UNCP Grad Makes Movie Debut in "Windtalkers"



Roger WillieMGM Photo

On June 14, 2002, the adventures of Roger Willie continue at a theater near you when MGM premiers the new movie "Windtalkers" (movie web site).

A 1995 UNCP graduate, Willie has a leading role alongside Nicholas Cage. "Windtalkers" is about the famous Navajo "code talkers" who operated in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

"Windtalkers" director and producer John Woo ("Mission Impossible 2," "Broken Arrow") was taken with Willie's natural talents. A Navajo from Continental Divide, New Mexico, Willie also speaks the code talker language, Dine, which proved to be an unbreakable "code" for the Japanese throughout the war.

He plays one of two lead Navajo roles in the battle for Saipan. Christian Slater portrays his personal bodyguard on the battlefield.

Woo is not the only person captivated by Willie's native good looks and acting ability. He has since appeared in a GQ fashion spread, and a second movie, "Adaptation" starring Meryl Streep and Cage, has been shot.

Here is what one critic said about Willie's performance: "..Roger Willie who plays Pvt. Whitehorse is amazing. He had some of the best moments in the movie. His interaction with Christian Slater was great."(coronaproductions.com)

"Windtalkers" was shot in Hawaii at a cost of $100 million. Proud father-in-law Bruce Barton '86 says the family was treated like royalty while on location.

Willie is married to Teresa Carter, who is a midwife. They have a son, Seattle Greyeyes, and a daughter, Jodi Whitehorse.

The military scenes proved no obstacle for Willie, who came to North Carolina via the 82nd Airborne.

In a recent phone interview with UNCP Today magazine from his home in Tuscon, Ariz., Willie said making movies is a lot like being in the Army - "Acting is like the military - it's hurry up and wait. But when they say action, it's time to go."

"I love it," he said. "In all aspects of life, you have to look and things spiritually. It's here today and can be gone all of a sudden."

Roger WillieMGM Photo

"I try to look at the positives and it has been rewarding for me and my kids," Willie said. "We're having a lot of fun."

How did it happen?

About 400 Navajos were to be cast in the film, and Willie was escorting his nephew for a script reading when he was discovered.

He said MGM and Woo did a great job with the details of the film.

"I'm really hoping this will enhance the perspective of how important our language is," he said.

The nation has recently demonstrated its pride and gratitude for the efforts of the code talkers. Last July, they were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in a special ceremony attended by President Bush and members of the movie cast.

Willie, 37, has not given up his studies. At UNCP he was an American Indian Studies major, and he is working toward a master's degree at the University of Arizona. His goal is a doctorate and a career in teaching.

"My professors have been very understanding," Willie said about his career detour. "I am taking it one step at a time."

Right now he is looking forward to the June 14 movie opening and a trip to Pembroke for Lumbee Homecoming.

"I've been fortunate to have wonderful friends in every walk of life, the military, church and the (UNCP) campus,' Willie said. "Stan Knick (director of the Native American Resources Center) and Linda Oxendine (chair of the Department of American Indian Studies) were very good to me."

Dr. Oxendine remembers Willie as a student who brought a valuable perspective to the classroom.

"Roger was an excellent student," Dr. Oxendine said. "His Navajo background always brought a different dimension to class. I am very proud of his success."

Willie has fond memories of Linda's Restaurant, Sheff's and his friend Harold "Iron Bear" Collins, a professional strongman.

"But you can't forget Homecoming with the thousands of people," he said. "I hope we can take a group to see the movie while I'm there."

Willie hopes the movie will have a positive impact on Native Americans.

"This movie will enhance and revitalize native cultures," he said.