Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Beach to star as local war hero

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Adam Beach will announce his plans to star as the much-decorated Manitoba-born soldier Sgt. Tommy Prince at a press conference this morning at Thunderbird House on Main Street.

Beach has been nurturing an ambition to bring Prince's story to the screen for years. He discussed his dream in 2006 in a Winnipeg Free Press interview while promoting the Clint Eastwood film Flags of Our Fathers.

"I think Tommy Prince's story should be made," he said, adding that he had been in contact with Prince's family about the project. "Whether I play it or not, I think his story just represents the courage and strength we need to see."

And now the film is going ahead with Beach in the lead.

"I am so honoured to play this First Nation military hero. He provided a positive role model for all First Nation people, including me," Beach said in a statement.

The character Beach played in Flags of Our Fathers, Ira Hayes, shared some common experience with Prince. Both were celebrated as Second World War heroes. Hayes was one of the American soldiers who raised the flag on Mount Suribachi in the Battle of Iwo Jima, and the photograph of that minor event served to galvanize the U.S. in the latter years of the war. Hayes was subsequently celebrated as a hero, though he felt his accolades were undeserved. Prince, on the other hand, was the most decorated aboriginal soldier in history who so prized his military experience, he re-enlisted to fight in Korea after being honorably discharged following the Second World War.

"I think Tommy Prince has his own unique story, just being Canadian and what that says about being one of the most decorated soldiers in history," Beach said, adding that both Hayes and Prince are important characters to play in representing First Nations people on screen.

"(They) really put our people on the map (and show) that we are successful in all realms, even when it comes to fighting for our country.

"Every movie that represents who we are in the film industry puts us a step further," Beach said. "I think it's going to make us realize that we have something to say... let's say it."

Beach will be making the film with Bay Film Studios, a Vancouver Island-based film company headquartered in Maple Bay. The company's president, Robin Webb, has been at work scripting the Prince biopic for the past 12 years, after being sorely disappointed by a documentary he saw on Prince in 1998 titled Fallen Hero.

Webb, 64, is a colourful industry veteran who got his start as a stunt man, working on films such as Goldfinger and From Russia With Love. Webb says his experience as a rally driver landed him in the driver's seat of the blue Austin Mini in the 1969 version of the caper classic The Italian Job.

Webb says the shooting of the film may begin in the late summer, depending on Beach's commitment to appearing in the Ryan Reynolds superhero movie The Green Lantern. While the film will shoot in Winnipeg "for the beginning and end of Prince's story," it may also shoot in British Columbia, The United Kingdom, Italy and France.

Webb says his Tommy Prince project was sidetracked until he met Winnipeg businessman Peter Johnson of the Higgins Avenue company Indus Automation, who heard about Webb's Prince project on a visit to his studio.

Johnson says he was immediately hooked, "being a Winnipegger and being a bit of a history buff."

Like Beach, Johnson says he keenly feels the need to provide a role model for First Nations youth.

"Our company is in the core area and I see these kids every day," Johnson says. "They have potential. They're the fastest growing part of our demographic and they need heroes.

"We all need heroes," Johnson says. "And we have both Tommy and Adam, who are incredible role models."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2010 D5

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