Gil Birmingham is a jokester, and the proof is in the improvisation. Birmingham's wisecracking "Twilight" character Billy Black has several choice one-liners throughout the film, a few of which Birmingham said he made up on the spot. "Being down with the kids, keepin' it real — that's all Gil Birmingham, folks, channeling Billy Burke," the 43-year-old actor told the oft-laughing audience during his 45-minute Q&A session at the official "Twilight" convention in Parsippany, New Jersey.
And to the audience's delight, the jokes flew both ways. At one point, following a flirtatious exchange about taking his shirt off, Birmingham was asked by an audience member about his bigger part in "New Moon," to which he replied, "Am I bigger?" A quick-thinking woman in the auditorium then shot back, "Let's see."
Birmingham did get serious though when discussing how Native Americans and disabled people are portrayed onscreen. Though the Comanche member feels honored to be a part of projects that portray the plight of Native Americans during America's formative years (like his role in "Into the West"), he said it is modern roles like his Billy Black character that he really cherishes.
"I am a big proponent of Native Americans being portrayed in contemporary times, which they often are not," Birmingham said. "And even when they are, it's limited to the reservation or the drama of what it is to come to the reservation."
Portraying a character in a wheelchair has also given Birmingham new insights. He recalled one scene in particular that really touched him. "I did have a scene when we were congregating to get the search party ready to go look for Kristen. And then all of the sudden Sam comes out of the woods and everybody runs to him and Kristen and I realize I can't go," he explained. "Everybody takes off and I go, 'Hey, hey!' " The wheelchair also caused a continuity issue for the film. "There was some interesting changes we made. You probably noticed me driving the truck," Birmingham said. Avid Twilighters know that Billy sold his truck to Bella because he could no longer drive. "Technically that makes sense, because how impactful would it be for me to give Edward the evil eye from the passenger side?" referring to his epic stare-down with the vampire.
Birmingham said one of his favorite parts about working on "Twilight" was the cast, and he's especially excited that his tribe will continue to grow throughout the series. "The new kids — don't get me started," he said. "They're all just incredible people. I've known Chaske [Spencer, who plays Sam] for 10 years and I have a special connection with him. Alex [Meraz, who plays Paul] I'm liking the more and more I see him. They're all great. They're just all deeply different. We look at Kiowa [Gordon, who plays Embry] and [wonder], 'What's going on in that brain?' Then he'll say something brilliant. Then he'll do some howl out of nowhere — totally out of context."
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