From rags to the river, an actor's dream

CULVER CITY, Calif. Upham says this is a wonderful time in her life. She is extremely proud of her work in "Frozen River." She is even up for an Independent Spirit Award for her work. Misty knows this is the biggest break of her career. But as a working actress, she also knows attention and acclaim don't pay the bills.

"There was one instance where I was scrubbing the toilets next door and I got a call from Sony and they said, 'You have to be on the red carpet at 6,'" said Upham.

Upham, 26, lives to act. However, to live and make ends meet, she works at the E-Z Laundromat and Cyber Café in Culver City.

"So it's always like this really weird balance of back and forth between glamour and scrub," said Upham.

The glamour of attending film festivals and awards shows comes courtesy of her role in the indie hit "Frozen River."

Upham, a Native-American actress, plays a Native-American who helps smuggle people into the U.S. from Canada by way of a frozen river situated on an Indian reservation.

"With 'Frozen River,' I have become the first Native-American woman to have a leading role -- which means through the entire feature -- in a non-native film that went to box office cinema," said Upham. "So it broke open this barrier, this ceiling, this glass ceiling that for 70 years we've been fighting to break open."

Upham says she and her fellow native actors are looking to play modern roles without what she calls "leathers and feathers."

"I would love to play a taxicab driver; I would love to play a doctor, a lawyer, anything. I just want to have diversity in my work," said Upham.

To play the role in "Frozen River," Upham had to drastically alter her appearance after talking with the film's director.

"I gained 65 pounds and shaved my head," said Upham. "We discussed it and she said, 'Well, you can gain some weight and we'll see how it goes. And then, I'll tell you to stop when the point comes.' And eight months later, she said, 'Stop!'"

Upham has lost 45 of those pounds. And in a business obsessed with appearance, there is something she gained a long time ago.

"My family just always emphasized that beauty comes from knowledge and from respect for your elders and from wisdom that you gather in life," said Upham. "Physical beauty -- all physical beauty -- ends at some point. And if you point all your energy in that, it's just going to be lost in the end."

Upham puts in a lot of hours at the laundromat while she hopes for a new acting challenge; perhaps without some of the challenges that came with "Frozen River."

"To warm ourselves, we'd take turns sitting in the car -- the crew and everybody," said Upham. "It was such a low-budget and such a bare-bones project that I didn't ... I didn't make good money off of it."

Upham says the money she did make from the film went to making a car payment.

Upham would love to make some real money acting. However, if the next offer is for a role she considers a Native American stereotype -- despite the cash -- she says she would have to turn it down.


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