The following interview - apparently from late 1992 - appeared in the pages of Trail Dust magazine. The copy we were given is very poor, and was somewhat difficult to transcribe. There are a couple of words we just couldn't make out, indicated by a [??] in place of the word. We find the content startling in several regards, and will comment, at length, following the conclusion of the interview. We invite your comments on our comments, or on the interview, on the MOHICAN WWW BOARD.
"ALL THESE CHARACTERS ARE BASED ON FICTION!"ERIC: Hello ...!
INTERVIEWER: Hello, how are you?
E: Pretty good, thank you! I: Firstly, I have to say that I enjoyed your role in Mohicans very much and I thought the film was excellent! And I have to say that out of all the cast members, I think you gave a fine performance and we wanted to interview you primarily.
E: Hey, thanks!
I: I saw the movie three times and honed in on the role of Uncas.
E: Oh ... Wow, thanks!
I: Now to the slew of questions! First, how were you chosen for the role of Uncas?
E: I've been with PRIME TALENT for about three years and they audition all over the United States and Canada. And they came to Vancouver and I auditioned once down here and then flew to Los Angeles and auditioned once or twice there on the same day and then flew back ... flew back down for another one and then flew to North Carolina for two more. And I was told at 7 a.m. the next morning that I was hired! Gees, about time!!!
I: What kind of qualities do you think they were looking for, that maybe you had that other people didn't?
E: I don't know ... maybe I was the right height! (A boyish laughter interrupts the train of thought.)
I: Well, I was thinking more along the lines of your [??] for the running and other activities.
E: I think they wanted that, but the height did come into it. You can't put some little guy next to someone like Daniel Day-Lewis. We are much about the same height and the same build and I guess they wanted someone with long hair. Although at one point they wanted to shave everybody's hair off. We actually talked them out of that! And we had to do a lot of running and stuff.
I: Did you have to be really physically fit?
E: Oh, yeah. We went down to Columbus, Ga., for a month and trained in this anti-terrorist camp. We were shooting [??], 45's and shot guns. Running 5 to 8 miles a day. Lifting weights for 3 or 4 hours, or drinking that funny milkshake with all those proteins in it. I had more fun in that one month than I did in principal photography!
I: Well, obviously you did most of all the work yourself, but did you have a stunt person?
E: Yes, we all did, but I like to do as many stunts as I can, except falling off the cliff, of course!
I: Yes, I guess that's a little difficult to survive. But that was a superb scene!
E: Yeah, it was pretty wild!
I: You mentioned earlier about your hair. I believe you have been growing it for eight years?
E: Something like that. And they wanted us to have shaved heads. But Russell Means (Chingachgook) said, "NO, I'm an Indian. I don't cut my hair for nobody!" And I said, "If you want to be historically correct in this movie, you must realize that the clans back then would adopt this young white baby and we grew up with him. If he is going to have all his hair there, then we should, too!" But they didn't want to shave his hair, so they gave into us. Being brothers, we would be the same.
I: Uncas comes over as the strong and silent character (minus the huge amount of dialogue), but the terrific expressions that you have throughout the film speak for you. Was it meant to be like that?
E: Yes, but I got restless. Most of the time I was either standing or running. I didn't have to say that much, just stand around tapping my feet. Sometimes I felt like I wanted to scream or something. I guess it worked out.
I: There is a very soft, subtle love story between you and Alice. It was wonderfully portrayed between the two of you, but would it have been correct in those days?
E: I would go on and on about the things that were wrong in the movie. All they had to do was put at the end of the movie, " All these characters are based on fiction". But they didn't! The James Fenimore Cooper book was fiction!
I: Do you think European women would have been able to stand such a life style?
E: No, I don't think so at all. It would be like a culture shock when Indians move into the city. The girls would have been scared of everything! But we took care of them!
I: Some of the scenes, especially in the canoes - was that really you guys?
E: Oh, that was the hardest time anyone ever had. Sitting out there in a big flotilla and it was really windy. But it was us, except going over the waterfalls. Some people actually got hurt.
I: Was there another person in your canoe ... one that wasn't scripted?
E: I caught that myself! They made me dive from one canoe to another. But unfortunately, the camera doesn't capture it; you just see my feet sticking up.
I: Well, that explains that! The battle scenes were spectacular! Was the fort built for the film?
E: Yes, it was. They employed 250 carpenters and they smacked it all up. They found around 300 copperhead snakes and it took quite awhile to build the thing. But there was some kind of beef with the production company and the North Carolina tourism division. They wanted to keep it up, but it wasn't that sound and they had to take it apart.
