Isaiah Tootoosis: From Poundmaker to Hollywood

Being part of a major motion picture alongside stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio can be pretty heady stuff, no matter what your age is.

It can be even more overwhelming when you are eight years old and grew up far away from the Hollywood bright lights.

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But young Isaiah Tootoosis of Poundmaker Cree Nation southwest of the Battlefords has taken his newfound fame in stride, calling it “strange”.

The young performer landed a role in The Revenant, in which he portrayed Hawk, the son of DiCaprio’s character Hugh Glass. Now the movie is out in theatres, including the Capitol in North Battleford, and it has picked up some major awards.

It’s something his parents, Rachel Berland and Jaired Tootoosis, still can’t believe.

“It’s actually overwhelming,” Rachel said. “With the whole experience it’s amazing.”

Performing runs in the family. His great-grandfather was the late Gordon Tootoosis, the veteran Hollywood actor who appeared in such productions as North of 60 and Legends of the Fall and who lent his voice to Disney’s Pocahontas.

So the idea of Isaiah being part of a motion picture did not seem an outlandish one.

Family members learned of a casting call for a possible role in a movie, and decided to take Isaiah to Edmonton to audition.

Pictures of Isaiah were provided there, and he was called in to another audition in Calgary.

Through it all, family members were in the dark about exactly what production they were getting involved with.

“We didn’t know what movie he was actually auditioning for until we got the call that he got the part,” Rachel said.

“They didn’t mention what movie, or with who. They didn’t mention anything until he got the part. “

They got a big surprise three days after the Calgary auditions were over.

Not only did Isaiah get the part, but Leonardo DiCaprio was part of the cast and crew. It turned out Isaiah would be playing DiCaprio’s son in the movie.

The reality dawned on them: this was a major Hollywood motion picture Isaiah would be part of.  

“It was amazing,” Berland said. “I basically cried with tears with him. I was so happy.” 

The Revenant, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, would be shot in a number of different locations, with much of the shooting taking place nearby in Alberta and British Columbia.

However, Isaiah’s filming took place over several days in Los Angeles, Calif. He went to California for about 15 days during the summer months for his scenes, before school resumed.

Hollywood motion pictures are notorious for long hours of shooting. Isaiah nodded his head when he was asked if he worked some long days. He said he started work at “nine in the afternoon,” although Jaired believes it was actually seven in the morning when he would start. 

Those involved in a major motion picture are always kept well fed on the set and Isaiah was no exception; he said he ate pancakes and ham and eggs.

He had his own small trailer on the set, as other actors had.

When asked if it was intimidating to be around all the cameras during the scenes, Isaiah nodded his head.  

The toughest part of his role was having his face painted by the makeup artist, an intensive process that took “for hours,” Isaiah said. 

Of course, a big highlight was meeting the legendary DiCaprio. But Jaired said his son didn’t realize how big a star he was while filming.

“He didn’t really know who Leo DiCaprio was until we showed him a couple of movies, until he got back,” said Jaired. They showed him Titanic, which DiCaprio had a major role in. 

After the shooting was over, Isaiah returned to his normal life and fit back in with his classmates when school resumed.

He is a student at St. Mary School and Isaiah said his classmates did not know about his movie role until the movie actually came out.

“When they saw it, they just freaked out,” Isaiah said.

An exciting moment for the family was when they went to the world premiere Dec. 16 at the famed TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

“I’ll never forget that experience. It was my first time flying,” said Rachel, “my first time leaving the country.”

The rest of the cast was very excited to see Isaiah at the premiere. “Everybody adored him, he was the only child actor there,” said Berland.

Jaired said some of the actors got emotional when they saw Isaiah. He explained a number of them had actually worked with Gordon Tootoosis before in various productions.

“I guess my grandfather inspired them to act,” Jaired said.

A more modest “premiere” for Isaiah was scheduled for the Capitol Theatre in North Battleford Jan. 22, where Isaiah signed posters and meet and greeted the fans between 5 and 7 p.m.

Some family members from Poundmaker Cree Nation were planning to be there as well for the occasion.

Ever since The Revenant was released, the excitement has just kept building for Isaiah Tootoosis and his family.

 “At first we didn’t really know how far the movie was going to go,” said Jaired. But the accolades and attention has rolled in with some major award nominations.

The family watched the Golden Globe awards and watched DiCaprio win Best Actor, and the movie itself, Best Motion Picture - Drama.

“We were all excited. We were all cheering in our living room,” Jaired said.

The movie is also up for 12 Academy Awards and is considered a frontrunner to win the top prize there as well. And there could be more awards in store. They hope Isaiah can be nominated for a child actor award.

All in all, the family cannot believe Isaiah’s good fortune in being involved with such a successful production in The Revenant. 

“It just happened too fast,” Rachel said, with Isaiah “being in a major movie and everything.”  

As for the future, Isaiah agrees he likes show business and wants to pursue more of it.

When asked what kind of movies he wanted to star in, he responded “shark ones.” The producers of “Sharknado” might want to take note. 

As for what kind of entertainment he liked watching the most, he responded “Nature shows!”

But young Isaiah Tootoosis could yet decide to go a more athletic direction and follow the footsteps of another member of his family.

His other great-grandfather is Fred Sasakamoose, the first Aboriginal player in the National Hockey League with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Isaiah is a hockey player himself, playing left wing on his novice team where, he says, he’s scored a goal.

“He’s following both roads” of his great-grandfathers, said Jaired. Perhaps it’s the bright lights of the NHL that could be in Isaiah Tootoosis’s future.


Jaired Tootoosis and Rachel Berland stand with their son Isaiah Tootoosis, the young actor who plays Hawk in The Revenant alongside Leonardo DiCaprio. They stopped by the News-Optimist offices Wednesday afternoon.  Photo by John CairnsIsaiah Tootoosis was at the Capitol Threatre in North Battleford to sign authographs prior to a screening of The Revenant  Friday evening. Photo by Dustin Saracini








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