Adam Beach began his screen career by rowing the canoe that held the stars of the television adaptation of Farley Mowat's Lost in the Barrens (1990). A little over a decade later, the hardworking Native American actor -- who used to run home from school to watch Johnny Depp on 21 Jump Street -- had a coveted spot in Vanity Fair's notorious Hollywood Issue and was one of E! Entertainment Network's Sizzling Sixteen.
A member of the Saulteaux Tribe, Beach was born on the Dog Creek Reserve, located north of Lake Winnipeg in Canada. He was only seven years old when a drunk driver killed his mother, who was eight months pregnant. Beach's father drowned only two months later. The tragic deaths of their parents forced Beach and his brothers to move south to live with relatives in Winnipeg, Manitoba. There, he attended Gordon Bell High School, where he became interested in music and theater. He formed a short-lived garage band called Lethic (which covered heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath) and took drama classes. He soon earned roles in local theater productions and eventually dropped out of school for a lead role in Red River Valley at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People.
Shortly afterward, Beach was cast as an extra in Lost in the Barrens, starring Graham Greene and Evan Adams. The next few years saw him playing the title role in Disney's family film Squanto: A Warrior's Tale (1994) and earning a Best Actor Award from First Americans in the Arts for his performance in the television film My Indian Summer (1995). He also frequently appeared on both Canadian and U.S. television, in shows such as Walker, Texas Ranger, Legend, Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years, Touched By an Angel, Dead Man's Gun, First Wave, The Rex, and Madison.
By 1998, Beach had a recognizable face and well-refined talent. He landed a starring role in Sherman Alexie's Smoke Signals (1998) after only his second reading. The film, which achieved international acclaim, earned both the Filmmaker's Trophy Award and the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as re-teamed Beach with Lost in the Barrens star Evan Adams. He went on to play a small role in the Russell Crowe vehicle Mystery, Alaska (1999), which basically required that he play his favorite sport, ice hockey, for three months. After starring in the thriller The Last Stop (2000), Beach showed off his comedic skills as David Spade's sidekick, Kicking Wing, in 2001's Joe Dirt. That same year, he played the romantic lead in Helen Lee's comedy The Art of Woo and appeared in the independent film Now & Forever.
Beach was living in Canada when producers asked him to fly to Los Angeles to audition for the lead part in John Woo's big-budget action film Windtalkers. Only days later, he was introduced to Woo and cast as Ben Yahzee, a Navajo codetalker charged with deciphering crucial U.S. military dispatches during World War II. The star-studded production includes Nicolas Cage, Mark Ruffalo, and Christian Slater, and required that Beach, who speaks Saulteaux, learn Navajo for the part. The hype surrounding the film influenced Beach to make the permanent move to Los Angeles. He was cast in the TV series Bliss in 2002, and continued to appear on the big screen in a variety of projects, scoring one of his most high-profile gigs when he portrayed Ira Hayes in Clint Eastwood's World War II drama Flags of Our Fathers. Other highlights in his career include Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Comanche Moon, Cowboys & Aliens, Warrior's Heart, and a small role on the HBO drama series Big Love.
Beach uses his present fame to visit Canadian schools and serve as an inspirational speaker to Native American children.