The multi-hyphenate creative opens up about Reservation Dogs season two, her creative aspirations, and her connection between art and activism.[Spoiler warning for the second season of Reservation Dogs.]
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 determined character, Elora Dannan, played by Devery Jacobs, grapples with the death of her grandma and navigates complex relationships within her friend group, all while still recovering from the loss of her close friend, Daniel. Jacobs imbues Elora with astonishing vulnerability though still maintaining her tough exterior.
Jacobs, who has been acting professionally for upwards of fifteen years, has also starred in Netflix’s The Order, and featured in Peacock’s Rutherford Falls, Starz’s American Gods, among other series. She also recently produced, co-wrote, and starred in the feature film, This Place, an official selection of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. In the second season of Reservation Dogs, she also joined the writers’ room and co-wrote “Mabel,” one of the most praised episodes of the series thus far.
Zooming with Awards Radar after a day on-set shooting season three of Reservation Dogs, Jacobs’ passion for the series and her creative process is electric. “There are so many stories I want to tell,” she shares.
Below, Jacobs shares her favorite on-set memories from Reservation Dogs, her inspiration for joining the writers’ room on the show, and how the series has influenced her as both an actress and a creative force behind the scenes.
Having focused primarily on acting in season one of Reservation Dogs, what inspired you to join the writers’ room for season two?
It’s wild being a part of Reservation Dogs because I’d known [Sterlin Harjo, co-creator and showrunner of Reservation Dogs] for so long, and we’d been friends socially and had known each other through the indie film circuit. The native film industry is so tiny. But he had known me as an actor, filmmaker, writer, director, and producer. So being a part of Rez Dogs was just the type of character and show I’d always wanted to be a part of. And for season one, I had asked if I could shadow one of the directors on the season, which Sterlin was totally open to, but I ended up basically being told to focus on acting for the first season. Then for the later seasons, I knew I wanted to be part of it creatively behind the scenes. I had been that annoying actor who would come up with notes and have these thoughts on character arcs that I’d talk through with Sterlin, not only for Elora Dannon but in general, so he invited me into the writers’ room. I’m also a WGA member and very much support the strike, so I’ll kindly refrain from talking too much about my experience in the room. But I am so tremendously grateful to Sterlin for letting me into the room, not only as a writer but then in season three, which we’re shooting right now; I just came from set, and I am thrilled to have been able to direct an episode this year.
The episode you co-wrote, “Mabel,” takes Elora to a highly vulnerable state. How did it feel to portray this meaningful story as an actor?
“Mabel” felt like home, and it felt like love. Danis Goulet, who directed the episode, did a beautiful job. I had only realized when we were filming it that I was like, “Wow, we have every character in the show within like four tiny walls.” [Laughs.] And it’s a huge feat for her to be able to film that, and she crushed it. The opening images of seeing these brown aunties’ hands patting dough, making fry bread, and pouring coffee–literally tending to their community–is the feeling I walked away with having been part of that episode. I think it was a healing experience for Elora. A lot of her journey has been about her experiencing and understanding tragedy and death, so for her to experience and witness death in a healthy way, in a way that’s surrounded by community, was really cathartic. And it was such a communal effort to shoot it.
The connection between Elora and Jackie felt so special this season. Can you talk a bit about why they’re drawn to each other at this point in the show?
I think there’s mutual respect between Elora and Jackie. Both of them are leaders of their own groups and go-getters. So often in indigenous communities, it’s very much the women who are the matriarchs who are at the center of it. I’m Mohawk; I come from a matriarchal society where, even though we had chiefs, the clan mothers would appoint the chiefs and the women who would decide when to go to war. Our cultures and communities are so women-centered that it made sense for Elora and Jackie to be drawn to each other. Although Elva [Guerra, who plays Jackie] is non-binary in real life, the character Jackie is a young woman, so it would [make sense] that they would band together because they both share the common goal of getting out, ditching Oakern, and heading out for California. Even though Jackie is a little more intimidating than Elora is and she’s trying to be as hard as Jackie, ultimately, I think that they were able to share some of their vulnerabilities and learn they could depend on each other.
Do you have any favorite on-set memories of shooting season two?
During “Mabel,” it was amazing to look around and realize that we were surrounded by legends and trailblazers from the industry, like Gary Farmer [who plays Uncle Brownie], who has done incredible work. It was also so special to see the new generation come together. It was filled with, of course, a lot of laughs, dirty jokes, and all of the like that comes with a gathering in Indian country. But it was really special. People were making TikToks, people were catching up on what was going on, and everyone was on board to come together to make this accurate depiction of what celebrating somebody’s life looks like as they’re passing.
You’ve spoken previously about how vital Indigenous queer representation is to you. Is there a queer story you haven’t seen on screen yet that you are dying to tell?
Oh, my gosh. So many Indigenous queer projects have yet to be explored in this medium. I don’t know if I’m the person to tell all of them; I’d love to tell some. But whether I create them or not, I am dying to see Two-Spirit rom-coms. I’m excited to see Indigenous queer horror stories and [Indigenous queer stories] through our traditional lens, with, for example, a period piece highlighting the roles that Two-Spirit and queer folks played in our societies. I want to see them all, and I want to make a bunch of them.
What does the intersection of art and activism look like for you?
For me, they always went hand in hand. There was never a time when activism wasn’t at play for me. I grew up in a community that has always been very outspoken and known for being pretty rowdy. But for me, if I didn’t pursue acting and my love for film and television, I was going to school to become a social worker. I’d participated in protests and helped organize rallies, so when I had the chance to pursue my first passion, storytelling, it provided another medium to get audiences to understand and empathize with our communities. I feel a huge responsibility to share this message about the plight of Indigenous rights, activism, and environmentalism. Even though we don’t discuss political issues in Reservation Dogs, many people think it’s such a political show. And by nature of being a queer person, by being Kanien’kehá:ka, by being Mohawk, my survival and existence are political. I think that that same sentiment is true about Rez Dogs. Though it’s not the point of our story (we’re never dwelling on our Native-ness in the show), [actvism] plays a part in sharing our stories and giving audiences glimpses into our communities that they haven’t seen before.
As someone who is such a multihyphenate, is there an aspect of filmmaking you’re dying to work on that you haven’t yet been able to explore?
I really want to write and direct my debut feature film. Eventually, I’d love to create series and write novels. There are so many things I have yet to do that I’m pining after. But right now, we’re just making sure that Reservation Dogs is the best it can be because the show won’t go on forever. We’re putting as much effort and love for our communities into this show because it marks the first for so many of us as writers and audience members. That’s taking up much of our time, focus, and energy right now. But eventually, long term wise, I have so much I want to do.
What have you learned about yourself through working on Reservation Dogs?
I learned how important it is to be a part of things that are bigger than myself. I learned that I could count on myself, but I also need to look around to my peers and help uplift others as I rise, like Sterlin and Tazbah [Chavez], who is also one of the producers on the show, have done for me. I keep making this about everybody else. [Laughs.] But I’ve gotten to do so many things. I’ve sat with a character for the longest time I’ve ever had an opportunity to. I’ve grown with this character and gone to the depths of every direction with her. Especially with this coming season, I’ve gotten to learn to collaborate in a writers’ room. I’ve gotten to transfer my knowledge from directing short films to directing my first television episode. I’ve gotten to do so much, and it’s provided so many first opportunities that I’m so grateful for. And most importantly, I’ve gotten to see Indian Country breakthrough on a mainstream level that I never knew would actually happen in my lifetime.
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.