Dances with Wolves follows a disillusioned Union Army lieutenant who rediscovers himself in the far reaches of the American frontier. There, he immerses himself in the ways of the Lakota people, and finds his world forever changed.
Kevin Costner, who produced, directed, and starred in this film, bet big on the material and his own talent. Dances With Wolves bucked all conventional wisdom — and it managed to become a directorial debut for the ages. Wolves earned a whopping 12 Oscar nominations and took home seven statues, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was the first Western to win the top prize since 1931’s Cimarron.
The film instantly made stars out of its mostly unknown roster of actors, and brought much-needed attention to ugly parts of America’s past and present. Some of the cast went on to have very full post-Dance cards, while others have preferred to lie low. Let’s take a look at what the cast of Dances with Wolves is doing now — including the wolves themselves!
Kevin Costner (Lieutenant John Dunbar)
From 1987 to 1993, Kevin Costner was on top of the cinematic world. Crowd-pleasers mixed with prestige projects in his filmography, garnering him praise from critics and big box office receipts, thanks to fans. His breakout role of Eliot Ness in 1987’s The Untouchables snagged him major attention, which was followed by a string of now-classic films including No Way Out, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, JFK, The Bodyguard, and A Perfect World. Tucked in the middle of those gems is the film that cemented his legacy: Dances with Wolves, which earned him two Oscars. He reached the apex of his craft after only a decade — but it was hard to surpass those heights.
A string of flops and poorly received films followed, including the much-derided Waterworld and his second stab at directing himself, The Postman. Still, Costner kept busy and continued to please fans in the decades to come with romantic comedies, thrillers, and further gallops into Westerns. In fact, as patriarch John Dutton on Paramount’s 2018 series, Yellowstone, Costner has managed to find new success in the Western genre.
Mary McDonnell (Stands With A Fist)
After 20 years on stage and TV, the early 1990s brought new fame and acclaim to Mary McDonnell. She was twice nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards: The first nomination honored her portrayal of Stands With A Fist in Dances with Wolves, while the second arrived two years later for her performance as May-Alice Culhane in 1993’s Passion Fish.
McDonnell’s career continued to flourish in the years following this surge of success. She has played strong, multi-dimensional female characters on screens big and small, including the First Lady in Independence Day, fan-favorite President Laura Roslin on the beloved sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica, and Emmy-nominated guest appearances on ER and The Closer. As fans of Dances with Wolves could have guessed all the way back in 1990, McDonnell has made a sterling career out of playing complex women in unique situations.
Graham Greene (Kicking Bird)
The world has gifted us two talented Graham Greenes, and both have provided endless entertainment between them. However, the English novelist should not be confused with the Oneida actor, who boasts over 160 credited roles.
Greene’s gentle and soulful work as Kicking Bird in Dances with Wolves earned him his one and only Academy Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actor — unfortunately, he lost out to Joe Pesci from Goodfellas. Greene did, however, take home a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for Children in 2000, for the album "Listen to the Storyteller." Among his other notable work are parts in Thunderheart, Maverick, Die Hard with a Vengeance, The Green Mile, Skins, Transamerica, and Molly’s Game, which reunited him with Kevin Costner. With many more projects in the pipeline, this Canadian actor is definitely still kicking it.
Buck and Teddy (Two Socks)
John Dunbar finds his spirituality through literally dancing with wolves, which is, of course, how he gets his name. There is only one wolf character, Two Socks, in the film, but he was played by two different gray timber wolves, Teddy and Buck. Teddy did a majority of the work, with Buck serving as back-up.
This wasn’t the only time the canine pair would work together — in fact, they were practically a double act. The two wolves paired up again for an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as 1994’s The Jungle Book. Buck gained the spotlight with a small, uncredited role in 1994’s Lassie, with Teddy serving as his back-up. After enjoying their long Hollywood career, the two wolves hung up their dancing and acting shoes and retired to California’s Wolf Mountain Sanctuary. Teddy passed away around 1997, and Buck followed the year after.
Rodney A. Grant (Wind In His Hair)
After watching Sam Waterston play a Native American in 1979’s Eagle’s Wing, Omaha tribe member Rodney A. Grant knew he had to go to L.A. and bring some authenticity to the film industry. After a few minor roles, he broke through to the big time when he was cast in Wolves as Wind In His Hair. Casting director Elisabeth Leustig summed up his appeal nicely: ″He had a great contrast in his personality between ferocity and childishness. The contrast between when he smiles and when he’s serious is amazing.″
Not one to rely on Hollywood for a career, he also worked as a furniture mover when Wolves hit the big screen. Grant has also been very active promoting various causes close to his heart, including advocacy on behalf of Native American youth and fetal alcohol syndrome awareness. Grant has been busy on screen as well, however: The last few decades have seen him appear in everything from sci-fi projects like Stargate SG-1 to dramas like Don’t Come Knocking.