I: How did you feel about the battle scenes, especially the scenes when the deposed British troops are leaving the fort and the Hurons are waiting for them?
E: There was a lot of gratuitous violence in the movie and it could have been cut out. There were also a few scenes cut out that should not have been. But when Daniel walks into the Huron village he almost gets his brains knocked out. It would never have happened! People, Indian or otherwise, are not born to hate each other. Unfortunately, people just eat that stuff up!
I: The scene on the mountain when you run to save Alice at the end ... you didn't wait for Hawkeye and your father, as per the book? The effect of the battle between you and Magua was very dramatic. That and the part where Alice jumps from the cliff are some of the finest in the film!
E: This was a part of the thing that didn't get developed properly. We had a really deep love scene in the cave and they cut that out completely. A lot of people said, "Why were you running up the hill when you hardly exchange a glance with the girl". No one really knows, it should have gone in there ... Hopefully, it will be on the extended version when it's on video.
I: Have you seen the whole film unedited?
E: No, I haven't. We just see the rushes.
I: And you were out there for five months in the Smoky Mountains ... what was it like?
E: Very, very hot and sticky and it rained a lot. Those guys running around in the wool were so uncomfortable. The Indian guys were okay. They could stand around and get suntanned. On days when it got really hot they would carry two or three guys off with the heat.
I: Was it all shot outdoors or were there any indoor shots, i.e., like the cabin scene?
E: The only stage shot was the waterfall and the cave. They had a pool and a waterfall. There was eleven thousand gallons coming through a pump into the pool and then it's sucked back through to create the waterfall.
I: The editing in the film is a little off sometimes. For example, the beginning of the movie in the woods ... Day-Lewis' shirt appears and disappears!
E: Michael Mann was running around behind everyone in the editing room making them do it ... shouting, "What are you doing?"
I: Where there any significant problems with the movie?
E: Yes, with the Indians. Their living conditions were bad, like one loo [bathroom] for 400 guys. So they went on strike and we backed them ... Even Daniel did. It was stupid not to!
I: How did you get on with the rest of the cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Jodhi May and Russell Means?
E: I got along with everybody! If there's any kind of panic, it started at the top with the producers. They were doing illegal tampering with time cards, skimming hours off time cards and the make-up artists went on strike. They worked everybody like dogs, so that was the only beef anyone had. Other than that, everybody got along.
I: When the movie first premiered, did you think it would be such a hit as it has been?
E: No, I didn't. I thought it would stink! I guess it turned out alright. I didn't think it would make this much money!
I: Do you think it's promoting your career in the way you would like it to?
E: Yes, to an extent! I don't like to refer to it as a reference. If someone wants a reference ... like, "How was he to work with? What's he like on the set?" I don't use it. Things got ugly sometimes ... and I don't sit around like some of these lap dogs. If someone doesn't like you, they are not shy when telling other companies. But when someone shouts at me, I shout back! If the movie makes $80 million, they don't care what I say. It doesn't matter what kind of crooks they were! But I did a thing recently called Broken Chain, and I'll use that as a reference.
I: The dialects in Mohicans ... what are they?
E: There are six different nations in the Mohawk nation. And it was one of the six.
I: And I presume the Hurons were speaking French?
E: I think it was a mix. One of the six and French, so that they could talk amongst themselves.
I: What were the good points about the film?
E: The terrific points about the movie was the cinematography on the locations and the costumes. Also the music by Daniel Lanois, a French-Canadian composer.
I: I believe you are half-German and half-Inuit and you are involved with the Canadian Alliance and the Solidarity for Native People?
E: And the American Indian Movement!
I: How do you feel about Indians being depicted in films by white people, in earlier movies?
E: Well, they are using real Indians now. Until Indian people can gain something of a creative role, then the cold hard facts about that, is that you need money. Lots of it, and we have to control it. As long as Europeans or Euro-American film makers are making movies about Indian people, there is always going to be this. There is an endless amount of historical fact they dredge up from the past and twist it around and suck all the blood out of Indian people to paint their own pictures. And that's not the way it's supposed to be. All they want to do is restrict native roles to native people. Put us into 1992 along with everyone else. No one wants to see this all the time. I don't mind period pieces as long as it's something positive and not negative.
I: When you go down to L. A., do you mix in with the other actors or stay to yourself?
E: I don't mix with other actors. I like to hang out with my friends. Sometimes on the set they have raunchy attitudes and I'd rather be away from it. They can get egotistical.
I: So you made the movie in Richmond: now what?
