Homegrown Talent/ Nathaniel Arcand

He's a rare breed, coming from the lows of adolescence to the highs of national stardom

BY EMIL TIEDEMANN

YOU might think I'm somewhat bias, doing an article on someone I'm actually related to, but the reality is that he's my cousin twice removed, and I've never even met the guy before. But, at the same time, I know of Nathaniel Arcand, 37, and I know he's one of this country's most talented and prolific Aboriginal actors, honing his craft on both television and film since the mid-'90s.

In fact, I didn't even know that Arcand, the oldest of six children, was part of my extended family (our mothers are first cousins) until I read an article (partially) about him in a December 2002 issue of the Edmonton Journal. The headline for the piece read "Former gang members tell their stories to forum to help native youth" (by Ed Kaiser). "We saw a lot of drinking around us and fighting," a 31-year-old Arcand told Kaiser. "We saw relatives going to jail and being bad."

The article revealed that the Edmonton-born actor was only in grade 5 when he joined The Demons, an all-Native gang that introduced Arcand to pot, stealing and break-in's. The petty crimes soon bloated into more serious behaviour, before culminating in a 9-month jail sentence when he was 18. That was the kick-in-the-ass Arcand needed to re-arrange his priorities.

First inspired by a Bruce Lee drive-in movie when he was just five-years-old, Arcand--who is of Cree heritage--decided to focus his attention on acting rather than drinking and stealing, after he was released from prison. He had also done some plays in junior high school, but started taking his acting chops seriously at around the same time he became a father, to son Jaden and daughter Trisha. He had another son, Griffin, five years later.

Arcand was discovered by talent agent Darryl Mork, who took the young wannabe on and guided him through his earliest professional work. In 1994 Arcand landed a small role as a tree climber in Savage Land, a movie that starred Corbin Bernsen and Graham Greene.

That same year, though, Arcand found a re-occurring gig on one of the most acclaimed and recognizable Canadian TV shows to date, North of 60, which lasted six seasons on the CBC. In 29 episodes (1994-97) Arcand portrayed William MacNeil, a troubled youth who's own mischievous endeavours may have easily resembled those of a young Arcand, in the days when appearing on national television was just a pipe dream. During 1997 Arcand even earned a Gemini Award nomination (Canada's Emmies) for his role on North of 60, as Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

For the rest of the '90s Arcand appeared in another four films (including 1996's Crazy Horse and 1999's Grey Owl), and guested on an episode of Due South (1996), before he was hired for a four-episode guest spot on another TV series, Caitlin's Way (2000), which aired in the U.S. via Nickelodeon. Over the last decade Arcand has been working on getting his name out there, collecting notches on his belt with over 20 more films, including Chasing Indigo (2000), Skins (2002), The Lone Ranger (2003/TVM) (as "Tonto"), Black Cloud (2004), Elektra (2005) and Pathfinder (2007).

"I've come a long way from where I was to who I am now...I'm proud of myself."

But in between, Arcand made sure to make room for his small screen projects as well, popping up in episodes of Jeremiah (2002), Da Vinci's Inquest (2003), Naked Josh (2004), Smallville (2004), Da Vinci's City Hall (2005), Northern Town (2006), Fear Itself (2009) and Murdoch Mysteries (2009). From 2007 to '08 Arcand teamed up with fellow Aboriginal Thespian phenom Adam Beach (Flags of Our Fathers) for the short-lived Showcase sitcom Moose TV, set around the crew of a small-town TV station in Quebec.

2007 also saw Arcand land another steady TV part, this time as Scott Cardinal on the CBC's Heartland, which is now in its third season. Loosely based on the book series by England-born author Lauren Brooke, Heartland is filmed and based in the Alberta Rocky Mountains, but has found a fanbase in over a dozen other countries around the globe, including Germany, Brazil, France, Australia and the UK.

Arcand, a martial arts expert, once admitted that he had ambitions to be cinema's first Native action star, and although the odds are against the 37-year-old father of three, Nathaniel Arcand has proven before that overcoming obstacles is a specialty of his. From gangbanger to role model, Arcand has surely accomplished more than he could've imagined while sitting in that jail cell. "I've come a long way from where I was to who I am now," Arcand continued in that 7-year-old interview with the Journal, but the words still ring true today. "I'm proud of myself."

Click here to see Arcand's full filmography.

Below is a video that was put together by a fan of Arcand, titled "Nathaniel Arcand Demo Reel," courtesy of YouTube.


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