FX’s Reservation Dogs has been praised by critics and audiences alike for its astonishing humor, unique emotional core, and groundbreaking representation of Indigenous peoples both behind and in front of the camera.
Season two of the series puts our protagonists through the wringer. The series’ most heartfelt character, Cheese, played by Lane Factor, is arrested after his Uncle is caught growing marijuana. Throughout the season, he is caught in the middle of a disagreement between his friends and is forced to keep the friend group together. Factor imbues Cheese with such sincerity and emotional intelligence that it feels revelatory for an actor who is only seventeen.
Reservation Dogs was Factor’s first professional acting role. After taking an acting class and finding out about the audition for the series, he was encouraged by his mom to pursue the role. Since then, Factor’s portrayal of Cheese has been spotlit on several “Best Performances” lists by major publications. His only other professional acting credit is his role in Steven Spielberg’s Best Picture nominee, The Fablemans.
Zooming with Awards Radar after a day on-set shooting season three of Reservation Dogs, Factor’s thoughtfulness, sincerity, and love for the series are palpable. Below, Factor shares his favorite on-set memories from Reservation Dogs, experiences that influenced his performance, and how the series has influenced him as a creative and individual.
Cheese has many more vulnerable scenes in season two, and we get to see your range as a performer. What do you do to prepare for more emotionally intense scenes?
With those more emotional scenes, I drew on my experiences outside of filming. For instance, in the scene where I was talking to my grandma in the bathroom, I was supposed to be talking to Irene [played by Casey Camp-Horinek], and I tell her everything’s all right when she doesn’t know that [Cheese] is at the boys’ home. When I was doing that scene, I was thinking about my grandma, whom I recently lost just before filming. So I thought about that and imagined I was talking with her, which helped bring out my emotions more. With my speech at the end of the season on the beach with Daniel, I had a hard time getting emotional for that one, so much so that we almost skipped it. But in the end, my cast and I got in a huddle and ended up making each other emotional, and I, again, drew on my grandma, who had recently passed away before that. Since her passing was fresh in my memory, I could tap into that a bit to bring out those emotions.
Cheese is different from other portrayals of teenage boys on TV because he’s so kind and emotionally aware. How do you think his character will influence and impact teen viewers?
I hope Cheese helps people realize you can always be kind in any situation and don’t always have to choose the most smug or passive-aggressive option when talking to people. Cheese is a great symbol of being kind and nice. Even when things aren’t going his way, he tries to keep that optimism that keeps everyone around him together. From what I see online, many people relate to Cheese and have opened up to trying to be better when talking or interacting. I’m always really happy to see people talk about that.
Episode seven, “Stay Gold. Cheesy Boy,” focuses heavily on Cheese. What was your reaction when you first read that script and saw everything he had to go through in that episode?
When I read that script, I thought, “Oh, wow, this is such a great script. I can’t wait to do it.” Then, I started having doubts that I could do it, almost to the point where I wasn’t looking forward to even shooting the episode. I was so nervous about that because I didn’t think I could portray any of the stuff I was reading. I’m so lucky I had my cast mates, Sterlin [Harjo, co-creator and showrunner of Reservation Dogs], and the director, Blackhorse Lowe, to support me. They all helped me get past that bit of negativity in my head, which helped boost my confidence in my capabilities as an actor. And I thank them for it.
You recently played Dean in Spielberg’s The Fabelmans. How did you get involved in that project, and what was that experience like?
One of the writers on Reservation Dogs pulled me aside when we were shooting season one. He said, “Hey, Lane, you know, I just talked to one of my buddies who just helped write this movie and they’re casting a role that matches your description well. I think you’d be great at it, and they’re curious if they could send you a script for that.” And I was like, “Oh, yeah, sure. I would love to.” I thought it’d be a great opportunity to do another audition and try to get my name out there more. He even helped me do the audition and get it sent in. About two months go by, and I completely forget about it, and then they send an email out of the blue saying, “Hey, we need you to do some contract stuff and get your work visas and stuff.” They sent me out there like, “Yeah, you got cast. And we’re sending you out to LA to start shooting in two weeks.”
When I read some descriptions and more details about it, I saw Steven Spielberg directed it. It was about his life, which completely caught me off guard. I remember when I had that script, and I read through it, it didn’t say who it was written by, just that it was being done by Amblin [Entertainment, production company founded by Steven Spielberg]. So that was insane when I found out I got cast, but that whole experience was so positive; it was so fun. The entire cast was really nice. Spielberg is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and just so down to earth. It was an amazing experience.
Do you have a favorite on-set memory from shooting season two of Reservation Dogs?
Probably when we filmed the homeless scenes set in LA. We filmed that in Tulsa, though, and while filming, we got to talk to Brandon Boyd, who plays White Jesus and is a super interesting guy. The whole time it was like we were having a big party filming out there because the second they would say cut and stop the camera, music would come on, and everyone would start running around taking photos with each other. It was one of our last days of shooting in Tulsa, so I think everyone was in high spirits. Even though it was only the cast and crew there, It almost felt like a festival. That’s a good memory that I still think about quite a bit.
What do you do to relax while working on set?
When we’re on set, I relax by just going around and talking to other people on set, you know? Seeing how things are working behind the scenes, how the gears turn the clock. Whether it’s going back and talking to people working on sound, costumes, or the props department, that’s my favorite thing. So the second they say cut, I immediately run off, look for [the crew], and talk to all of them. I’ve always been so curious about the ins and outs of filmmaking. So, that’s probably my favorite thing to do on set, and it’s still something I do now.
Would you want to pursue behind-the-camera work?
I would love to. I would love to do something like that, whether directing or writing, but that’s still probably a few years away. I’ve always been interested in it, though, so I would love to do something like that.
Cheese can find good qualities in everyone. Do you have any advice for folks who are struggling to get along with people in their lives?
I’d say show kindness to people. But some people don’t take that; some people just don’t take kindness and don’t put it back. In those instances, as hard as it can be, those are people you probably would want to cut out of your life. If someone’s just toxic and only talks negatively about other people or talks bad about you, that’s just going to be someone in the long run who’s just going to drag you down. Let negative people view you whenever you build yourself up and are untouchable.
Finally, what have you learned about yourself through working on Reservation Dogs?
Ooh, that’s a really good question. I’ve learned that I’m better at things than I initially thought, and I need to have more confidence in myself. I still struggle with that, but I’m lucky to have everyone on set, the cast and crew, and everyone I can turn to. Another thing I learned about myself is just how much I absolutely adore film. Being on a set is a whole different experience from watching behind-the-scenes videos on YouTube, which I used to do. Being there, talking with people firsthand, and seeing everyone else who loves movies just as I do has been amazing and reinforced my love for film and the arts.
The first two seasons of Reservation Dogs are available to stream now. The show’s third season will premiere on August 2nd on FX.
Parts of this interview may have been edited for length or clarity.