A Conversation
Hollywood 2024 Issue

Lily Gladstone on Her Breakthrough Year: “I’ve Got Almost 600 Unread Texts Right Now”

The Killers of the Flower Moon star and best-actress nominee is making the most of her time in the spotlight and advocating for others.
Lily Gladstone—wearing Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello clothing and shoes and Chanel Fine Jewelry earrings—poses on...
Photograph by Landon Nordeman; styled by George Cortina.

Hollywood loves a near-miss story, and Lily Gladstone’s is already moving into the pantheon. Living with her parents north of Seattle during the toughest days of the pandemic, she was on the brink of taking a seasonal job researching hornets—“something that would serve a higher purpose,” as she put it—when a call came from Martin Scorsese to audition for Killers of the Flower Moon.

Gladstone is now a best-actress Oscar nominee, the first ever from an Indigenous American tribe, and one of Hollywood’s most swiftly ascendant stars. But it’s not the whole story, either. With Gladstone’s roots still firmly planted in Washington State, her native Montana, and the Osage community she worked with while filming Killers of the Flower Moon, the actor’s interests and ambitions remain wide-ranging. She’s embraced high fashion for the red carpet but has worked hard to pair it with Native design. She’s taking on high-profile new acting jobs but standing by what she’s always been passionate about; the day before our conversation in January, she spent one of her rare days off recording voice-over for the Blackfeet Nation–focused documentary Bring Them Home. We’re thrilled to have her as part of our 2024 Hollywood issue.

Over breakfast in Beverly Hills, Gladstone looked back on the long Montana drives that taught her how to be such a captivating presence onscreen; the extensive support from costar Leonardo DiCaprio during awards season; and even the bee she adopted for a few weeks, whether her dog liked it or not.


Vanity Fair: With Killers of the Flower Moon, you had this period of waiting between Cannes and the actors strike ending. The same happened with Certain Women—it premiered at Sundance, then came out in the fall. Do those periods feel similar at all to you?

Lily Gladstone: Yeah, the pregnant pauses. Certain Women was different because in a lot of ways, that one felt way more like being shot out of a cannon. This one’s on a bigger stage. But I got used to the ebb and flow of awards season back then, of easing into what it is to really work with publicity, with management. The pressure felt a lot heavier back then.

And Certain Women is a smaller movie, so there’s the sense that you have to promote it more to get people to see it.

And also I didn’t have a body of work that people could point to behind it. So again, I’m just confronted with this idea that I wasn’t really an actor—I just happened to be a ranch hand who looked good on camera and was directable. I could get a little Method too. So to be fair, I think there were a number of people on that film, while we were making it, that had that perception.

Is that still the case? Do you immerse yourself like that?

Not anymore. I think Mollie—I don’t feel it until I’m watching it later, but she really governed a lot of how I performed that. Leo [DiCaprio] has noted it, and it means so much to have an actor of his caliber just advocate for you every step of the way. We hadn’t even had a proper chemistry read before we started working together.


I had auditioned before the script had been rebooted, and then that long period over COVID when I thought it had gone my way. So when I came back, I read new sides that suddenly felt like something I could really perform. I read those for Marty [Scorsese] and [casting director] Ellen [Lewis], and then Marty immediately wanted to set a meeting with Leo. This project is super special to him. You can see that in how much he’s been turning up for it.

Yeah, I have a lot of questions about that. Anyone who does these things regularly is like, Leo never comes to all these events.

He doesn’t.

I think that speaks to the project but also your partnership. It seems like there’s a steady hand on your shoulder.

I’ve thought about that. It’s leading by example and just being there. We just enjoy each other’s company. We had some settling-in time at the beginning, just getting to know each other. But after a few scenes, I just saw immediately that there was room for improvisation, that there was room for experimenting with the different levels of love, complicities, suspicion, all of it.

Photograph by Landon Nordeman; styled by George Cortina.

How does it feel when you rewatch the movie?

I feel the way Marty does. He has said he is not certain that he’s had this experience with another film. When he’s watching it, he’s just watching the movie. He’s not watching it and seeing the process or thinking, That should have been different, or remembering what it was like tracking that scene or planning that shot. I had a similar experience seeing it the first time. I was haunted by it well into the next day. Went to bed still—I don’t even want to say thinking about it—feeling it. Woke up the next morning, well into dinner—still feeling it.

I was seeing myself, but I wasn’t being overly analytical about choices that I had made. And I felt a protectiveness of Mollie, watching it, that I didn’t quite feel when we were filming it. Not to say that I wasn’t being very protective of her while we were making it, but I compared it to how it’s always easier to see when your friends are being mistreated than yourself, or to stand up for your friends over yourself. And I can be that person. I advocate for other people before I advocate for myself. Even just making dinner reservations, I count the whole party and I forget myself.

