is a Fish and Game Wildlife Officer. My character questions the intent and background of our the main character, Cory Lambert (Renner), who is a hunter for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Dale is all law and order and Lambert marches to the beat of his own tune. He is a tracker tracking animals, mainly wolves, attacking flocks of sheep and killing them. During one of his hunts, he comes across the frozen body of a familiar teenage girl, raped and murdered. My job was to question him about every detail.
LH: How did you getting cast as Dale come about?
NM: Believe it or not, it was all because of a cat food commercial I had worked on three years ago. I remember how hesitant I was to go to that audition. I almost didn’t go but in the end, I thought of A-lister actors like Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino who often say, ‘Never let an opportunity pass you by because you never know where it can lead you.’ So I went to the audition and I booked it! Actor Eric LaSalle directed and the casting agency was the Bass Casting (Lauren and Jordan Bass). Fast forward three years later, they are the same casting agency for Wild River—and they remembered me because they really liked how I worked the commercial, so they brought me in. Yeah, ‘never let an opportunity pass.’
LH: You’re an actor, producer and director wearing multiple hats, which is most important to you?
NM: My main focus has always been acting. In this industry it’s easy to spread yourself thin because we want to stay active—work is work. But acting is first. However going through the process as a producer and director gives me a better understanding of actor roles and makes me a better actor.
LH: You’ve acted for some impressive prolific directors—Danny Boyle, J.J. Abrams, Ed Zwik, Theodore Melfi and now Taylor Sheridan—as an actor is there a period of adjustment as to how you will dive into your role as you get to know the director better?
NM: I think Taylor [Sheridan] is going to be one of the greats and his background as an actor helps him have a better understanding when bringing out the best in his actors. Yeah, I’ve been blessed to work with some amazing directors, but not all know how to communicate with actors.
LH: In 127 Hours, how did you feel about being part of a film that was nominated and won an Academy award?
NM: Amazing. Absolutely astonishing. When I first got the script, I thought, ‘How is anyone going to watch a full movie with this guy trapped in a boulder in an isolated canyon alone,’ but it worked. I was so impressed and honored to be a part of this film.
LH: What’s next for you?
NM: I’m working on two projects—a kind of dark comedy series, Die Trying that’s in pre-production, and a narrative feature, The Untitled Heist Project that is being penned by Anonymous Content writer Chris Millis, and is in development with Station Film.
Thank you, Norman.
Actor Norman Lehnert is a man well traveled, who brings with him a skill set that includes being fluent in English, German and Spanish. Lehnert started his training at USC and continued working on his craft with masters Ivana Chubbuck, Larry Moss, and Michelle Danner. He is drawn to roles that have a slight comedic side, and his multi-level Improv training at The Groundings has aided him in creating enjoyable and humorous performances.
In his spare time, he plays tennis, surfs, and passionately restores and modifies classic cars and motorcycles. He has a secret desire to be in any upcoming superhero film, mainly to impress his nephews.
Running time: 111 min.
Production: A Weinstein Company release of an Acacia Filmed Entertainment, Riverstone Pictures, Star Thrower Entertainment, Synergics Films, Thunder Road Pictures production.
Producers: Matthew George, Basil Iwanyk, Elizabeth Bell, Peter Berg, Wayne Rogers.
Executive Producers: Erica Lee, Jonathan Deckter, Nicholas Chartier, Braden Aftergood, Christopher H. Warner.
Director, Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan. Camera (color, widescreen): Ben Richardson. Editor: Gary Roach.
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Julia Jones, Kelsey Asbille, Norman Lehnert and James Jordan.