'Reservation Dogs' Showrunner Shoots Down Notion of Indigenous Actor Shortage: 'They're Not on Hollywood Boulevard'

TCA 2021: “You have to go to these communities to find the actors,” Sterlin Harjo says

Shane Brown/FX

FX’s upcoming comedy “Reservation Dogs,” which centers on Native American teen life in rural Oklahoma, is filled with Indigenous actors, including its four stars. The series’ showrunner Sterlin Harjo was asked if it was hard to find enough Indigenous actors to fill out its roster, given that on-screen representation in that community has been hard to come by, to say the least.

Harjo, who is of Seminole and Muscogee heritage, explained Wednesday during FX’s TCA press tour panel for the show that it only seems like there are so few Indigenous actors because the parts that Hollywood executives typically look to cast are not the most attractive.

“The thing is, Hollywood makes a western every few years where Native actors get to come and get killed in front of a camp. It’s just not the most exciting work,” Harjo said. “So, they’re not in L.A. beating down the door, trying to get these parts.”

No one on the “Reservation Dogs” panel lives in Los Angeles.

“You have to go to these communities to find the actors,” Harjo continued. “We went and cast in the communities, we went and got tapes from all over in indigenous communities. The talent is there. It just doesn’t happen to be on Hollywood Boulevard.”

Harjo co-created the series with Taika Waititi, who added that most casting agents just reflexively fall back on actors they’ve worked with before.

“Often with casting agents…it’s just people they know,” Waititi added. “[Actors who] come in a lot. They go, ‘Well how about this person?’ They’re not actually searching anymore. There’s a lot of people who keep coming in and they go ‘Well just give this kid a chance.’ But you have to search deeper to find talent.”

“Reservation Dogs” which centers on four Native American teenagers in rural Oklahoma who spend their days committing crime. Waititi wrote the pilot with Harjo, who also directed. Harjo shot the pilot in Okmulgee, Okla., and is from the Sooner state. “Reservation Dogs” stars D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Devery Jacobs, Paulina Alexis and Lane Factor.

“Reservation Dogs” is the first-ever show with an all-indigenous writers room.

Earlier in the session, Harjo said there was no “pushback” to making this characters “small-time criminals.”

“It’s sort of based on experiences that Taika and I both had growing up,” he said, adding that there is “strength in those (writers room) numbers.”

“Having an all-indigenous room helped us not be afraid to go hard and tell the truth and also to be funny and sort of push the envelope,” Harjo said. “There was a shorthand between all the writers and we were able to just go and write and try to make it the funniest, best and pull from our own experiences and make it real.”

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