Swiss decent by way of Alaska. Her film credits include the live action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the starring role of Pocahontas in The New World.
Getting her start on the CBS rival of "Star Search" as a singer, Q'Orianka soon followed that appearance up with a small role in "The Grinch." After an exhaustive search for a Native American actress to play Pocahontas opposite Colin Farrell in the Terrence Malick epic "The New World", Q'Orianka was selected for her star turn.
Q'Orianka Kilcher (born
February 11, 1990 in
Schweigmait, Germany) is a
singer and an aspiring
actress, raised in Hawaii
and later Los Angeles.
Q'Orianka's father is from
Peru and he belongs to the
her mother is of Swiss
Her film credits include the live action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the starring role of Pocahontas in The New World. Q'Orianka has also acted on television, including the show Madison Heights in 2002 playing "Maria Betancourt" in the episode "Small World". That year, she also appeared on Star Search and sang the song "Adagio", but lost.
At the age of ten, while performing on Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade, her sound equipment was stolen. The story made front page news in Los Angeles and shortly thereafter, Q'Orianka received new sound equipment plus an audition for the How the Grinch Stole Christmas, in which she landed the role of a background chorus member.
After the release of the The New World, Q'Orianka has several projects planned including charity work, product endorsements, a line of clothing, and a CD of songs inspired by the movie The New World. She also has a full scholarship to the Hollywood Musician's Institute and would like to direct films one day.
Movie studio executives are said to have been less than impressed at the prospect of releasing a passionate embrace between Colin Farrell, then 28, and the then-14-year-old Q'Orianka. It is said that they ordered the scene to be trimmed to avoid releasing child p---ography. She admitted in several interviews that kissing Farrell during the filming of The New World was actually the first time she had ever kissed any man.
She is a distant relative of pop singer Jewel.
She has appeared at private television movie and movie screenings and other entertainment events wearing clothing designed and sewn by her mother, Saskia.
The talented offspring of the late Homer homesteader Yule Kilcher, state senator and constitutional convention delegate, have performed onstage up and down Alaska and, back when they were children, in Europe. They've produced one international platinum celebrity: Yule's granddaughter Jewel.
Now a new generation is coming over the horizon. Yule's half-Inca great-granddaughter, Q'orianka Kilcher, 14, has just finished filming the role of Pocahontas in "The New World," a feature film about colonial Jamestown by acclaimed director Terrence Malick. Her co-star and love interest is sloe-eyed hunk Colin Farrell, playing colonist John Smith.
The movie is scheduled for release next fall. Filming wrapped up in Virginia and London this month. Two weeks ago, the trumpet fanfare began with a photo of Q'orianka as Pocahontas in Time magazine.
Q'orianka Kilcher has never lived in Alaska, but her Alaska roots run deep. Her grandmother Wurtila was one of the original Swiss homestead children from Homer. Her grandfather was the late Alaska mountaineering legend Ray Genet. Her mother, Saskia Kilcher, grew up in Europe but fished commercially out of Kodiak as a teenager to grubstake picaresque travels that would take her to Peru and to Q'orianka's father, an Inca Indian of Quechua and Huachipaeri descent.
Indeed, the long path from Kachemak Bay to the streets of Santa Monica, Calif., where Q'orianka was singing for change until the filmmakers decided to take a chance on someone so young, is a multigenerational saga that may be worthy of its own screenplay.
"They were living very poor," Q'orianka's grandmother, known in the Kilcher family as Wurzy, said in a phone interview from Germany last week. "It's a very American story, straight out of the cockroach halls and up to the stars."
Wurzy was the second of eight children of Yule and Ruth Kilcher growing up on the homestead east of Homer. The Kilchers had come from Switzerland at the start of World War II to find farming land. It was a self-conscious pioneering life -- Yule made a film of the family's experience -- marked by musical performances but also by lots of potatoes, moose meat and hard work.
Settled in Germany
Unlike her siblings, who remained close to home or circled back, Wurzy moved back to Europe when she was young, settling in Germany to work in a Waldorf school. But she came back for visits and in
1967 stayed in Glen
Alps with her sister Mairiis,
then married to the mountain
climber Art Davidson.
Davidson was writing his now- famous book, "Minus 148," about the first winter ascent of Mount McKinley, which he had completed the year before with Genet. "Pirate" Genet, the irrepressible climber who became a pioneer guide on the mountain, was Swiss himself though French-speaking. He set out to get one of the Kilcher girls for himself, Davidson says.
The rakish Genet invited Wurzy to go moose hunting. The invitation arrived written on a piece of birch bark.
"The birch had been my goddess tree since I was a child," said Wurzy, impressed enough to fly out to the camp to join him. "He really knew how to do it right. He had a log cabin out on the tundra, and he made breakfast for me."
