SUDBURY - Walking down the red carpet at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival would have been “super cool” for Phoenix Wilson, but he’s content to watch the world premiere of his new film from the comfort of his own home.
The 15-year-old student at St. Charles College in Sudbury will be featured in a new American film called Wild Indian that tells the story of two school-aged children bound together by the murder of a classmate.
Wilson plays the younger version of the main character M’kwa in the film, which will have its virtual debut at the world-renowned film festival virtually between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3 this year.
“There’s a really strong message in the film, and you really have to listen and watch to really understand the storyline,” said Wilson, who stars alongside Michael Greyeyes, Jesse Eisenberg and Chaske Spencer.
“I hope anybody who sees it enjoys it and takes something away from it. It really gets you thinking about how a 12-year-old boy could do something like that, and how his environment influenced him because of what he’s been through at such a young age.”
The movie was written and directed by Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. and produced by Corbine, Thomas Mahoney and Eric Tavitian.
Wilson was first introduced to the role in 2017 when he was at actor-director Robert Redford’s property in Utah for a director’s lab based on the movie theme.
He started by filming a single scene and was later selected for the part when it was turned into a full-length film last year.
“Then I went back to Oklahoma,” he said. “It was really fun. I enjoyed everyone on the set, and it’s really beautiful there. It’s cold, too,” he added.
“I get to travel to a lot of places which is one of the coolest things about acting,” said Wilson. “I get to meet lots of new people. I never got to meet Michael Greyeyes or Jesse Eisenberg, but it’s cool being in a film with them.”
Wild Indian tells the story of M’kwa, a boy who comes from a “dysfunctional family,” according to Wilson.
“He was not raised in a good atmosphere, and he is in love with this one girl, but the girl is with another boy in his class,” he said.
“He is very jealous, and he has a lot of emotions. One day, M’kwa and his friend are practising shooting a gun. My character shoots the little boy that the girl likes. The film is about those two friends growing apart and then coming back together as a adults and process what they did when they were kids.”
The role was challenging for Wilson because he didn’t have much in common with M’kwa — he called it a “far stretch acting-wise” — but he also had a lot of sympathy for the character.
“At first, I really didn’t understand why M’kwa was the way that he was. How could a 12-year-old boy shoot another kid in his class?” he said.
“I went over the script with my mom, and she really helped me understand. My mom did a really good job of explaining it to me so I could really grasp what led the character to behave in this way, so I could really bring him to life.”
Wilson, who calls M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island home but currently resides in Copper Cliff, started his acting career when he was four years old.
He has acted in movies and television shows — including Letterkenny and the popular Netflix series Longmire — as well as provided voiceover for a CBC Kids cartoon series called Song and Jax Maple Mysteries.
He was also the host for the TVO series My Home My Life, and was featured in a music video for the song Suplex by the Canadian group A Tribe Called Red.
Wilson’s mother Martha, who works as an educator at St. Charles College, was the one who introduced him to acting at a young age.
“We’ve always had a rule that if I don’t enjoy it, then I don’t have to do it anymore,” he said.
“My mom is the one who constantly goes over lines with me, and she’s the one who helps me with auditions and stuff. She is my number one supporter.”
Wilson’s grandfather travels with him whenever he is working on a project and has seen a lot of the world as a result.
When he isn’t acting, Wilson attends school just like all of his other friends. Right now, he is engaged in virtual learning due to the pandemic.
“There aren’t many jobs out there right now because of COVID-19, so I am focusing on school,” he said. “I really like the virtual learning, being on Zoom, and then doing your work afterward. I find it super easy.”
Eventually, Wilson hopes to go to school to become a veterinarian.
“I have always had a really deep love for animals so I thought that would be fitting. I mean, it’s a really long time for school – eight years – so I am not looking forward to that,” he said.
“I want to do a couple years of school at Laurentian, and then hopefully go to Guelph. I will do a bit of acting on the side as well. That’s the plan.”
Wilson’s mother is very proud of her son, and she can’t wait to see the world premiere of Wild Indian at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
“We are so excited. It was just rotten luck that 2020 was the way it was because it’s always been a red-carpet dream of Phoenix’s to go to a premiere, and this is one of the biggest film festivals in the world,” she said.
“It would have been really exciting, but we’re still really excited to watch the film on TV. I can’t wait to buy tickets.”
Wilson hopes that anyone who sees the film enjoys it and takes something away from it in the end.
“I hope people can watch the film and it gives them some insight into why this act was done and what he had gone through in his life to bring him to that point.”
- Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative, Sudbury Star