"I was drunk at the time!" laughs Schweig who stars in Skins, an Indian reservation dramedy opening tomorrow. "So I thought, 'This is beer money! This is more beer money than I've ever seen. All I gotta do is run up a couple hills here and there.' I didn't say anything in Last of the Mohicans; I had like three lines. I thought, 'This is easy!'"
In Skins, Schweig plays a Sioux cop whose brother (Graham Greene) is slowly dying after years of alcohol abuse. The story hit close to home for the Canadian Inuit, who candidly describes his own alcoholism, which began with a rough childhood: "I was adopted when I was 6 months old by Caucasians of questionable character," the 35-year-old says resentfully. "As a result of the physical and psychological abuse I experienced, I turned to alcohol." Schweig condemns "the adoption sweep that happened in the '60s and '70s in the U.S. and Canada," which removed kids from Indian homes and placed them with white families. "They just picked us all up and put us on the auction block," he explains. "A lot of our parents died of broken hearts.
"I heard that my [birth] mother died of alcoholism in 1989," Schweig adds. "I thought one of the ways that I could honor her for giving me the gift of life was, first of all, to be sober and take care of myself emotionally, physically, spiritually. Second of all, to do my damnedest to be involved with healing... our own community."
Schweig doesn't think Skins helmed by Smoke Signals director Chris Eyre will dramatically change his peoples' lives. But he appreciates playing a modern, complex character, a chance that comes along too rarely for Native American actors. "Most of the material that we're handed is just garbage," he laments. "Guest spots where you go into the wardrobe and you've got to put on a choker... and a plaid shirt, a pair of jeans and some cowboy boots and your name is 'Billy Walks with Thunder.'"