Learning The Language
One of Howard's boldest gambles in The Missing was the use of Apache
dialogue (with subtitles) against a backdrop of palpable action. The reason it
worked so well and didn't interfere with the momentum, says Grazer, "is
because we treated it in a very vital way. The characters who spoke Apache, did
so in a modern way. There was humor. There was an edge to it. It was how real
people would talk, not like characters in a history book."
In preparation for the film, Jones, Tavare, Baker and other Apache characters
had to learn how to speak Chiricahua, a dialect of the Apache language. The
Missing contains several scenes with interchanges in this difficult and
demanding Apache tongue. "There are five or six different groups of
Apaches, each of whom speak a slightly different language," explains Jones.
"We had to study the Chiricahua dialect carefully and thoroughly."
The actors were taught by teachers who also served as consultants on the film
-- Elbys Hugar and Berle Kanseah, Chiricahua elders with an impressive Apache
pedigree, as well as Scott Rushforth, a college professor with a specialty in
Native American languages. "Apache is one of the most difficult of all the
native languages to perfect," explains Tavare. "It has glottal stops,
sibilent Ls, and there are some words that, even if you pronounce them
correctly, if you punctuate them in the wrong place, mean something completely
"In my mind, there was never any question that the actors playing Native
Americans would have to speak Apache," Howard explains. "We were
extremely fortunate that Elbys, Berle and Scott agreed to help us. Elbys in
particular, comes from a line of great Apache leaders. Her grandfather is
Cochise and her great-grandfather is Naiche. Cochise is well known as a
formidable and infamous Chiricahua warrior. Naiche was the chief of the
Chiricahua band that evaded the military for many years, along with Geronimo,
who is better known. But in truth, Geronimo was just the medicine man."
The actors went beyond the rudiments of Chiricahua to learn many of its
subtleties. "One of the great joys for me was how intriguing and
entertaining the culture is and how that comes across in the language,"
says Howard. "Much of the humor in the film comes in the interactions
between Jones and Kayitah (Jay Tavare) and the Apaches talking about the white
folks. They are famous for their dry sense of humor. It's quite an amazing
culture." In the script, Chiricahua Apaches have given the wandering Jones
an affectionate and humorous name. It emerged from a conversation producer
Ostroff had with Rushforth. "Dan asked me what the Chiricahua might call
someone like Jones, who can't settle down, abandons his family, and is
alone," says Rushforth. "The Chiricahua hold family in extremely high
regard, so I jokingly told Dan that they'd call Jones 'shit out of luck.' Dan
passed my comment along to Ron Howard, who thought it was funny, and the name
The actors studied with their teachers for about seven weeks prior to filming
and continued throughout the production. For Hugar, who has compiled two
Chiricahua dictionaries with Rushforth, it was a chance to demonstrate the
beauty and intricacy of the language, which is in danger of disappearing.
"It was an opportunity to show young people that they can learn the
language, too, which is important, because it's dying out," says Hugar.
"When I was working as a curator at a museum, I had a class of about 50
kids and asked how many understood their language and could speak any Apache.
Just two of them raised their hands."
The actors appreciated learning not only the language, but also the nuances
of the culture. "It was wonderful to work with the Apache elders,"
Tavare says. "The
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