In 2001, a group of actors, under the umbrella of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, were charged with bringing an incredible story to life. That story was ‘Band of Brothers’ and the men were Easy Company.
I have been lucky enough to get some time with a member of that cast. Peter Youngblood Hills, otherwise known to the world as ‘Shifty Powers’.
For my website readers can you please share a couple of sentences of who you are and what you do.
Well, that is certainly a deep question. Now, I am helping take care of my mom and she is helping take care of me. It feels like I have been on a very epic journey over the last 15 years, and my mom is trying to bring me back to life. I’ve studied lots of spiritual traditions, but only really skimmed the surface of them. However, I spend a lot of time nowadays studying the Bible and praying in Church, in lots of church communities, loving the spirit of reconciliation and coming together to face our shadows and our good.
I try to be of service where I can (Knights of Columbus, charity, veterans) while I keep my mind from getting too lost in the woods of inner realms. I like writing poetry. I love music and friendship and culture. Band of Brothers forever! Currahee! Other than that, I’m an actor that hopes to be a teacher of acting, while I follow the call to answer the need of Life that I am. Its sounding like a dating profile now! Ha
I know from my research that you have a multi cultural background with your place of birth, and your parents heritage. Would you tell me a little about that?
My mother is American raised in Kingsport TN. My dad is mostly Cornish English, raised in Zambia. They met in Botswana singing songs from Westside story. I was born in Joburg because they thought I might need help and the hospital there had oxygen, which I needed because I had my umbilical cord around my neck. I have roots in England, Wales, Cornwall, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, Coptic Egypt and Levant, I think Native American and Netherlands and Sweden and probably elsewhere. Basically, a pure bread mut!
Since 1996, you have been a professional actor, first coming to the public attention in the movie Hideous Kinky. How was your first introduction to the movie world?
Well, if you are talking about ‘Hideous Kinky’, I had my first scene ever opposite Kate Winslet, and I was asked to improvise a song, while her future husband played the guitar. You can hear the last of the song at the beginning of the scene. I somehow made it up! Gillies MacKinnon is such a beautiful hearted director, so kind and able to bring it out of me. I couldn’t believe I pulled it off and it was certainly empowering, and I felt as if somehow, I had succeeded in something that I was totally new to. Now I look at the great actors of the world and I feel, wow, such a long way to go. “daydreaming, thinking about things”
Of course in 2001, we got to know you as Shifty Powers, through the phenomenal Band of Brothers. Could you share anything about the audition process.
They really wanted me to try and sound like ‘Shifty’ and so they gave me a tape of him speaking, and I listened to it and got some of the intonations down. They asked me to read for several roles, but that one I seemed to be able to fit into better. Probably because Shifty and my mom were basically neighbours, probably part of the same tribe somewhere back there.
What preparation did you do in order to learn about Shifty? Did you get to spend time with him?
Yes, I went to visit it him before we started shooting. He helped me find the spirit of what made him who he was, and how to keep that in heart and mind while bringing the character to life.
He let me shoot his M1, and took me hiking. We drank cocktails on his porch, and watched the world go by. He told me lots of his stories, and what made him sad, regretful, and angry and what he was grateful for. He loved his holler, he loved his little corner of the world. He was a faithful and humble mountain man that loved God, loved people, loved his family, loved nature, loved hunting and loved to help everybody as best he could. It was Shifty and Captain Dye and his cadre that really helped me form his character. Looking back now, there was lots of God in everything, perhaps the faithful of those that came before us lifted us all up, to tell that important story. I’m believe it was mostly God that made it all happen.
I have interviewed Captain Dye who told me about his processes for boot camp. Shane Taylor shared his experiences too. How was boot camp for you?
Boot Camp was good. I was in pretty good shape, but when it came to doing things like keeping watch throughout the night for attacks, I found it tough and yet it was helpful tough. We were being initiated, but my years in cadets and having a Dad that was in Rhodesian Army helped. I had already gone through numerous forms of initiations at boarding school and my English grandad was a drill sergeant, as well as my American grandad being in the cavalry, so I had some previous training to fall back on. Everybody involved in that production were incredibly talented and perfect for what they were called to do, probably a reflection of the incredible vision and love of the producers.
What memories did you take from the “Band” shoot? I’d imagine there were many.
Yeah, we all naturally formed close bonds with certain cast and crew. I think that night watch has stayed with me as an essential part of being ‘human’. Looking out for each other, keeping watch through the night, through the dark times of lives, witnessing the tragedies of a life at war, making sure that life feels that what happens to it isn’t washed over or forgotten, but is part of the important building blocks of a world that we all hope to experience. It’s a sacred responsibility. Keeping watch while others get some sleep, surrounded by an enemy that wants to destroy all that’s good.
How does it feel seeing how popular “Band” is now, almost 22 years later?
I love that people can learn about our history, and have a reference that truly transmits the heart of the men that lived it. I loved that it helped guide people through the darkness of 9/11 and showed that sometimes we must fight, and hopefully we don’t hurt our enemy too much, because under other circumstances “we could be good friends”.
You served as a cinematographer for Leonardo DiCaprio`s 2007 documentary “The 11th Hour”. How did that come about and what can you share about that project?
Leonardo and I became good friends after filming The Beach together. He loved to involve his friends, and help them become successful in any way he could. In between acting, I was focusing on art photography and putting on exhibitions that he encouraged, and at times sponsored. Years later, he wanted to make this environmental documentary, and asked the other producers if I could be involved creatively and if I could add some of my poetic style photography to the mix. So I learned to use a Bolex 16mm, and travelled to different parts of the world and filmed moving ‘portraits’ that aimed to reveal an ‘everyday humanity’ with a sort of poetic vision of heart.
We always seemed to bond over our love of art and the environmental crisis we faced and that documentary seemed a perfect fit
What do you enjoy most? Is it acting? Your art, or something else?
I love acting, I love teaching, and I love praying, but mostly I love playing my part. Whatever my part is to play, let me play it well and to the fullest. That might be just being able to deal with the heartbreak of growing up and helping others do the same, perhaps that might be in small ways, or more visible and memorable ways. I think loving and being loved is hard enough. I certainly want to be there for my daughter when she needs me. The point is, if we don’t feed the world with who we are, we might let the team down and let God down and no one wants that!
What’s next on the horizon for you?
I think now, things are being figured out. I know we have some WW2 events coming up, some memorials, some charity efforts. A movie next year and hopefully, I can start getting my act together to begin teaching. I also am hoping to do a podcast that might help me be apart of the conversation in a way that is purposeful and good. Im open. I do suffer from ptsd and other forms of trauma that have affected my health and so I will be hopefully able to get on top of it and find some wind for my sails.
Good Luck in all your endeavours Peter.
Peter – Thank you for your time.
Darrell “Shifty” Powers – Thank you for your service.