Chancellor Allen C. Meadors (left) with Roger Willie
Every year Roger Willie returns to Pembroke with his family for Lumbee Homecoming. But this time, things will be a little different.
Willie's a movie star.
A lead actor in the current release, "Windtalkers," Willie is visiting his family and his alma mater, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He graduated with a degree in American Indian studies in 1995.
With Hollywood style and sunglasses, Willie stayed cool despite the 100-degree heat.
Willie spoke about his newfound fame and his time at UNCP to a group of family, friends and supporters of the university at a luncheon held at the residence of Chancellor and Mrs. Allen C. Meadors on July 5.
"It's not up to me," Willie said, talking about how as a novice actor, he landed a lead role in a big-budget film. "It's the people around me who are going to decide where I go."
"Take this event for example," he said. "I didn't plan it. If everyone walked away, I would be nothing, nobody."
Dr. Meadors was excited about hosting Willie and guests at his home.
"We are extremely proud of Roger both as a person and artist," Dr. Meadors said. "He has demonstrated what can be accomplished when you are prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that come to you in life. He is an excellent example for all us."
Willie joked, signed autographs and patiently posed for pictures in the midday heat.
Making "Windtalkers" was the perfect opportunity to contribute to the visibility of Native American culture, he said.
"(The movie) is an incredibly educational tool," he said. "It's like all my life's training was preparing me for Windtalkers."
In the movie, Willie plays Marine Private Charlie Whitehorse, a Navajo code talker who must translate commands during battle in World War II. In reality, Willie is a Navajo from Continental Divide, N.M., and knows the Dine language used in the codes.
Actors had to undergo Marine basic training to acquaint themselves with military rituals and terminology, and to help make their performances more believable. Military training was nothing new to Willie, who had spent four years in the Army's elite 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Willie resides in Tuscon, Ariz., and is currently working full-time on his master's degree in American Indian studies at the University of Arizona. He is married to Sissy Carter of Pembroke, and they have two children.
If his movie career stalls, Willie said he might teach at the university level. "If I never act again, I can walk away and I'd be happy," he said. "I can always be focused on my education."