Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

UM Theater Professor Remembers the Talented Student Lily Gladstone

Lily Gladstone in Montana Repertory Theater's 2014 national touring production of The Miracle Worker.
Bernadette Sweeney
Lily Gladstone in Montana Repertory Theater's 2014 national touring production of The Miracle Worker.

Montanan Lily Gladstone has been receiving world-wide praise and “Oscar buzz” for her role in Martin Scorsese’s film Killers of the Flower Moon. Scorsese calls Gladstone’s role as Mollie Burkhart “the heart of the story.”

Long before this breakout role or the praise she garnered for the 2016 film Certain Women, or the Gotham Award she received in November for a lead performance in this year’s indie film The Unknown Country, she was a student at the University of Montana’s School of Theater and Dance. There she came to the attention of a visiting professor--Bernadette Sweeney-- who cast Lily in her first campus production.

Bernadette Sweeney: I had the great pleasure of directing Lily in her 1st University of Montana School of Theater and Dance production in the fall of 2006 when she performed in the Riders to the Sea by Irish playwright John Millington Synge. She was extraordinary. She was a young actor. And I could tell just from meeting her in the audition process she was thoughtful, smart, very, very talented. And I was very anxious to work with her. I was a visiting professor at the time, visiting from Ireland. And so I had the great opportunity to be the first person on campus to cast her. And she talks a lot about that experience. She was amazing. It was very clear from the beginning that she was a very particular talent.

Kay Erickson: And then you had the opportunity to cast her in another production…

Bernadette Sweeney: Yes I did. Once I was living here full time and working in the school’s theater and dance and moved in Ireland with my family—my husband’s from here. I was a colleague with Greg Johnson who was the then artistic director of the Montana Repertory Theater. At that time the Rep used to do a national tour and Greg asked me to direct the national touring production of The Miracle Worker for the spring of 2014, for the 2014 national tour. So, um, yeah, I was able to work with Lily again . Cast her as the mother in The Miracle Worker. At that point she had graduated. And she was a freelancing actor. I was able to work with her in rehearsals and was really struck by how her talent had matured due to her training here and her work in the meantime of course. She had graduated in 2008. And again, that was a very particular role, as she played a very key part in the ensemble as one of the, you know, experienced actors we would bring in to work along side our student actors, who would then go on tour together-or did at that time. And, again, she was just so thoughtful, so professional. Talent, of course, was very evident. She was really interested in researching the role. She was really interested in that particular character and how that character functioned within the play. And of course, as the mother character in the play. The mother of Helen Keller. She was very interested in pursing aspects of motherhood –how that informed the work and so forth. So, we had a fantastic time in rehearsal and then, of course, they took the play out on national tour.

Kay Erickson: Have you seen the film and her performance.

Bernadette Sweeney: Oh, yes, yes I have….

Kay Erickson: What struck you about her?

Bernadette Sweeney: I had the very particular privilege of watching that film at the Roxy Theater where Lily used to work as well. So it was really exciting to be in that movie theater and know that now she was there on the big screen. Just so proud of her.

Bernadette Sweeney is the head of the acting program at the University of Montana’s School of Theater and Dance.

Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon staring Lily Gladstone, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro is wrapping up its run in theaters and will soon be streaming on Apple TV+.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.