Downtown Eastside survivor Duane Howard plays lead indigenous role in The Revenant

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      The Christmas Day release of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy's The Revenant has generated massive buzz across the United States. (The film will be in Vancouver theatres on January 8.)

      It's also put a Nuu-Chah-Nulth man, Duane Howard, in the spotlight in the role of Arikara leader Elk Dog.

      A recent profile in the Los Angeles Times mistakenly called Howard a "Native American actor"—he actually grew up in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.

      According to his biography on the IMDb website, Howard moved to Vancouver at the age of 14, where he lived a hardscrabble life for many years.

      By the time Howard arrived in B.C.'s biggest city, he "had already been using drugs and alcohol for four years".

      Howard remained on the streets of the Downtown Eastside for 13 years before turning his life around and obtaining a diploma in substance-abuse counselling. He has remained sober ever since.

      The Vancouver actor got into stunt work and was eventually cast in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Goodnight for Justice: Queen of Hearts, and Arctic Air.

      "That Duane ended up with the lead native role on The Revenant is nearly as miraculous as his survival on the streets," his IMDb bio states. "The actor had decided to take a break from the business a year before the audition call for the part of 'Elk Dog' came out, and it was upon hearing of the role from his former agent, that Duane returned to acting after initially accepting a stunt position on the film."

      Meanwhile, The Revenant made it onto the Top 10 lists of three Georgia Straight critics: Adrian Mack, Ron Yamauchi, and Janet Smith.

      Here's how Smith described the movie: "Alejandro González Iñárritu serves up his western-survival tale’s barbarity in 360 degrees, shooting in long takes that immerse you in the blood and chaos. A revenge epic that rethinks cinema as much as it does Hollywood’s version of frontier history."