'Naturally Native'

A Natural For Nashville's Kimberly Guerrero

From Nashville's morning newspaper, "The Tennessean.", June 7, 1998 • A Jason-K Exclusive!

By KEN BECK Staff Writer

You may not recognize her name. But if you watch television at all, you've seen the face of Kimberly Norris Guerrero.

The American Indian actor starred in "The Cigar Store Indian" episode of Seinfeld as Jerry's girlfriend, Winona; she was Ed's girlfriend on CBSÕs Northern Exposure; and she portrayed GeronimoÕs second wife in the TNT production of Geronimo.

ThatÕs quite a cache of good roles for the Oklahoman-turned-Nashvillian, who is three-quarter American Indian with the blood of three tribes (Colville, Salish-Kootenai and Cherokee) flowing in her veins.

But the actress is proudest of her independent feature film Naturally Native, a good look at urban American Indians struggling to make their own way in modern-day America. The film makes its Nashville debut at 9:45 next Sunday night at the Watkins Belcourt Cinema as part of the Nashville Independent Film Festival.

"It's about being Indian in a white world, but it touches on so much more than that," Guerrero says. "It has a lot of women's issues, and it's a very family-oriented film. It's part of the American experience. Urban Indians haven't really been addressed, and lots of them live here in Nashville."

Naturally Native is the story of three sisters who are adopted off the reservation at a young age, she explains. "I play Karen, the middle sister, who has just gotten her MBA degree. We start a natural cosmetics business, and it's the vehicle through which you experience the sisters finding their way back to the reservation and finding out who they are.

"One of the powerful, positive impacts of film is to show our humanness and what we have in common," the actress continues. "This one will make you laugh and make you cry."

The independent film was financed by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe of Connecticut and premiered at Robert Redford's influential Sundance Film Festival.

Naturally Native is now hitting film festivals around the globe, from San Diego and New York to Munich and Minneapolis. Guerrero, a Muskogee, Okla., native, was raised in Idabel, Okla. After winning the Miss Oklahoma Teen Pageant, she went on to be named Miss National Teen-ager of 1985. She went to college and worked in California before moving to Nashville a year-and-a-half ago after marrying musician Johnny Guerrero, a full-blooded American Indian from the Yaqui/Apache tribes.

"It was love at first sight," Johnny says. "We met right on the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C., at a conference called 'Washington for Jesus.' I was performing with Christafari, and she was speaking." Johnny Guerrero is a songwriter, musician and producer in the Nashville-based group Temple Yard, a Christian, pop-centered, R&B reggae band now recording its debut album for Gotee Records. Four of the five members of the group were formerly in Christafari.

He joins his wife in evangelizing about Christ to American Indians on reservations. A Southern Californian, he lost many of his closest friends to drugs and gang violence on the streets of Los Angeles. Johnny found his way out through acting and music. The bass and sax player has toured Asia and Europe with The Platters, studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and played in a number of all-star reggae bands before settling in Music City. (Temple Yard opens its 1998 season at Atlanta Fest on June 18 and has 150 concert dates, including a South American tour.)

Both Johnny and Kimberly have been Christians since their youth. They say that has impacted their career choices.

"I turned down a lot of parts because I don't do nudity," Kimberly says. "I'm still having to turn down a lot of stuff, but it's worth it. I've been doing motivational speaking since 1993 and have probably spoken before 100,000 kids. They look for me when they turn on the TV. "If I did something unredeeming, they would think that it was true. I feel a real commitment to them to do quality, wholesome things. IÕve been blessed with great roles where I have not had to compromise." Continues the actress: "I speak at elementary schools and high schools, some about Native-American culture and some about self-esteem. In 1993 I started doing an abstinence workshop where I talk about sex, but I approach it from a big sisterÕs point of view with just some common-sense, helpful tips."

Guerrero began acting at age 4. She confesses she always dreamed of going off to Hollywood. Her beauty pageant victory provided just the ticket Š a scholarship to UCLA. While there she earned a spot on the cheerleading staff and became acquainted with star athletes Troy Aikman and Reggie Miller. It was her cheerleading that got her a job in an AT&T commercial and that all-important Screen Actors Guild card.

After graduating with a history degree, Guerrero was offered a role in the ABC miniseries Son of the Morning Star, about Custer's Last Stand. From there she went to New York to play Simone Bourdeaux on the CBS soap opera As the World Turns from 1991-93.

More TV work followed, such as a Night Rider 2010 TV movie, Fox-TVs Raven Hawk, TNT's Geronimo, Northern Exposure and Seinfeld. "It was great - unbelievable," she recalled about working on the popular sitcom. "They were so talented. I think comedy is my favorite genre of acting. To go in there and hold your own with the likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards and Jason Alexander. That's the most recognizable thing that I've done to people in the business in Los Angeles.

"I can't walk into a casting office without them saying, 'You were in 'The Cigar Store Indian."'

Guerrero came close to being the voice of Disney's Pocahontas but lost the voice-over role to friend Irene Bedard, who co-stars in Naturally Native. But Disney asked her to model in front of a video camera, as did several American Indian actresses, for the cartoonists working on the animated feature.

"The artists used me to pretty much pull everything together ( for the animated character)," she says. "I went to see the film and saw a lot of my mannerisms, the way I walk and move my hands. It's great fun to see yourself as a cartoon character."

Her move from the West Coast to Nashville has cost her a number of acting jobs, but that's all right by her.

"I'm not able to audition for new pilots or TV movies of the week, and I'm away from my acting class. But I'm not worried," she says. "It's in the creator's hands. To say you want to be an actor you better be ready for rejection, because you might never get a job, or you might not get another job for two years.

"Just to have had the career that I have had at this point is to know God's calling, that he made the way. I can't take credit for it. It's a miracle. There are so many beautiful, talented people out there that could have done my roles."

Her faith, obviously, not her acting career, comes first.

"I was 12 when I became a Christian... I was at a Baptist youth camp when I understood it all - the commitment I had made and who I believed God was," Guerrero says. "ItÕs been a phenomenal experience and journey to combine but not to negate being Native American and being Christian. Most of the Native Americans on reservations consider Christianity to be the white man's religion. Some say you can't be Native American and Christian. All they know is the evil in the name of religion.

"It is wonderful to see there is a revival going on in Native America now - for Indians and from Indians. One Native American lady said, 'Jesus Christ - now thereÕs a Lakota man.' He was a warrior and had a tremendous heart and respect for people. It's exciting to be a part of bringing that message to our people."

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