The sit-down

JOHN WOO, Christian Slater, and neophyte Navajo actor Roger Willie visited Seattle recently to discuss Windtalkers (see review).

Seattle Weekly: Why make yet another World War II movie?

John Woo: I always wanted to make a war movie. I grew up with war movies. My favorite one is All Quiet on the Western Front. At the beginning of [Windtalkers], you see a butterfly above the water, and that was a tribute to that film. After Mission: Impossible II, I wanted to do something a little more serious. I was trying to go back to my own style. My kind of movie is . . . about human nature.

What, if anything, did you know about the code talkers prior to the film?

Christian Slater: I didn’t know anything about the story. [It] was kept top secret for 20 years after the war.

What about growing up Navajo? Were these soldiers discussed on the reservation?

Roger Willie: When you talked to family members of the actual code talkers . . . they always said that they never knew that their father or their grandfather was a code talker. It was really hidden—not only from us but from the world.

What’s the Navajo awareness of the code talker program like today?

RW: Considering that it was classified until 1968 . . . slowly the people began to learn about it, and the interest was generated. People are making documentaries out of it and writing books on it. When I travel, that’s one of the first questions people ask me: “Tell me something about the code talkers.”

You speak Navajo fluently in the film. Is it hard to keep it a living language?

RW: Oh, absolutely. A lot of government institutions—through the creation of boarding-school placement programs and foster homes—eliminated Native American language. And a lot of parents were conditioned to [think that] the native language is a barrier to your success. For those reasons, a lot of parents never really taught their kids. But, on the other hand, my parents don’t speak English. Navajo is their first language. So this is what I grew up in. Windtalkers is going to really enhance and revitalize a lot of native language, culture, and identity.

Was it weird to play a U.S. soldier when our army once fought the Navajo?

RW: As a kid, you get to see, like, how one bullet can kill so many Indians. And a lot of these lead actors are non-Indians playing Indian roles. Sure, we always played cowboys and Indians, but I know for me, I always wanted to play the Indian.