Actor Adam Beach arrives for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association & InStyle's Celebration at the Toronto International Film Festival, 7 September 2014.
Adam Beach is a member of the Saulteaux (Plains Ojibwe) nation. He was raised on the Dog Creek Reserve near Ashern, Manitoba. He grew up with his parents, Sally and Dennis Beach, and his two brothers. His childhood was marked by tragedy. His mother was killed by a drunk driver and his father, who was an alcoholic, drowned weeks later. Adam and his brothers then lived with their grandmother and eventually with an aunt and uncle in Winnipeg.
Adam Beach began his career at age 16 when he attended the Manitoba Theatre for Young People in Winnipeg. Before long, he had made television appearances on CBC’s popular series North of 60 and Lonesome Dove, the American miniseries shot in Alberta. He then landed the lead in Disney’s Squanto: A Warrior's Tale (1994). That led to Beach being cast as the dopey, heavy-metal-loving Frank Fencepost in Bruce McDonald’s Dance Me Outside (1994), based on the books of W.P. Kinsella. For the role, Beach won an American Indian Film Festival Award for best actor.
In 1998, Adam Beach had a lead role opposite Tantoo Cardinal and Gary Farmer in Smoke Signals, based on the novel by Sherman Alexie. It was the first American movie made by and starring Indigenous people and was a cult hit. Beach’s Hollywood breakthrough came in 2002 with the lead in Windtalkers, where he played a Second World War Navajo “code talker.” (See also: Cree Code Talkers.) The film was a disappointment at the box office, but Beach stood out and stole the spotlight from his co-star Nicholas Cage. Following Windtalkers, Beach played Navajo tribal police officer Jim Chee in three PBS TV movies based on the mystery novels of Tony Hillerman: Skinwalkers (2002), Coyote Waits (2003) and A Thief of Time (2004).
In 2006, Beach co-starred in Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood’s epic film about the bloody assault on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima during the Second World War, and the famous raising of the American flag in victory. Beach gave an agonized portrait of flawed hero Ira Hayes, a Pima American Indian and one of the battle survivors who raised the flag.
Other films in which Adam Beach has appeared include Cadillac Girls (1993), A Boy Called Hate (1995), Coyote Summer (1996), Song of Hiawatha (1997), Mystery, Alaska (1999), Joe Dirt (2001), The Art of Woo (2001), Posers (2002), The Big Empty (2003), Sawtooth (2004), The Stranger (2010), the blockbuster Cowboys & Aliens (2011) with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, and the DC Comics movie Suicide Squad (2016) with Will Smith and Margot Robbie. He also co-starred with Tantoo Cardinal and Bradley Cooper in Georgina Lightning’s award-winning Older Than America (2008), about the institutional mistreatment of First Nations people and the impact on their culture.
Beach’s television work includes the TV movies Lost in the Barrens (1990) and Spirit Rider (1993), Madison (1997), The Rez (1996–97), and the lead in Cowboys and Indians: The J.J. Harper Story (2003). He played George Keeshig in the Canadian series Moose TV (2007) and had a recurring role in the TV series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2007–08).
For his role in the HBO TV movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007), he was nominated for a 2008 Golden Globe Award for best actor in a miniseries. In 2010, he joined the cast of HBO’s Big Love as a casino manager. He also guest-starred in the remake of the series Hawaii Five-O (2010) and had a recurring role in the Global TV series Combat Hospital (2011). He then starred as airline co-owner Bobby Martin in the CBC series Arctic Air (2012–14), set in Yellowknife.
Shortly before his death in 2018, Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee was attempting to produce a TV series starring Beach called The Chosen. Beach would have played an Indigenous police officer who has the ability to see the near future. In 2019, Beach was cast as a local police chief in the CW mystery series Nancy Drew.
Adam Beach is active as a motivational speaker for First Nations youth. He has also expressed a commitment to improving the conditions on his home reserve. He ran for chief there in 2006. In 2012, he founded the Winnipeg-based Adam Beach Film Institute, a film school that “provides a clear path to Indigenous youth seeking entry into the media arts and film training Industry.”
In 2017, he was one of 150 Canadians selected to serve as ambassadors for Canada’s 150th birthday. He used the appointment as an opportunity to advocate for Indigenous issues in Canada. “I am a reminder that we will not forget the atrocities that have happened to the Aboriginal people of this country,” he said in an interview. “The struggle to change the one-sided story will always be an unfortunate, honest struggle, because when it comes to native people of Canada, there is a history that is horrible — it’s like a horror story — that needs to be told to our future generations.”
- Best Actor (Dance Me Outside), American Indian Film Festival (1995)
- Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actor in a Film (Windtalkers), First Americans in the Arts Awards (2003)
- Best Actor (Johnny Tootall), American Indian Film Festival (2005)
- Capri Exploit Award (Flags of Our Fathers) (2006)
- Rising Star Award, Palm Springs International Film Festival (2007)
- Best Performance – Drama (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee), NAMIC Vision Awards (2008)