MISSOULA – Right after the Golden Globes nominations were announced in December, University of Montana Professor Bernadette Sweeney reached out to her former acting student, Lily Gladstone, to congratulate the Browning native on her Best Female Actor nomination for her role in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”
While on the phone Sweeney casually asked if Gladstone, a 2008 graduate of UM’s School of Theatre and Dance, might be game to teach a master class for the school’s acting students.
“I knew things were about to get very busy for Lily, and I just assumed we’d try to do something for the fall 2024 semester,” said Sweeney, who is the head of Acting and Musical Theatre at UM.
But things came together on short notice and so – after actually winning the Golden Globe – Gladstone Zoomed in the Monday before she was nominated for an Academy Award to share with acting students her insights into what it takes to succeed as an actor.
“She told us that just before the class she was on a Zoom call for the SAG panel with actors Emma Stone, Margot Robbie, Annette Benning and Carey Mulligan, so for her to take time to talk to students was extraordinary,” Sweeney said.
Gladstone also is nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role.
The hourlong conversation touched on subjects, such as how Gladstone’s theatrical training at UM carried her forward in her career, what it takes to transfer one’s skills on stage to performing on film and how young actors can establish resilience in an industry that’s legendary for dishing hard knocks.
They also discussed representation, Gladstone’s Indigenous heritage in particular, for groups long marginalized in the profession. Gladstone is, in fact, the first Indigenous person to win a Golden Globe in her category.
Kairi Lising, a sophomore from Great Falls who is Filipino, used the opportunity to ask Gladstone about acting as a minority.
“I wondered what advice she had to carve space for yourself in this business,” said Lising, who is double majoring in acting and journalism. “She said it was important to own who you are and to know your ethnicity is a part of who you are and always will be, and to not let anyone control that part of you.
“I really didn’t know what being star-struck felt like, but I was definitely star-struck,” Lising added.
Walker Winterburn, a junior from Missoula studying theater with a concentration in musical theater, asked Gladstone how she found the courage to go from Montana to the larger acting centers on the coast, and how she had the wherewithal to stay committed during the often-long waits for work that are a part of the business.
“She told us that Hollywood is everywhere but Hollywood, and that going to Los Angeles or New York isn’t the best choice for everyone,” said Winterburn, a graduate of Big Sky High School. “She said it’s important to listen to your heart and go where you want to go. You can be a success wherever you are.”
In their questions, students focused less on the glamour of walking the red carpet and more on what early career advice Gladstone might have for them.
“The questions the students asked were smart, informed and forward looking into their careers,” Sweeney said. “I was very proud of them.”
Seeing her former student interact, mentor and share with her current students was deeply gratifying, Sweeney said, and a perfect illustration of the paying it forward attitude that is a bedrock of UM’s theater and dance school.
“As the class started, Lily did a voice warmup that I taught her years ago that she still uses on film sets today,” Sweeney said. “As an acting professor, that meant a lot.”
Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659, email@example.com.