Now that the hit FX show Reservation Dogs has returned for Season 2, Canadian actor Sarah Podemski, who plays Bear’s mom Rita on the show, stresses that the success of the first season has allowed the series to “push the boundaries,” including intensifying the comedy that is rarely seen by Indigenous actors on TV.
“We've definitely turned up the volume on everything, so the comedy, the insanity, the playfulness, there's a deeper dive into all the characters, which is just so exciting,” Podemski told Yahoo Canada.
“Season 2 for Rita, it's really great because we get to see Rita coming into her own as a woman, aside from being there as mother… We just get to spend a bit more time with her and we still see her and Bear’s dynamic, but I think she gets to kind of discover herself again, outside of being a mother.”
Coming off an incredibly well-received first season, Podemski identifies that the support for Season 1 has given the cast and crew more “confidence” working on this second season.
“We never know, when we come into a project, how it's going to be received, so it's such a treat when not only we have a great audience, but then there's also been recognition from the industry,” Podemski said. “I think there was a bit more of a, I'd say a confidence on set for Season 2, while we were working.”
“It was just knowing that we had that support and that we could push the boundaries a little further, and knowing that our audience was totally going to go on this journey with us.”
One aspect of the show that Podemski highlights is the comedy, which she identified as something that isn’t usually shown by Indigenous actors on screen.
“We really haven't been able to be funny as Native actors, so it's just so wonderful because humour in our community is so, so important,” Podemski said.
“It's a way to deal with grief, it's a way to deal with trauma and I think a lot of the narratives we've seen about our community have been very much trauma-based and to be able to play into the comedy, and see really how funny our writers are and how funny our directors are, how funny our talent is, it's just such an exciting thing to explore.”
'We've just only scratched the surface of being able to be trusted with our own content'
While Reservation Dogs has been celebrated for the breadth of Indigenous talent in front of and behind the scenes, Sarah Podemski stresses that this is just the beginning of actually supporting projects that not only tell stories about Indigenous communities, but are told by the people in the communities as well.
“I feel like we've just only scratched the surface of being able to be trusted with our own content,” Podemski said. “We’ve got a lot of good work ahead of us and we have a lot of great people that are championing us outside of the community, but there's a ways to go.”
“The great thing about Reservation Dogs is that kind of proved, on a very high level, that people wanted to see our stories told by us. We've been making content for years and we've always known that we had the talent to make great content, but people either weren't watching it or networks, or people, weren't trusting that we were capable of working on a high level, using our lived experience. So I think Reservation Dogs has been really great in terms of opening that door for a lot of writers, a lot of directors and a lot of actors being visible for the first time.”
Podemski added that it’s not just about opening the door for Indigenous people in the film and TV industry, but it’s about sustaining that momentum, continuing to support projects from Indigenous creators and actors.
“We still have a ways to go but I feel really confident that it's sustainable,” Podemski said. “I feel like there's always kind of been a moment where we're like, ‘oh Natives are hot’ or ‘this is going to be the renaissance of Indigenous film and television,’...every few years we'll have something like that, but it doesn't stick.”
“I actually feel like this time, we now have such successful shows and we've proven ourselves, and our actors have proven ourselves, and our writers have proven themselves, and directors and showrunners, that I think it's actually sustainable this time, to continue this really great work with Indigenous people at the heads of production.”
'I didn't have the tools to advocate for myself'
Sarah Podemski started in the film and television industry as a kid, alongside her sisters Jennifer and Tamara, but now, she’s enjoying being able to watch her younger Reservation Dogs co-stars, the next generation, rise to fame.
“It's really amazing, they're all so talented and it's just so crazy how they've just blown up since Season 1, so it's been really interesting because I get to kind of be on the sidelines watching it,” Podemski said. “It's been really interesting to just see them skyrocket in Hollywood, they haven't changed, they're still super humble, and they're really awesome, they're all so talented and they bring something so unique to each of their characters.”
“It's funny, because I feel like when I was coming up in this industry, I started as a kid like almost 30 years ago, and I've always been the youngest for a really long time, and so it's kind of nice to to be playing the mother and be seeing this incredible new generation of performers that are kind of carrying the torch.”
Now, as Podemski navigates her future roles, she has identified that feeling confident about the creative team behind the project is a big priority for her.
“Having been in this industry for as long as I have, my main focus now is the team, who's the creative team? Because I find that even if the content is really great, if you get stuck with a team that isn't on the same side and all into working in the same way, it can be a really challenging experience,” Podemski said. “I've been in those really uncomfortable situations where there is no one to advocate for me and I didn't have the tools to advocate for myself.”
“We don't need to just look out for ourselves, we need to look out for the other marginalized people that we're working with, and the younger people, and the women, and the women of colour, and we need to all be very aware that this isn't over… It's scary to tell the truth and it's really scary to speak up when you're afraid you're going to lose your job. It's something that I'm learning I have to do, and I'll be better for it because I'll prevent working in a toxic environment.”