You’re still doing a lot of work behind the camera. Is that an active part of your career plan, in addition to acting?

We have so many stories to tell. It’s just a shock to people, learning about the Osage Reign of Terror—especially, I think, because it’s on such a big stage. But there’s just so many stories to tell, so many things to unpack from just centuries of ongoing genocide on this continent.

Is there a pressure in having this spotlight on you?

Yeah, it’s too much for one person to carry. We all have things to say, and I think a rising tide lifts all ships. I was just visiting with [Reservation Dogs cocreator] Sterlin Harjo about this a couple of days ago. We’re good friends. He was talking about how when he kicked the door down, sometimes it’s like you also can’t be the one to run through it because that’s why the door closes behind you. You kick the door down to hold it open. That’s kind of what it feels like right now.

Where is home for you now?

I live a little north of Seattle a good part of the time. I do still spend a lot of time in Oklahoma. I live there partly. I live out of a suitcase.

Is that how you like it, or is that a temporary state of being?

It’s just how it’s been. My parents live a little north of Seattle, and I was one of my grandmother’s caretakers before she passed away a few years ago. We kept her at home. My compass is pointing closer to my parents, but I’ve been out of a suitcase. I haven’t had my name on a lease since 2015.

You’ve talked about looking into another job, researching hornets, in that period when you were living with your parents before the Killers audition came in. It made me think about Daniel Day-Lewis—how he’ll quit acting and cobble shoes for some period of time. I wonder if that appeals to you: “I could just pause for two years and go do something else.”

A hundred percent. I was actually just on the phone with a friend last night, not freaking out or anything, but just feeling a fatigue settling in, just needing a palate cleanse. And it goes back to undergrad. One of my first acting professors, Jillian Campana, planted the idea that to stay interesting, you have to stay interested. And we tell stories. We are addicted to this process of getting in the headspace of another person. And I really love picking up new skills.

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So there’s still a desire there. And that one [researching hornets] was also really, really feeling a need to protect my family through COVID, because I was looking for something that would fulfill me, fulfill a purpose. I really love bees. And the county where my parents live is one county south of where the murder hornets invaded. So all right, just get some seasonal work. The year before, COVID was the first time that I felt like I had scraped together a real adult salary for a year. But it was six different projects, and some of them were overlapping time-wise. I just wanted something that would serve a higher purpose.

I was also having a lot of FOMO because of wanting to keep my family healthy during COVID, about not getting out there at some of the protests that were happening. Twenty-twenty was just such a scary time. And then throw murder hornets on top of all of it.

They could have waited a year.

I know. If you go on my Insta Stories, I had this bumblebee that adopted me for a couple of weeks in the winter. He came inside and lived with me, and he was just the sweetest little pet. And it gave me such a maternal, protective love of bees. My dog found him crawling around in some brush, and she eats bees and gets stung. So I saved him and put him on the back deck. And then he kept showing up at the back porch, trying to come in.

Did the dog keep trying to go back and get the bee?

Oh yeah. She tried to eat him a couple of times, but then eventually she was just like, No, this is your brother.

Your mom came with you to the Golden Globes. You’ve been talking about your dad a bunch. Who are the people surrounding you as you navigate this gigantic life change?

It’s been incredible how surrounded I feel by people through all of this. The support from Osage Nation, like Geoffrey Standing Bear was quoted as saying—people are just used to seeing me around now, kind of think of me as one of them. Former chief Jim Gray is a good friend. Wilson Pipestem. These leaders in the community. And then all of the Osage ladies too. Cecilia Tallchief. I have an overwhelming amount of support coming from Osage, coming from my own nation too.

I haven’t lived on my reservation for a long time, but I still have family and dearest friends of my life there. And then just seeing how moving it is for folks back home, just having this moment—yeah, it’s pretty remarkable. And then people who are not Osage, not Blackfeet, not Nez Perce, my other side of my family. And Indian country, I’m feeling the support there. Other folks in the industry: Sterlin Harjo, Devery Jacobs, Erica Tremblay, all the Res Dogs family.

And what’s been also sweet is how much it’s rekindled friendships from my high school crew.

Oh, my God, your classmate who was the fellow “most likely to win an Oscar” superlative. His interview was so great.

Josh [Ryder] is a wonderful person. He has a great restaurant called Betty Bar.

Did that picture resurfacing bring back high school embarrassment, or were you just like, Yeah, okay, they knew?

