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Cover of Summer 2006 Issue

Longwood Student Enjoys New Role in The New World

Kent Booty, Associate Editor

Mallory GordonLongwood students who view the film The New World just might recognize someone on the screen.

Mallory Gordon, a recent Longwood graduate from Powhatan, appears as a young Native American woman in the film about the Jamestown story, which opened in January. She was among more than 1,500 people who answered the statewide casting call for the Native American roles, of whom fewer than 70, male and female, were chosen. She had never acted before.

“I’m in two scenes, and I saw a glimpse of myself in another scene,” says Gordon. “I was in the underwater scene near the beginning of the film, swimming to the top, and in the ‘ceremony’ scene with Colin Farrell (who plays John Smith), when Pocahontas saves him. I qualified as a ‘featured extra’ in the swimming scene, and in the other scenes in which I worked I was what is called a ‘Zone 1’ extra, who is someone photographed close to the main actors.

“I was known basically as a ‘corn maiden’ because in the ceremony scene I’m one of four young Native American women holding corn meal, which we throw into the air at the end of the ceremony. In that scene, I wash down Colin Farrell’s throat, chest and arm with water to cleanse his body of bad spirits. I was inhaling his bad spirits and the girl across from me was exhaling his spirits. Also, five other girls and I were known as ‘Pocahontas’s friends.’”

When the video is released this spring, she may appear in other scenes that were cut from the film, including a dancing scene in which Pocahontas asks for John Smith’s life, and the scene in which the Native Americans feed the starving settlers during the winter.

Gordon’s appearance helped her land the role – she looks the part, with her dark complexion and long, straight, black hair. “They dyed my hair, but it was a temporary dye and washed out before the film.”

She found out about the film in June 2004 from a friend who had just returned from the casting call.

“He was trying out for a part as a colonist, and he said they were looking for athletic males and females to play Native American roles. My casting call was at Willow Lawn Mall in Richmond. There were only 30 minutes left before they were shutting down the casting call. They took information from me, then a month later I got a phone call. They wanted to see what I looked like in front of a camera, so I went to Williamsburg. Two weeks later, when I was on vacation in Kissimmee, Florida, which I’d really looked forward to, they called and wanted me to report the next day for training, at the same location in Williamsburg, I had wanted to stay in Florida for at least another three days, but my mother bought me a plane ticket to fly to Williamsburg.”

The New World was filmed mostly in Virginia, with most of Gordon’s work taking place at the main set on the Chickahominy River a few miles west of Williamsburg. A Native American village, Werewocomoco, was built on state-owned land on the west bank of the Chickahominy, near its confluence with the James River, and an English fort was built on private land on the east bank.

“They built a true Native American village, and also a recreation of the Jamestown fort a few miles away, which was an actual fort built to scale. They made everything look and feel like the 1600s. The only time I didn’t feel like I was in the 1600s was when a boat went past on the Chickahominy.”

She was involved in filming from mid-July through the end of September 2004. “I worked at least three or four days a week, all day. There were lots of back-to-back days. I had to be there at 5 a.m. and have my hair and makeup done, then I got into my costume, which was real buckskin. It shrank and tightened in cold weather, and it was skimpy to begin with. I also wore moccasins with thin soles; you could feel the gravel poking through your skin.”

Her swimming scene was filmed at Lake Rawlings in Brunswick County. “I was there all day swimming with two other females who, like me, were chosen for the scene by the director, Terrence Malick. I felt like I had hypothermia; the water was cold when I got in at 8 a.m. and cold when I got out at 7:30 that night. I wore a flesh-colored suit in that scene.”

Gordon learned some unusual skills from doing the film.“In the training, which lasted a couple weeks, we learned how to sing songs in Algonquin (a native American language), how to skin a deer with a rock, how to cook fish and how to do a specific dance.”

She became close to some of the other actors playing Native Americans, including Wes Studi, a Cherokee who was in Last of the Mohicans, and Kalani Queypo, of partial Native American ancestry, who played Pocahontas’ brother and also has appeared in Into the West and The Royal Tenenbaums. “Kalani called me ‘Little Mal Mal,’” said Gordon.

She has seen the film twice: at its Richmond premiere a few days before Christmas and at a theater in nearby Chesterfield County a month later. “It was shot beautifully, in a natural way, and captured what it must have been like,” she says.

Gordon’s Longwood roots run deep: her grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-aunt, all on her father’s side, were Longwood graduates, and her sister, Kristen, is a music major at Longwood. Mallory, who majored in communication studies, was the starting second baseman on the Longwood softball team since her sophomore year. She was a shortstop on the Powhatan High School softball team all four years, and the team won state championships in her freshman and junior years.

She enjoyed being part of the film (“I had the time of my life”) but isn’t really interested in an acting career. “Pursuing an acting career is only a secondary goal of mine. If I were begged to do a movie, I wouldn’t turn it down, though. It’s good money, and you get to meet a lot of good people.”