When millions of people see actor Duane Howard play ‘Elk Dog’, the lead native warrior in 20th Century Fox’s mammoth film The Revenant, chances are that they will marvel at how such a riveting actor came out of nowhere. But Duane did not come out of nowhere; he came from the streets.
Duane Howard is a First Nation born in the Nuu-chah-nulth (meaning “along the mountains and sea”) territory located on the west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. The Howard family left the territory when Duane was only 3 to live in the nearby town Port Alberni. By the time he moved to Vancouver with his older sister at the age of 14 following his parents’ separation, Duane had already been using drugs and alcohol for four years.
Duane lived on the streets from the age of 14 to 18 years old and had many close calls. Many times during this unimaginable period Duane considered not going on.
After 13 years at the age of 23 Duane realized that he did not want his son to follow in his footsteps and so he simply got up and walked away from his dark life. Duane not only accomplished the enormous feat of becoming clean and sober, he went on to get his grade twelve education and in 1988 he received his diploma in Substance Abuse Counseling. Duane used his experience and his new education to work the rougher parts of Vancouver and towns across Canada making a difference in the lives of troubled youth and their families.
In the early 1990s Duane realized that he wanted to make another change in his life when he discovered a passion for acting. Duane began as a background performer and then worked his way up to acquiring a stunt credit on the feature film The Scarlett Letter. Duane’s credits grew from stunts to stunt acting to acting roles on shows such as the TV movies Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Goodnight for Justice: Queen of Hearts along with the popular TV series Arctic Air and more. Duane recently completed a starring role in a film titled The Sun at Midnight wherein, ironically, he fights to survive a bear attack.
That Duane ended up with the lead native role on The Revenant is nearly as miraculous as his survival on the streets. The actor had decided to take a break from the business a year before the audition call for the part of ‘Elk Dog’ came out, and it was upon hearing of the role from his former agent, that Duane returned to acting after initially accepting a stunt position on the film. Upon hearing of the film’s frustration over finding the right actor for the integral role, the stunt coordinator who had hired Duane suggested that they take a look at him, as he knew what a strong actor Duane was. Unbeknownst to him, Duane’s agent was working with Canadian casting director Michelle Allen to get him seen. Duane received a call the next day which was a Sunday, went in to read on the Monday and on Wednesday flew to Calgary and auditioned in private for the three time Oscar winner, Alejandro González Iñárritu. The director immediately took Duane down to the production facility and had him repeat his audition in front of the entire crew. After months of searching all of North America they’d found their Elk Dog and Duane had landed the biggest role of his life in the span of 4 days.
Duane is very matter-of-fact that it took all of this, the childhood addictions, his near deaths on the street, his recovery, education and training, all of it to perform the role of ‘Elk Dog’ in The Revenant.
Today Duane is at peace and very grateful for all that he has including his three children.
Duane wishes to include a special mention of his immense gratitude for the Canadian Casting Director on The Revenant, Michelle Allen and his lifelong agent and friend Linda Carter for their unparalleled support of him.