Yeah, I didn’t feel embarrassed. I felt very, very touched. You feel like you’re at a certain point and people just kind of forget you. But also [Josh told me], “I don’t know if you’ve caught wind of this, but your doing what you’re doing right now has brought a lot of our high school class back.”

They’re planning a watch party for the Oscars. They might watch it in our old high school theater. People are reaching out to my mom. After the premiere, at the end of the day, she’s like, “I don’t know how you do it. I’ve had so many people reach out to me today. I’m overwhelmed.”

Yeah, how do you do it?

I’ve got almost 600 unread texts right now.

Photograph by Landon Nordeman; styled by George Cortina.

Just have a blanket auto response: “I’ll get back to you eventually.”

Emojis are great. I love the Tapback. Apologies to all my Android-user friends, but I love the Tapback.

You’ve talked about how when you were a kid, you had all this rambunctious energy that led you to theater. But so many of your roles, like Mollie in Killers and your role in Certain Women, have been defined by stillness. Did that change for you over your life, or did you learn to translate that energy in a different way onscreen?

Yeah, probably a combo of them all. I’ve been praised in my stage work for how my stillness is also magnetic onstage. I’ve always been drawn to acting work that you invite the audience into. Very avant-garde work, movement-based pieces and film. So yeah, I’m not quite sure when that clicked. But I think when I watch films, my eye goes to where the camera is settled. Things track a certain way on film. And it’s funny—if you ask [Certain Women director] Kelly [Reichardt], she was constantly telling me to slow down. She said I had one speed and was fast. I’m like, I’m sorry, Kelly. This is my natural energy.

In her movies, and so often with Michelle Williams’s roles, there’s just so much stillness.

Kelly calls it the Montana still.

Does that feel right to you as a Montanan?

As a Montanan, a significant chunk of your life growing up is spent in a car, traveling. People say it’s a small town with really long streets. We would go to Kalispell every weekend so we could stock up at Costco, visit some family, and I could take ballet lessons. And that was a round trip, 180 miles. I think when you grow up in an environment like that, you’re in this state of observation constantly. I also like giving the audience enough space to fill it in for themselves, instead of being so demonstrative and spelling things out.

You have an amazing look for this Hollywood Issue cover. What’s been your approach to dressing for this awards season, when you’ve been so visible at so many different events?

Jason Rembert’s very talented. He kind of found me. I hadn’t really thought much about fashion or carpet looks or anything, but I knew that I would have to. So about this time last year, the NAACP Awards were on and I just got sucked into watching them. I was like, Man, I wish all awards shows were like that. There’s such a sense of community and joy and celebration; I feel like there’s such a stitched-in pomp and circumstance in other ones, or a mean humor on a lot of the other awards shows. And it’s just like, I’m so over that.

But anyways, I just remember thinking how incredible Queen Latifah looked. And then a few weeks later, I get a DM from Jason Rembert just saying hello, saying that he’s a stylist, he would love to offer his services. I usually ignore my Insta DMs. But just enough of the peep I saw of the message drew me to tap through, and I was like, Oh, shit. He did Queen Latifah at the NAACPs.

Also, I wanted to work with somebody who knew how to work with people who could bring culture in, and knew how to handle the access point. Because a lot of designers that he’s worked with are Black artisans that don’t have the same level of access a lot of these designers do.

Will you be ready to go back to normal clothes when awards season is over, or are you going to miss the high fashion part of it?

The high fashion is fun because it proves the point that Native design belongs with luxury. It’s so cool when you have a garment, whether it be Indigenous design or couture. When the pairing with the right set of earrings happens—like, Native women’s earring game is strong.

Do you have a favorite look?

It was very special to wear Christian Siriano the other day because he is the first name designer I was ever able to recognize, because of Project Runway. He brought the dress that he built for me in two days. He was there with Jason doing alterations up until the last minute. And he was so excited by the earring choice and the pairing, and it felt really good to put Elias Jade Not Afraid and Christian Siriano together. Those moments are fun. It’s an expansion of representation in a way that I don’t always gravitate toward, but I really, really am excited.

When you follow red carpets a lot, you learn the power of fashion symbolism.

It’s storytelling. And it’s nice to make that link because I’ve always really been invested in that and loved that in building a character, particularly in theater and film. All the little textures and all the little, tiny things that say things. [Shows a gold ring on her hand] My Infinity Stones ring— Emma Stone has the same one. She sent this to me yesterday, and then she sent me a picture of her wearing the same one because we became fast friends in this whole process. And that’s our thing. We call each other Infinity Stones.

You’ve got to call Sharon Stone and get her in.

Oh, we’re talking. We’ve got big plans.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. For fashion and beauty details, go to VF.com/credits.