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Lily Gladstone's life and career: From early childhood on reservation to nearly quitting acting and international stardom

The Indigenous actor has broken records with their standout performance in Killers of the Flower Moon 

Lily Gladsone arriving at the Oscar nominees luncheon
Megan Bull
TV Writer
6 March 2024
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A tour de force, Lily Gladstone's nuanced performance in Killers of the Flower Moon has garnered universal acclaim and broken numerous records.

Following the 37-year-old's gut-wrenching portrayal of Mollie Burkhart – a Native American woman who survived the Osage Indian Murders – Lily has become the first-ever Indigenous performer to land a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor. 

WATCH: Killers of the Flower Moon – trailer

And, in another trailblazing feat, she's also become the first Indigenous person to receive an Oscar nomination in an acting category. Having established herself as one of the most versatile and magnetic actors working in Hollywood today, Lily has an incredibly bright future ahead and we can't wait to see what she does next. 

Here, HELLO! explores Lily's awe-inspiring life and career thus far. From her early childhood on a Blackfeet reservation in Montana to the day she almost quit acting and life after finding fame in Martin Scorsese's historical drama, here's what you need to know.  

Early life 

Born in Kalispell, Montana on August 2, 1986, Lily grew up on a Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, before relocating to the Seattle suburbs at the age of 11. "It was very rural. It bordered Glacier National Park, which ancestrally is Blackfeet land, but until the 1970s, we couldn't access it without paying a fee," she recalled to The Telegraph. "We were snowed in nine months of the year, so people watched a lot of movies." 

Lily Gladstone attends The Hollywood Reporter 2016 Sundance Studio At Rock & Reilly's © Getty
Lily Gladstone grew up on a Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana

Asked about her earliest memories, Lily – who is of Siksikaitsitapi and NiMíiPuu heritage – described: "sitting on the laps of elders, spending a lot of time with grandparents, great-aunties, listening to stories [and] bringing firewood to elders."

Sharing a "very close relationship" with both of her parents, Lily has credited her parents with instilling confidence in her. "They just poured so much into making sure that their overly exuberant, super-energetic, adorably chunky little girl was able to dance," she said. 

Close up of Lily Gladstone at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival© Getty
The actress is very close to her parents

"I wanted to be a ballerina, and they never told me I couldn't be, like you see in biopics, 'Oh, honey, you don't have the body for that.' They're like, yeah, you're great at it, we're gonna drive a 180-mile round trip every weekend to take you to ballet." 

As a child, Lily's upbringing shaped her views on gender. Speaking to People in 2023, the A-lister explained that she is comfortable with she/them pronouns, and sees this as a means of 'decolonizing gender for myself." 

"I remember being 9 years old and just being a little disheartened, seeing how often a lot of my boy cousins were misgendered because they wore their hair long," they explained. 

"It happens to a lot of kids, I think, especially Native boys leaving a community where long hair is celebrated [and then] just kind of getting teased for it," continued Lily. "So I remember back then being like, everybody should just be they. "And in most Native languages, most Indigenous languages, Blackfeet included, there are no gendered pronouns. There is no he/she, there's only they." 

When her family were forced to move to the suburbs "for lack of economic opportunities," Lily found herself missing the "mutual reliance" of the reservations. "Everyone seemed so isolated in their little homes," she explained to The Guardian

Lily Gladstone at the premiere of Winter in the Blood in 2013© Getty
In 2008, Lily graduated from the University of Montana, earning a BFA in Acting/Directing and minoring in Native American Studies

But, following the move, Lily – a natural performer – was able to enrol in the Stone Soup Theatre, and she also appeared in a number of student films. Eventually, Lily went on to attend the University of Montana and graduated in 2008 with a BFA in Acting/Directing and minoring in Native American Studies. 

Rise to fame 

After graduating from university, Lily signed on with Living Voices, a theatre company that visited schools, performing pieces about "marginalised histories only touched on in textbooks". She worked with the company for four years, leaving in 2013. 

Lily Gladstone attending "The Unknown Country" Premiere during the 2022 SXSW Conference© Getty
In the early days of her career, Lily found it difficult to get roles

Speaking to The Guardian about her experiences as a Native American actor, Lily admitted that her road to success hadn't been easy. "After one audition, I was sent an email expressed in flowery, PC language, yet what they were really saying was: you don't sound Indian enough," she recalled. 

"I tried to shame them by answering: if I'm not authentic enough for you, why not find a Native North Cheyenne speaker and have an English translation in subtitles at the bottom?"

Lily Gladstone wearing a white coord at Cannes Film Festival in 2023© Getty
At one point Lily contemplated quitting acting

During this period, Lily even contemplated quitting acting altogether, but luckily she was able to break onto the scene with roles in Winter in the Blood (2013) Certain Women (2016), First Cow (2019) and The Unknown Country (2022). 

In August 2020, not long before she landed her iconic role in Killers of The Flower Moon, Lily was considering a career change yet again. "You just wonder if it's going to be sustainable," she revealed to The Hollywood Reporter. "So I had my credit card out, registering for a data analytics course." 

Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese attend the National Board Of Review 2024 Awards Gala in New York© Getty
In August 2020, Lily received a request to join a Zoom call with Martin Scorsese

Fortuitously, it was on that same day that Lily would receive an email, requesting her to join a Zoom meeting with Martin Scorsese, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

In a joint interview with British Vogue, Lily's co-star Leonardo DiCaprio revealed that the legendary director was instantly blown away by her. "Marty just instinctively knew Lily was the one," he said. 

"There was a truthfulness in your eyes that he saw even over a computer screen. I've never known [Scorsese] meet somebody and then immediately afterwards have this gravitational pull and instinct to say, 'Let's not wait another minute.'"

MORE: What Oppenheimer and Lily Gladstone's 2024 SAG Awards wins mean for the Oscars

READ: America Ferrera, Margot Robbie and Emma Stone lead best dressed at Oscars Nominees Luncheon – best photos

Killers of the Flower Moon stardom 

Ready to get to work on Killers of the Flower Moon, Lily admits that she initially felt "intimidated" working with Hollywood heavyweights Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese.

Robert de Niro, Lily Gladstone, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese attend the "Killers Of The Flower Moon" photocall at the 76th annual Cannes film festival at Palais des Festivals on May 21, 2023 in Cannes, France© Getty
Lily was initially nervous to work with Robert de Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese

"With a role as big as Molly, you've just got to get through that quickly. But my hands were shaking the first day with Leo, and the same with Robert," they told The Guardian

After getting to know her director and fellow co-stars, however, Lily quickly found herself at ease. "He [Leonardo] invited me over to dinner. We were sitting outside at his place with a fire going, and just talking," recalled the star.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone attend the AFI Awards at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills © Jesse Grant
The actress formed a close friendship with Leonardo behind the scenes

"He pulled out a packet of cigarettes, and I hadn't brought mine with me. So I was like: 'Oh, I'm sorry. Can I bum one?' So it was the two of us sharing a few cigarettes over the fire and just getting to know each other that really broke the ice. And then he said: 'This feels good. We need to put this in the film somehow. I think Ernest and Molly should smoke together.' I was like: 'Yeah, that sounds great.' A lot of ladies would have their little pipes – tobacco was very much a thing. So we enjoyed that." 

Rita, Mollie, Anna and Minnie in Killers of the Flower Moon© Apple
Lily's performance in Killers of the Flower Moon was singled out

Following the 2023 premiere of Killers of the Flower Moon, Lily's performance was singled out by movie-goers and critics around the world, with some calling it the performance of the year. Shortly after, she was nominated for a Golden Globe and a SAG Award for Best Actress, both of which she won. And, on Sunday, March 10, Lily might just add an Oscar to her ever-expanding trophy collection. 

But above all, Lily is a champion for visibility and inclusivity, and seeing the response from members of the Osage community has been a personal highlight. "It's mattered most to me what Osage people, especially the descendants of the victims and the survivors of the Reign of Terror, felt about the film," they said in an interview with the BFI

Lily Gladstone 30th Screen Actors Guild Awards, PEOPLE After Party, Engraving Station© Nina Westervelt/Shutterstock for SAG
Lily with her SAG Award

"Overwhelmingly, what I was hearing from a lot of Osage people was they were just really hoping people still saw it. Because it's such an important part of history that people are so unaware of. And engaging with it like this is such a meaningful and unforgettable way of doing so." 

For Lily, Killers of the Flower Moon was never about finding fame. "Any excess of attention feels uncomfortable to me," she noted to USA Today. "It's too much for one person to have as much good fortune as I've been experiencing."

Lily Gladstone attends the 30th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall on February 24, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)© Frazer Harrison
Lily has been blown away by the response from the Osage community

Instead, it's being embraced by the Osage community that "means everything," to Lily. "Their opinion is the one that matters most ‒ maybe the only one that really does matter to me," she said. I feel like Mollie reached through time and grabbed me for this. I was offered the role on her birthday; every time I see her grandson, he calls me 'Grandma.' Because so many people signed off on me playing this role, it feels like this ongoing accountability to stay true to these significant relationships that have been formed."

Lily added: "I really feel like I have a home in Osage County. Mollie's always going to be a part of me, and I owe it to them to always show up and be part of them, too."

Future projects  

So, what's next for the Oscar nominee? In February 2024, it was announced that Lily had joined the cast of new sci-fi movie, The Memory Police. Marking their second collaboration with Martin Scorsese, the Gangs of New York filmmaker will serve as an executive producer. Meanwhile, Reed Morano is signed on to direct. 

Lily Gladstone attends the 96th Oscars Nominees Luncheon at The Beverly Hilton on February 12, 2024 in Beverly Hills, California.© Getty Images
Lily is set to star in sci-fi movie The Memory Police

Additionally, Lily has taken on a supporting role in Jazzy – the sequel to the 2022 Indie drama, Unknown Country. She's also an executive producer on the project. Filmed in 2023, Jazzy is yet to receive a 2024 release date. 

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