Actor from Samson Cree Nation bares all in directorial debut ‘Hey, Viktor!’

Cody Lightning is shown in a scene from the film "Hey Viktor!" in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - levelFILM

Cody Lightning jokes that he’s been getting the Macaulay Culkin treatment most of his career.

Like the star of the 1990 classic Home Alone, Lightning’s turn in a ’90s cult film has followed him around since childhood – something he pokes fun at in his directorial debut, Hey Viktor!

The actor from Samson Cree Nation in Alberta portrayed a younger version of Adam Beach’s character Victor Joseph in the 1998 coming-of-age dramedy Smoke Signals. The film went on to win several awards and was praised for its depiction of reservation life at a time when major motion pictures relied on romanticized versions of Native American culture and experiences.

More recently, the movie has been immortalized through memes and social media videos, particularly when it comes to the way co-lead Evan Adams, who plays Thomas Builds-the-Fire, and Simon Baker, who plays his younger version, emphasized the hard-K sound in Victor.

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Lightning has appeared in a variety of short and independent films, and has had TV guest spots on shows like Walker, Texas Ranger and The X-Files. He most recently played a supporting role in the Disney Plus miniseries Echo, based off of a Marvel Comics character of the same name.

Click to play video: 'Canadian Indigenous actors featured in Marvel’s ‘Echo’'
Canadian Indigenous actors featured in Marvel’s ‘Echo’

But Lightning wanted to return to the role that helped kick-start his career.

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“I’ve done several projects since Smoke Signals, projects I’ve had lead roles in. And people are always like, ‘Oh great, what was it like working on Smoke Signals? They always go back to it,” Lightning said in an interview during the Toronto International Film Festival in September.

“It wasn’t a curse to me at all. It’s just something that I’ve experienced and I was like, ‘Let’s make a joke about that.'”

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In the mockumentary, Lightning sets out to assemble the original cast and crew, including Gary Farmer and Tantoo Cardinal, to make the sequel Smoke Signals 2: Still Smoking.

Lightning co-wrote the film with Samuel Miller and nabbed a Canadian Screen Awards nomination for best original screenplay. He stars as a fictionalized version of himself who has to move back to his First Nation to make ends meet after his failing career forces him to do fracking commercials and pornography jobs.

When a documentary crew attempts to intervene during one of Lightning’s benders for a intervention-style program hosted by a character played by Colin Mochrie, Lightning gets the idea to make a sequel to jumpstart his career.

Lightning said he has always appreciated mockumentary-style shows, including The Office and Parks and Recreation, for their loose camera work and ability to capture scenes in the moment.

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He bares all, literally, to play an alcoholic, drug-abusing, absentee father version of himself.

He said some crew members questioned whether the audience would be able to separate the real Lightning and the Hey, Viktor! version.

“I was like, ‘I’m fine. I don’t care. It’s comedy and I’m not going to hold back,'” he said.

“There’s enough dark stuff, hurtful things and messed up stuff out there. I just thought it’d be cool to make people laugh, and if it’s at my expense, then sweet.”

Hannah Cheesman, who plays Lightning’s best friend and manager Kate in the film, said being part of the project was like getting a crash course on different kinds of First Nations humour.

“I didn’t know the quality or the content of (First Nations humour) until becoming a part of this project and being welcomed into that,” said Cheesman.

Lightning was able to round up most of the original cast, but scheduling conflicts prevented Cardinal and Adams from appearing.

And, while Lightning said Hey, Viktor! is not a sequel to Smoke Signals, it does pay homage to the original film, including a scene with Beach’s infamous shoulder-length black wig.

“It may be his wig, it may not. We will never know,” Lightning said with a laugh.

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Hey, Viktor! opens in theatres on March 15.

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