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

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 determined and realistic chief for the neighboring Native American reservation who will stop at nothing to honor his ancestors. Over the past four seasons of the popular western drama, Thomas and John have definitely been at odds over who the Yellowstone land truly belongs to, but have had to set aside their differences in order to overcome mutual enemies. With Dutton as Montana's new governor in Yellowstone season 5, it will be interesting to see how their relationship goes from here and if Rainwater will resume his efforts to reclaim what he believes to belong to his people.

Chief Rainwater's character on screen is intense and determined, which are attributes we can definitely associate with Birmingham in real life. He completely changed careers in order 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. Notably, multiple projects with Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan. He's been a prime example of paving the way for future Native American actors in Hollywood and at this point, is a seasoned pro. Birmingham always brings something special to any role he takes on and Yellowstone's chief is no exception.

Who is Gil Birmingham?

Gil Birmingham attends the black carpet during "Yellowstone" Season 5 Fort Worth Premiere at Hotel Drover on November 13, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas

Omar Vega/Getty Images

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 while bodybuilding at a local gym for the Diana Ross music video for "Muscles," went on to portray Conan the Barbarian in Universal Studios Hollywood's theme park in Los Angeles, and eventually landed his first TV gig on Riptide. From there, he was off to the races.

A slew of TV roles followed on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, The Mentalist, House of Cards, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Animal Kingdom, Siren, Banshee, 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 and The Space Between Us. He even appeared in the Taylor Sheridan films Wind River and Hell or High Water.  

Chief Rainwater on Yellowstone

Gil Birmingham in 'Yellowstone' episode "The Sting of Wisdom (2022)


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. They may be at odds onscreen, but when the cameras aren't rolling they have a good time.

"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."

READ MORE: 'Yellowstone' Star Mo Brings Plenty Wants to Pave The Way for Future Native Actors