Floyd Red Crow Westerman (Ten Bears)
Floyd Red Crow Westerman had already enjoyed a well-established career as a musician and activist by the time he appeared in Dances with Wolves. His first album, Custer Died For Your Sins, was released in 1969. He went on to collaborate and tour with the likes of Sting, Harry Belafonte, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, Jackson Browne, and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
His first credited acting role arrived in 1988, when he played Two Eagles on MacGyver. As the open-minded and friendly Ten Bears, his talents were put on display to a wide audience: Numerous other roles followed, usually wise elders or chiefs. Westerman stayed busy right up until his death from leukemia in 2007. He released a new album, A Tribute to Johnny Cash, in 2006, and even reunited with Kevin Costner in his final screen appearance in the 2008 film Swing Vote.
Tantoo Cardinal (Black Shawl)
Rose Marie Cardinal was dubbed "Tantoo" by her grandmother after the insect repellent they used while picking blueberries together in her youth. That’s not the only thing she gave young Tantoo: She also blessed her granddaughter with an appreciation of her Cree and Métis ancestry, and an interest in acting.
Cardinal’s career began early in life — she was breaking screen barriers long before Dances with Wolves. But the film’s success opened even more doors for the actress. Cardinal went on to appear in such hits as Legends of the Fall, Smoke Signals, and Wind River. Wind River reunited her with Graham Greene, and not for the first time: They’ve worked together on over 20 different projects.
Cardinal has won numerous accolades for her work. She took home the prestigious Earle Grey Award from the Canadian Screen Awards in 2017, and was made a Member of the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest civilian honors, in 2009.
Jimmy Herman (Stone Calf)
Aboriginal Canadian Jimmy Herman got interested in acting when he appeared in a Yellow Pages ad. He then worked as a narrator for the Native Counselling Services of Alberta. Bit by bit and part by part, Herman increased his profile as a performer until he got his big break when he was cast as the elder warrior Stone Calf in Dances with Wolves.
A career was born that day. Over the next 17 years, Herman worked on over 40 projects, including playing a bartender in John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games and appearing in a guest spot on The X-Files. For a number of those years, Herman played fur trapper Joe Gomba on CBC’s North of 60. Off screen, he was very giving of his time for those in need. Herman was sober for 30 years, but still attended AA meetings to help those still working to conquer their addiction. Herman died in 2013 of a heart attack at the age of 72.
Robert Pastorelli (Timmons)
In a film without much room for laughter, Robert Pastorelli definitely brought some much-needed comic relief to Dances With Wolves as Costner’s flatulent wagon chauffeur, Timmons. Pastorelli brought further smiles to the small screen, appearing as the title character’s ever-present house painter Eldin Bernecky for 158 episodes of Murphy Brown.
In 1999, Pastorelli’s girlfriend and the mother of his child, Charemon Jonovich, died under mysterious circumstances. Authorities eventually determined that she had killed herself. Pastorelli’s life and career deteriorated sharply thereafter. He did manage to form a close friendship with Glenn Close, and the two appeared in a pair of TV movies together in 2001. In 2004, Pastorelli overdosed on drugs and died at the age of 49. It was eventually revealed that at the time of his death, he had been a suspect in Jonovich’s death.
Charles Rocket (Lieutenant Elgin)
Born Charles Adams Claverie, Charles Rocket rocketed (pardon the pun) to early stardom as a local TV news anchor in Colorado and Nashville. He then utilized his good humor and looks to land on Saturday Night Live for the 1980-1981 season. He was a major player, and even managed to snag a seat at the "Weekend Update" desk. But after he dropped the f-bomb on air (to say nothing of clashes behind-the-scenes), he and a few other cast members, including Gilbert Gottfried, were let go after one season.
That dismissal did little to slow him down, as Rocket followed it up with a steady mix of TV (Max Headroom, Moonlighting) and film work (Dances with Wolves, Earth Girls Are Easy, Hocus Pocus, Dumb and Dumber). Sadly, Rocket killed himself in 2005 at the age of 56.
