Toronto-based Devery Jacobs on starring in Indigenous-led series 'Reservation Dogs'

TORONTO — Actor and filmmaker Devery Jacobs grew up in the Kanien'kehá:ka Mohawk Territory in Quebec but says shooting her new TV series "Reservation Dogs" in the United States felt like "a sense of home."

The Toronto-based performer stars as one of four Indigenous friends in rural Oklahoma in the FX comedy co-created by Maori filmmaker Taika Waititi and writer-producer Sterlin Harjo, who is a member of the Seminole Nation and has Muskogee heritage.

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The series will make its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Tuesday and debuts on the FX on Hulu streaming brand in the United States on Aug. 9. A Canadian airdate hasn't been announced.

Jacobs said she's never been part of a project quite like this.

"It's the first time that I've worked with an Indigenous showrunner, all Indigenous directors and an all-Indigenous writers' room," Jacobs said in a recent phone interview during a break in filming.

"So it just very much feels like a communal project and a sense of home, even though we're in Oklahoma and I'm acting with a southern accent."

"Reservation Dogs" follows the misadventures of a group of rowdy teens who commit crimes, and fight crime.

"Also, it's about them collectively mourning their friend after the one-year anniversary of his suicide," said Jacobs, whose other acting credits include Jeff Barnaby’s films "Rhymes for Young Ghouls" and "Blood Quantum," and the series "Cardinal" and "American Gods."

D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Paulina Alexis and Lane Factor play the other members of the group.

Woon-A-Tai and Alexis were in Mohawk filmmaker Tracey Deer's Canadian film "Beans" last year and were also "born on the Canadian side of the border, so three of the four leads are from what is now known as Canada," said Jacobs.

Though the series is from the United States and inspired by Harjo's upbringing in Oklahoma, Jacobs said it feels like one big community.

"For us, the border has only come within the past couple 100 years," she said, noting her nation has reservations and communities on both sides of the border, which "just put a line through our communities and divvied them up."

"To be working on an American project or a Canadian project, it's like we're all Indigenous to Turtle Island."

Jacobs and Harjo are among the show's talent who will put on a master class at the virtual Banff International Indigenous Screen Industry Summit on June 21. The event is timed to Canada’s National Indigenous Peoples Day and is open to all Banff World Media Festival delegates.

Jacobs said the series marks one of her first leading roles in television.

She couldn't reveal anything about her character, Elora Danan, but noted it's the same name as the baby from the 1988 fantasy film "Willow."

Jacobs sent in a self-tape to audition for the show in 2019 and attended callbacks and network testing with the creators in early 2020 in Los Angeles, before the pandemic.

She said the creators also held open casting calls in Oklahoma, which is how they found Factor, who is from Mustang, Okla., and is Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole.

Filming of the pilot was postponed from April to August because of the pandemic.

Jacobs said Waititi was supposed to direct the pilot but was held up in New Zealand, where he lives, due to travel restrictions.

Harjo, the co-showrunner and executive producer, directed instead while Waititi watched them film on a video conferencing app.

"We would walk over to the monitor and be like, 'Hey, Taika,' over Zoom every day, but it was like an 18-hour time difference because he was in New Zealand," said Jacobs, who is an ambassador for the Canada Media Fund's industry advocacy initiative Made/Nous and its Seek More campaign, which aims to inspire Canadians to look for diverse homegrown content.

"So it was just an interesting, utterly pandemic experience."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.

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