Gil Birmingham: Meet The Man Behind The Powerful Chief Rainwater on 'Yellowstone'

Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

If there's one rivalry that continues to captivate us season after season on Yellowstone, It's Chief Thomas Rainwater and John Dutton. Gil Birmingham has brought to life a ruthless and realistic chief for the neighboring Native American reservation who will stop at nothing to honor his ancestors. His character on screen is intense and determined, which are attributes we can definitely associate with Birmingham in real life. He completely changed careers to focus on acting and now has an incredibly impressive filmography, starring in some of the biggest films and popular TV shows throughout his career.

Birmingham was born in San Antonio, Texas to Comanche parents. He later attended college at the University of Southern California which allowed him to pursue a career as a petrochemical engineer. After a few years, he decided to pursue a career in acting and never looked back. He was scouted bodybuilding at a local gym for the Diana Ross music video for "Muscles," portrayed Conan the Barbarian in Universal Studios Hollywood's theme park in Los Angeles, and eventually landed his first TV gig on Riptide.

A slew of TV roles followed on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, The Mentalist, House of Cards, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Animal Kingdom, Siren, George Hunter in Banshee, Ben Whitehorse in The Lying Game, and the Steven Spielberg miniseries Into the West. His portrayal of Billy Black in The Twilight Saga film series led to numerous film roles including Love Ranch, The Lone Ranger, Rango,  Night at the Museum, Wind River, The Space Between Us, and he even playing a Texas Ranger opposite Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water.  

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But starring in Yellowstone in recent years has been one of the roles that Birmingham is most proud of. He told KGET that after appearing in creator Taylor Sheridan's western films Wind River and Hell or High Water, he was excited to star in Yellowstone, a TV series with a similar vibe.

"Those were revisionist westerns for a contemporary time. I couldn't be happier that there's a Native American that's portrayed in an educated and powerful way. That's more realistic of what our community does have and to offer," Birmingham says. "I knew Taylor would have a sensitivity with the Native world because he had a lot of interaction with them in his younger life."

In addition to being able to portray a modern view of his heritage, Birmingham tells Indian Country Today that he loves working with Kevin Costner on their hit series.

"I love working with Kevin Costner. The few scenes that I've had ... I haven't had that many scenes with Kevin, but he's really a lot of fun to work with. He's a very intense individual. He's very prepared and he loves to rehearse. But carrying the lead of a show, where you're working practically every single day is so exhausting. I just try to give the actors that got that kind of workload the space they need."

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Gil Birmingham: Meet The Man Behind The Powerful Chief Rainwater on 'Yellowstone'