Maury Chaykin (Major Fambrough)
Brooklyn born Maury Chaykin often played outsized characters. His brief but highly tense scene in Dances With Wolves ended up being one of his most memorable roles. Other works of note included parts in WarGames, My Cousin Vinny, Owning Mahowny, and a memorably Harvey Weinstein-esque character named Harvey Weingard on HBO’s Entourage. In 1994 he won a Genie Aware for his work as an isolated former rock star in Whale Music. In another rare lead part, Chaykin excelled in his portrayal of the titular New York detective in the 2001-2002 A&E series A Nero Wolfe Mystery. Busy until the very end, Chaykin passed away in 2010 on his 61st birthday, due to complications of a heart valve infection.
Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse (Smiles A Lot)
Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse, also known as Nathan Chasing Horse, born on the Rosebud Lakota Sioux Reservation, popped up in a few TV movies after appearing in Dances with Wolves. Things picked up in the 2000s: In the 2005 TV mini-series Into The West, he appeared as Sleeping Bear in three episodes.
In 2015, Chasing Horse ran afoul of the Fort Peck Reservation, and was banned from ever returning. Accusations of "human trafficking, drug dealing, spiritual abuse, and intimidation of tribal members" were cited as motivation for the ban.
Michael Spears (Otter)
Michael Spears made his screen debut by beating out 500 other boys for the role of playful young tribe member Otter in Dances with Wolves. He has gone on to act in over 20 projects, many in the Western genre. He even reunited with fellow castmates Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse and Graham Greene in a number of projects, including the acclaimed 2005 TNT series Into The West. Spears has also worked alongside his brother Eddie — the two are celebrated hand drummers. In 2009, Spears, Costner and other members of the Dances With Wolves cast and crew reunited and appeared at the South Dakota Film Festival.
Tony Pierce (Spivey)
Tony Pierce’s Spivey is the sort of character you love to hate. An army soldier with a disdain for the Native-friendly Dunbar and everything he stands for, he makes quite the splash in the film’s final act. In real life, however, he and Costner are friends, and starred together again in 1992’s The Bodyguard, where he played Whitney Houston’s stalker.
Pierce has had a decent run of supporting work, playing wise guys and intense weirdos in such films as For The Boys and Big Bully opposite Rick Moranis. More recently, he played a crazed homeless man on Ray Donovan. Things have slowed down significantly for the actor since then: Pierce hasn’t acted on screen since 2015.
Kirk Baltz (Edwards)
Kirk Baltz has not only earned high praise for his acting skills, but for his work as a teacher and coach as well. When Baltz enters a scene, the brash and mouthy actor’s presence is immediately felt. His most memorable role is likely the beleaguered police officer Marvin Nash, who is bound to a chair, tortured, and ultimately has his ear cut off to the sound of "Stuck in the Middle With You," in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Beyond this, Baltz has appeared on a slew of popular TV shows, including 24, The Division, and NCIS: Los Angeles.
Tom Everett (Sergeant Pepper)
Oregon native Tom Everett played the salty, battle-scarred soldier Sergeant Pepper, not to be confused with the Beatles’ Lonely Hearts Club Band leader. Everett is a graduate of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, and a lifetime member of the Actors Studio. He has built a robust career in supporting roles since the late ’70s. In 2000, he reunited with Costner for the Cuban Missile Crisis thriller Thirteen Days, and recently appeared as Archbishop Terrazi on Helstrom. In 1971, RCA released his one and only album, Porchlight On In Oregon, which is available for streaming.
Wes Studi (Toughest Pawnee)
Wes Studi has quite the resume both on and off the screen. In addition to being an actor, he is a horse trainer, stone carver, musician, children’s author, the founder of a bilingual newspaper, a Vietnam War veteran, and an activist with the American Indian Movement. His work in Dances with Wolves opened the door to a steady career as an actor on the stage and in TV and movies, including roles in The Doors, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, Mystery Men, The New World, Avatar, and the title character in 1993’s Geronimo: An American Legend. In 2019, he received the Governors Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Studi shows no signs of slowing down: He recently lent his voice to Disney’s Soul.
Annie Costner (Christine/Stands With A Fist)
Kevin Costner’s eldest offspring, Annie Costner, landed her first role as a minor: She filled in Stands With A Fist’s backstory by playing the heroine’s childhood self. Costner later went on to act in two more of her dad’s films, Waterworld and The Postman. In 2014, she co-founded Sound Off Films, a production company specializing in "mission-driven" content of all stripes. As part of Sound Off, Costner’s work includes an ESPN 30 for 30 short about a short-lived ’70s co-ed volleyball league entitled Bump, Spike.