Courtesy Arthur Redcloud
January 19, 2016 10:10 PM

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

For Arthur Redcloud, a previously unknown Native American actor, making The Revenant alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñérritu was nothing short of a spiritual journey.

“Before I worked with Leo I wasn’t concerned with his fame or popularity, I was more worried about his spirit,” the actor tells PEOPLE. “And when we first met, I knew he had such a calm and strong spirit – it took me by surprise more than anything.

“When you’re a Native American, that’s what you look at, your perception is about people’s spirits,” he says, adding that, “I connected with him on such a deep level. I really got to share a lot with him and he shared a lot with me, probably more than what he expected to.”

In the film, Redcloud plays a character named Hikuc, who saves the life of DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass when they encounter each other in the wild. After discovering Glass’s injuries – the result of his gruesome battle with a grizzly bear – Hikuc heals the dying fur trapper with prayer and natural remedies.

(From Left): Emmanuel Lubezki, Arthur Redcloud and Alejandro G. Inarritu
Courtesy Arthur Redcloud

Redcloud also shares the screen with DiCaprio during the infamous eating of the raw bison liver, which, like most of the film, was filmed without any special effects. But unlike DiCaprio, this wasn’t Redcloud’s first taste of Buffalo Carpaccio.

“I’ve done it before with relatives and other Native American tribes,” the Navaho actor explains. “Filming it was a spiritual experience, not just for me and Leo or our characters but for the whole cast and crew. Because when you eat that, in our world, it’s like a prayer or a blessing.”

In fact, the prayers Redcloud speaks in the film are actually ancient Native American blessings passed down to him from his medicine man grandfather. “I took those blessings and brought them on set and shared them a lot with Alejandro and Chivo (Emmanuel Lubezki) and Domhnall [Gleeson] and Tom Hardy and Forrest [Goodluck]. I brought all those gifts to them.”

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Redcloud was thrilled to incorporate a piece of his heritage into the film, and is also proud of the scene’s overall significance to the plot. “The ceremony was not just to heal his body but to regenerate his spirit as well,” he says, explaining, “That’s why when he had the opportunity to kill Fitzgerald, he chose to let it go because what you don t let go ends up dragging you.”

With the overwhelming success of the film, including its 12 Oscar nominations, Redcloud feels that his prayers have been answered. “I’m over excited, ecstatic and so unbelievable happy,” he says of the recognition. “It just makes me want to see the whole cast and Alejandro and Chivo. They’re like family, so to be able to share it with family is so much more powerful.”

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