Actor True to His Make-Up
by Paula Zalar (American Indian Review, Issue 13, 1997)
the recently released video, "Wild Bill", you have no doubt
about it: the man in feathers with a layer of white paint on
his face in an Indian. But Pato Hoffmann--the actor wearing
the make-up--knows not everyone would agree. "The single, most
consistent obstacle I've faced," says the forty year old Bolivian,
"has been the discrimination set against me by those believing
only North American Indians qualify as 'Native Americans.'"
Proud of his Quechua (Inca) and Aymara Indian heritage, Hoffmann
finds such narrow definition of "Indian" insulting and illogical.
"There are two other Americas, Central and South. Both are home
to indigenous people."
is an Indian and who has the right to portray one are long-standing
questions in social and cultural circles. As the controversy
continues, Pato Hoffmann auditions around it--successfully,
too. Working steadily, he's appeared in Columbia's production
of "Geronimo", in "Raven Hawk", and "Cheyenne Warrior". He had
a starring role in TNT's "Lakota Woman", and contributed the
voice of an elder in HBO's animated Native American version
of "Snow White". He's had recurring roles in the TV series "Legend",
and will reappear in this year's new episodes of "Dr. Quinn,
Medicine Woman". Recently, he appeared with an all-Native cast
in "The Secret of the Lizard Woman", a special for ABC. He looks
forward to up-coming roles.
uncertain work, acting; but sometimes the right role brings
another. Impressed by Hoffmann's portrayal of the medicine man
slain in "Geronimo", director Walter Hill offered the actor
a port in his picture, "Wild Bill". "By this time," says Hoffmann,
a college graduate with a degree in economics, "I'd done enough
things to feel more confident about acting."
the role came as a challenge: he had to speak fluent Cheyenne.
Usually, languages come easily for Hoffmann. He speaks impeccable
English and works as a translator in Spanish and Portuguese.
He learned Sioux and Apache for previous films, but the Cheyenne
language required more study. "Being a native actor," explains
Hoffmann, "I have particular responsibilities. Since I'm always
concerned with showing proper respect for the people Iím playing,
I was anxious about learning Cheyenne well enough to speak it
correctly. I had a Cheyenne elder on the set who was teaching
feels it was because he was working in another language that
he was able to be so focused on his part in the scene. Lost
in the process, the rest of the "work" escaped him. "I mean,
I forgot about the acting. I was just there, feeling more than
acting Cheyenne. It was all very rewarding, the process."
Hoffmann appreciates "process". For the last 12 years he's studied
Kung Fu with a Chinese master. He's now expert with the staff
and with "bay daggers", double-edged knives. "Kung Fu has taught
me discipline, focus, and patience. Iím always aware of my environment
now, and I look more--I see more--when I move."
Hoffmann, traditional martial arts native ways aren't just compatible,
they're similar; both bring continual opportunities for self-improvement.
"Neither is something I practice just while Iím in class, or
in a ceremony. As part of my daily life both strengthen me.
Both make up and reflect who I am."
he's certain of who he is though others may doubt. Proud of
his heritage, he voices his ancestors' thought. "There was a
time among traditional peoples when everyone agreed there are
only two kinds of human beings--decent, and indecent. When you
allied yourself with the people, when you were for the people
and walked as the people did, then--to everyone--you were one
of the people. Loyal to the ways, you were Indian."
thinks self-appointed culture guards have forced a sad change
in this view. "Unfortunately, some have made up new rules. It's
not just if you have Indian blood that matters; now it's how
much and whose you carry." To Hoffmann, these new definitions
offer no guarantee.
see it all the time--'I'm a full-bloodÖ' says so-and-so. But
he knows nothing of the people, he gives nothing. He talks like
an Indian, maybe, but does he walk like one? Does he follow
Pato Hoffmann it's all on-going, and cumulative. "As an actor
and a person, I can only bring to a role the me, the sum total
of my life experiences, that nobody else can bring. Iím a bilingual,
cross-cultural mixed-blood, a native of South America who's
part Indian, part German, part Spanish. I've had the privilege
of education and experiences through travel, and contact with
diverse groups of people. I've tried to learn and assimilate
from all this what is good and make it a part of my daily living.
In terms of identity, I'm striving to be a good person, a good
actor. I know I'm already Indian."
paths he's known since a child, Pato Hoffmann walks confidently
around his detractors. "Do you know how tied I get of defending
my Indian heritage to those who keep challenging it?" Still,
the journey brings heart, gives satisfaction. "I travel all
over in this business. I'm always meeting native elders, other
traditionals. Those who have talked with me know me and see
who I am. Wherever I go," he says, smiling, "I'm invited back