In The Revenant, which opened in wide release on Friday, Goodluck, 17, plays Hawk, the half-Native American son of frontiersman Hugh Glass (DiCaprio). The film was Goodluck’s big screen debut, and he says the key to succeeding was to not let himself be distracted by admiration for his fellow actors and director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñérritu.
“The first step I took into this was trying to see everybody as a whole person,” Goodluck tells PEOPLE. “To really see Leo as my father, [I had to] to step back and really talk with these people and never really put anybody on a pedestal.”
Even though he was the rookie of the production, he says everyone in the cast made him feel welcomed. “They were all really supportive because we were really all in the same boat together.”
A film buff who worships Stanley Kubrick, Goodluck was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is a member of the Dine, Mandan, Hidatsa and Tsimshian tribes. His first experience acting was as the lead in an elementary school production of A Charlie Brown Christmas. From there, he started taking acting classes, doing community theater, making his own short films, and going on auditions. The Revenant was the one that finally stuck.
Set in 1823, The Revenant chronicles Glass’s journey to exact revenge on John Fitzgerald (Hardy), a fur trapper who left Glass for dead after a savage bear attack. The movie was filmed on location in the untamed wilderness of Calgary, Canada, forcing all of the actors to endure harsh conditions to deliver their best performances.
“The weather really kicks your butt, but it puts you in that natural state,” says Goodluck. “It was very easy to slip into the cues of someone who was in that period because we were literally living it.”
Goodluck also had a front row seat to DiCaprio’s Golden Globe-nominated performance, which saw the actor bracing through freezing temperatures and eating raw bison liver. Goodluck said he thinks DiCaprio deserves all the recognition he’s getting for such an “incredible” performance.
The toughest scene Goodluck had was a fight scene with Hardy, which, like several scenes in the movie, was one long take, but required upwards of 30 or 40 attempts to nail down. Spending so much time with Hardy allowed Goodluck to observe and learn from him.
“Hardy taught me a lot about confidence and understanding the beats of the scene,” he says, describing Hardy as intense but “thoughtful” and “very sweet and kind.” From DiCaprio, he learned how “to be very natural in the silences.”
One thing Goodluck appreciated about the movie was that it was directed by someone “who looked like” him and portrayed “Indians as Indians.” Goodluck says he’s seen his fair share of “ignorantly racist” scripts as well ones that “are so ahead of their time.”
“I was so grateful to have a brown director at the helm,” the actor said of Mexican Iñérritu”. “Even though he’s from Mexico, he understands aspects of this country much easier than many other people. It was just so cool work with that caliber of artistry, but also to know they’re coming from a place that’s similar as mine.”
Because he was underage at the time of filming, his mother accompanied him on the set. He credits her support with helping him make it through this experience, especially in the beginning when he was homesick. “I wouldn’t have had anyone else but my mother with me,” he says.
With The Revenant finally out in theaters, Goodluck is waiting to hear back from colleges, spending time with friends after being away for year, watching Rick and Morty, and, most importantly, looking for his next project.
“[I’m looking for] roles and films that reflect something truthful, to work with great artists, and work on good projects, whether they’re good films or not, just to learn and better myself and better my craft.”