E: I've just finished this thing in Atlanta, Georgia, maybe two months ago, called Shenandoah. A war between blue coats and Indians. A little better, though. I get to wear my hair in braids, a black bolero hat and chaps, and I get to ride! And I'm waiting to see if I can get the role of Joseph Stone, a cop who's been to Lebanon and all that. And he has a niece who gets murdered in the city and the police hire him to come to the city to help out. This is to be shot in Vancouver, if it all happens. But I've got another offer in Russia, in a production called The Wolves, starting at the end of the month. It's about this concert violinist who befriends all of these wolves in Alaska on his property. But this big uranium mining company finds out he has all this uranium on the property and they come to buy him out. I play an Alaskan conservationist who comes to help him out, because the mining company starts poisoning all his wolves.
I: Sounds interesting ... and then?
E: I'll stay in movies until I can get enough money to buy a ranch in Montana, live the life of a hermit ... get 10 or 15 dogs ... sounds good, doesn't it?
I: Yes, it does. By the way, you did a play called The Cradle Will Fall. Do you enjoy the stage?
E: No, I don't! You're always poor. I have done bit parts in Bordertown and The Black Stallion. And I love to be around the sets, learning things.
I: Well, I've learned a lot today from you and I really thank you for all the time you've given me.
E: I had fun, really. And you take care of yourself ...
Whew! Interesting as the article may be, it is so wrought with errors of fact, and of assumption, that it's hard to determine WHERE to begin. So what if the film was not shot in the Smokies, or that Uncas does indeed leave to rescue a daughter of Munro ahead of Hawkeye & Chingachgook in the novel. That, perhaps, is petty stuff. Let us digress ... we very much want to like Eric Schweig. We love his portrayal of Uncas. He is such an integral part of our favorite movie. He seems like a good guy. So, it it is somewhat difficult to have to knock his words. Now, it is possible that there was more to the interview than that which made it to print. Perhaps much is taken out of context. Even so, it seems to us, one simply must dispute much of what he says. Or, at least wonder why he says it! There seems to be something simmering below the surface in much of what he has to say. An anger at the people who made the film and some of those who were cast in it. An anger at how history has unfolded itself. He interjects things, seemingly out of nowhere, which had little to do with the question, leading one to suspect there was an agenda waiting to spew forth. It's all hard to fathom ... it goes against our grain. We don't want to attack his words. But he said them. We chose to post them on this site because a great deal of it is relevant to the making of the movie and we felt most of you would be interested in reading it. But ... there are so many questions we would like to ask of him! Has Eric ever heard of "running the gauntlet"? Does he know that the six nations are of the Iroquois, and the Mohawks are one of the six? Did he really think the movie would "stink"? Does he realize war and violence do really take place, even though we are "not born to hate each other"? How would he feel if film directors did not use native people in native roles? Should a dark Italian be cast as a blue-eyed Swede? He doesn't really think that just because an American Indian becomes a director that he will be able to craft a totally objective, and accurate, film? Does he? Does he realize that all history is written from a viewpoint? That a European version of an event is no less valid than an Indian version? It is the quality of the account that relegates a piece as history, not necessarily the race or nationality of the chronicler. Does he know that, in fact, all these characters are not based on fiction? That Cooper's "history" was, in many ways, stunningly accurate? It all seems so obvious ... There is no question that the American Indians have been one of the most mistreated peoples in history, certainly on this continent. Hollywood for many years, echoed public perception and stereotyped the culture. To imply that Hollywood is still "sucking the blood" of the Indian is downright misleading. With films like Dances With Wolves, The Last Of The Mohicans and a host of lesser films casting American Indians in real-life roles ... And, while we're at it, should Braveheart be criticized because it portrays savage-like Scots of the 13th & 14th centuries rather than present-day Scotland? Historical films will always be. It's absurd. Not to portray these times would be to "twist" history. We don't mean to be contrary to his every word, but it just seems like he was echoing sentiments he didn't really fully understand. Perhaps we are wrong. Perhaps things were twisted by the editing of the interview. It's impossible to say. We realize many of you are huge Eric Schweig fans. Our intent is not to criticize or alienate, rather to wonder why?
Since we came upon, posted, and discussed the above interview, both here and on the WWW Board, we have had the good fortune to be able to talk with Eric Schweig directly. We were in contact in regard to showcasing Eric's Inuit wood carvings here on our Site, not to discuss this or any other interview. Glad we did! Eric is certainly a personable, well-spoken & easy-to-talk-to person. He exhibits a fine sense of humor. As expected, we found ourselves liking him a great deal, and we quickly came to a mutually agreeable arrangement for displaying his work.
It's been a long trail since!
See the ERIC SCHWEIG GALLERY