Entertainment Interview

Amber Midthunder Talks ‘Legion,’ Activism, and More

The famous American author Mark Twain once said that there are two important days in a person’s life: the day you were born and the day you find out why. The second day came for actress Amber Midthunder when she was just 4 years old and watched her first full-length film and wanted to be one of the characters. After speaking with Midthunder, her rush of soulful passion, kindness, and joy for acting was obvious.
Midthunder uncovered a deep love for the art of acting at a very young age. Growing up with an actor father and casting director mother, she began her own on-screen career early in life. Her first speaking role was opposite Alan Arkin in the indie hit Sunshine Cleaning at the age of 9. Since that time, she has continued her work as an actress in film and television appearing in shows such as Banshee, Longmire, and the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water (opposite Jeff Bridges). In 2016, Midthunder was cast in her first leading role in the faith-based film Priceless, and as the hard-hitting series regular, Kerry Loudermilk in the FX’s Marvel series Legion, created by Fargo’s Noah Hawley.
Outside of acting, she has a passion for animal rights and environmental activism. She takes time when she can to contribute to Return to Freedom, a nonprofit sanctuary for the protection of wild horses around the U.S., and promotes the awareness of the dangerous impacts of palm oil and their threat to orangutans. Here, she tells us about the key moments in her career and how she is able to fill her life with wonderful memories.
Cliché: How did you get your start in acting?
Amber Midthunder: It was kind of a miss-mosh of things. Logistically, my dad is an actor and my mom is a casting director, so the film industry as a whole existed in my life and was something that was always there. I have been acting ever since I was a kid. Even when I was little, what I thought or experienced while watching a film or television show made me feel a certain way and I wanted to keep feeling that. When a movie would end, it felt like that feeling you get when you finish a good book or a series. I wanted to be those people. I wanted to be as close to [the characters and the story] as I possibly could.
Did you learn anything from the past actors you worked with that helped you with your career?
Absolutely. I think it would be really hard to not take away things from the people that you work with or the jobs that you do. Like in Hell or High Water, being around those actors was a gift in and of itself.
You have directed some short films in the past such as #nightslikethese and Don’t. What was is like to be on the other side of the camera?
Well, I have just done like two short films, so I’m not going to pretend that I know what it’s like to be a director because they have such a huge job. But, I liked it. I did it because it felt natural and it felt good to be on that side. When you start to have a lot of opinions about a story that you are telling but you’re stuck in one spot, it can be frustrating or confusing if you are not on the same page as the people around you. It was helpful for me to really understand the story that I was telling while being fully involved in the whole process as well.

I want to make the best art that I possibly can.

When you were directing, did you feel as though there was a whole other atmosphere in directing in comparison to acting? Did you have to approach directing differently?
Absolutely. It definitely felt very different because when you’re acting, you’re in your trailer and then the crew puts you right on set when they need you, and then you do your part and then you’re done. The thing about the shorts that I directed was that they were both very intimate environments, so I think that changes it a little bit. There was no pressure. I was around people I felt comfortable with and it was a very open environment. So, thankfully, there was that, but I really think there was definitely a different approach.
Do you think directing is something that you want to do in the future?
Yes, but I think that is really far down the line, though, maybe once I feel more capable and once there’s a story that I can’t not tell, like when I feel as though I have to be the one to tell it. Right now, acting feels like something I have to do to fill my soul and I have not necessarily felt that way about the small amount of directing I’ve done. Acting has fulfilled me in a way that nothing else has.  
Legion definitely feels like it has its own distinctive tone compared to other superhero shows. What do you think sets it apart?
Well, first of all, Noah Hawley veers our ship—like no joke—but he is just unlike any other storyteller. In most superhero shows, it is kind of clear-cut. You have your superheroes and you have your supervillains and they fight each other, and it’s the classic story of good versus bad. But in this story, it isn’t as clear-cut. There’s not just one supervillain or superhero. There are people with abilities who are facing their own issues. I think that also makes it relatable because they have relatable issues and they have their turmoil and inner demons that they have to face, too. I think it was very intentional on Noah’s part. I think he’s into telling the story but also wants you to experience it instead of just telling it to you.

Is there anything you can tell us about your character, Kerry Loudermilk, and the role she plays in the story?
Kerry is very strong. She’s a fighter. I think she has this real instinct to kind of lead and to take action. That is where her real instincts lie. She is very physical, has an interesting relationship with Bill Irwin’s character Cary, and she has some things to learn, which is the fun thing about her. Typically when you see a strong character, it’s like, “Oh, they’re strong. I get it,” but with Kerry, you know that she still has some things to learn.
You’re also a prominent activist for animal rights and environmental activism. What issues about the environment and animal rights do you think the public should be more aware of?
Yes, my big thing right now is palm oil; it is in everything. It’s in your face wash, it’s in your food, it’s in your dish soap, everything. So, there is sustainable palm oil and crude palm oil, and unsustainable oil is the issue. Basically what’s happening is that it’s very cheap and there’s lots of it in the wild, and these companies go in and they knock out forests, just completely obliterate them, to get the palm oil. The issue is that they’re not just taking down palm oil, like the plants and using that conservatively, but they’re knocking down forests entirely and it’s causing deforestation, which our planet can’t handle right now.
It is also severely and quickly threatening the endangerment of orangutans. When these companies go in for palm oil, they are destroying the orangutan homes. They are gorgeous, intelligent animals and they didn’t do anything to deserve this.
What people can do about it is to buy sustainable palm oil and visit the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) website at worldwildlife.org. They do a scorecard every year of companies that use sustainable palm oil and grade them based on their commitments.
What are your plans for the near future we can look forward to?
I want to make the best art that I possibly can. I want to grow in every way possible to be the best that I can be. And I want to help other people grow in every way possible, too.
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Amber Midthunder Talks ‘Legion,’ Activism, and More: Photographed by Bobby Quillard

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