The relationship didn't outlive the two-week visit to Alaska. But something did. A year later, the Kilchers received a photo of their sister and a new baby: Q'orianka's mother, Saskia.
Genet followed Wurzy to Europe, but she declined his proposals of marriage, according to Anchorage writer Nan Elliott, who is writing a book about Genet. Still, they remained friendly. Wurzy, who later married and had four more children, raised Saskia, and Genet visited from time to time. Saskia idealized her father. She adopted the color red because her mother said it was Genet's favorite color.
Saskia told Elliott her father once promised to take her up Mount McKinley when she was 12 so she could be the youngest person ever to climb the mountain. She was just approaching that age in 1979 when Genet died descending from the summit of Mount Everest. (Genet's second child, son Taras, climbed McKinley at age 12 in 1991 and did become the youngest up to that time.)
Saskia left home at 16 and came to Alaska, "following her dad's footsteps," as her aunt Mairiis recalls. "She always wanted to be a wild thing in Alaska like her dad."
The headstrong Saskia spent time among family in Homer and, lying about her age to get on commercial fishing boats, worked summers to finance trips to Asia and South America.
In 1990, Saskia returned to Homer for a family reunion, drawn by the chance to see her mother. Ruth and Yule had divorced in 1969, and this was a rare return to Homer for Ruth (she died in 1997, and Yule died in 1998). With Saskia was her Peruvian partner in traditional Inca dress and a baby in a papoose-like backpack baby board. The baby was Q'orianka.
Saskia had a second child, a son, Kainoa, before splitting from her partner and moving to Los Angeles. By that time, she had fixed on winning her talented daughter a singing career. It was a hard road, but Q'orianka had a great voice and by all accounts lit up when she performed -- on the street, in talent shows, wherever her mom could find a small stage. Family members say she was never in touch with her older cousin Jewel, now 30, who made her own, swifter rise from sleeping in a car to stardom.
Little Who in Whoville
Q'orianka played a little Who in Whoville in the 2000 film "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Last year, she was a contestant on the CBS television show "Star Search." Her biography, still posted on the show's Web site, makes Q'orianka sound like a pretty normal 13-year-old (Favorite movies: "Emerald Forest," "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." Favorite animated characters: Casper and Tweety Bird).
Meanwhile, a worldwide search was under way for a woman to play Pocahontas in a new movie being produced by New Line Cinema, makers of "The Lord of the Rings."
Reached in Los Angeles last week, Saskia said she was bound by the studio not to speak yet about the movie, which is not scheduled for release until November 2005.
Q'orianka's agent, Carlyne Grager, said the producers had considered more than 3,000 actresses as old as 30, doing auditions in South America, Mexico and on Indian reservations. Q'orianka was considered late in the game and initially rejected as too young.
Could she command the camera's attention? Would she have the stamina to last through the long days of filming? Could she learn to speak in the Algonkian language and then speak English with an English accent?
"There were a lot of thoughts about whether she'd be able to do it," Grager said.
Though Pocahontas was young when the Jamestown settlers arrived, she eventually married a settler and moved to London, where she died of disease. Presumably the actress chosen would have to play Pocahontas growing up, becoming a young woman in love -- maybe even, according to hot Internet gossip, a woman in love with Colin Farrell in the typical Hollywood sort of way, which would be legally difficult to depict with a girl of only 14.
Then again, the director of "The New Land" is not your typical Hollywood sort of director. Malick, known for painstaking and thoughtful work, has made only three other movies in his career, all critically acclaimed: "Badlands" (1973), "Days of Heaven" (1978) and "The Thin Red Line" (1998).
Malick's films are known for breathtaking visual beauty and an elegiac tone, both of which may be appropriate to the story of one of the earliest encounters between European and Native American cultures.
The movie will be, by all accounts, slavishly authentic to its period. And everything turned out well with Q'orianka's role, according to the movie company, Grager and Q'orianka's adoring grandmother, Wurzy, who found the Virginia movie set so evocative of the pioneering life she remembered from Alaska that she wanted to move there for good.
Wurzy, who was given a tiny extra's role as an Indian elder alongside Native American actors, said Q'orianka surprised with her on-camera charisma.
"When she cried, everybody cried -- the whole set," Wurzy said.
"We think it's great," said Wurzy's sister Sunrise, who heard about the Time magazine photo last week and got stopped by police as she raced into Homer to buy a copy. "I told him there was a photo of my niece in the Time magazine with George Bush on the cover. Maybe that was why he let me off with a warning," she said.
Grager said the details of Q'orianka's contract are still being settled, but the pay is modest, standard for a beginning actress despite the important role.
"This isn't her get-rich movie," she said. "I think she still has to prove herself, see how the movie does. But everybody feels very happy with how Q'orianka did."
This Q'Orianka Kilcher Biography Page is Copyright © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub