Sarah Podemski Talks Reservation Dogs, Resident Alien, & Keeping Up the Momentum with Indigenous Representation

Sarah Podemski is a treasure.

She’s also doing double duty playing two incredible characters on both the acclaimed Reservation Dogs and the nothing remotely guilty about its pleasure, Resident Alien.

Both series are returning this month, and TV Fanatic caught up with Podemski to chat about Reservation Dogs’ success, what to expect from Resident Alien’s Kayla in the second half of the season, and keeping the momentum going with Indigenous representation in the industry, so check it out!

Jumping right in. Hopefully, I’m not being too presumptuous here, but it feels like a much-needed surge of mainstream Indigenous representation on screen right now, which is awesome. How does it feel for you to be at the forefront of that?

Yeah, I think that’s what it’s proven to be.

Over the last 30 or 40 years, there have been some incredibly successful Indigenous-led projects. But it seems that we haven’t been able to sustain that energy.

And it seems like now, with Reservation Dogs and Rutherford Falls, it just seems like we’re here to stay for the first time. It feels like people are finally watching and seeing how much talent we have, and people are trusting us to tell our own stories. So, yeah, it’s exciting, and it feels very hopeful.

It does. I was just going to ask you, do you feel the industry will be able to keep that momentum? It seems like there are options now instead of just being grateful for a bit of space. There’s diversity in the projects. Reservation Dogs, Dark Winds, Rutherford Falls…

I think it’s a great time for BIPOC creators because there has been a shift in the audience. The audience is ready to dive into those stories with us. I don’t know if it was discomfort or fear before, but over the last few years, there’s been an audience that wants to see this new perspective. That’s what storytelling is all about, especially in Hollywood.

We’re always looking for that next voice, a fresh perspective, a new point of view. And we have it, especially when it comes from us when we have the lived experience.

We’re not having non-Indigenous people tell our stories anymore because that’s not authentic, so it’s thrilling to see all the POC creators just killing it right now and feeling that we have enough support to keep this going because there’s so much great content right now.

Reservation Dogs is huge. It’s an award-winning critical darling. It’s predominantly Native in front of and behind the camera, which makes all the difference in the world. Did you expect the series to blow up as much as it did?

I knew it was special. I knew we were doing something that was totally outside of the norm. I knew there would be a lot of attention because I hadn’t seen anything like this. I didn’t anticipate how much critical acclaim it would get, which was incredibly surprising but very welcome.

While doing it, there was this feeling that this might be a big deal. I think we all kind of had that feeling. It was a feeling I hadn’t had before of feeling like we were going to break boundaries. Even if the critical acclaim didn’t come, we were accomplishing something that hadn’t been done before, which was precious.

You guys have snagged some well-deserved awards, which brings me to the Emmys. Since the nominations, many discussions have been about how Reservation Dogs is one of the biggest Emmy Snubs. Those awards and that validation aren’t everything, but did it still sting a bit?

You know what? I was privileged to attend the Independent Spirit Awards, where we got the Best Ensemble and New Scripted Series awards. This is the first time for me to be part of this industry aspect, with the awards and voting.

It’s fascinating to see that part of the industry and how many things go on behind the scenes that we don’t know.

I understand how complicated it is, and it’s hard to please everybody. I know people were really disappointed that we didn’t get any Emmy nominations, but I’ve just been in a place of gratitude that we’ve even gained the acclaim that we have. It would have been wonderful, but I’m still in awe of how much recognition and love the show has gotten.

The show is getting better. Our second season is coming up, and it’s so wilder, funnier, and full of love and craziness than the first season. Whatever awards come, the idea that we’re constantly pushing our own boundaries and trying to create the best content possible is the special thing about being on a show like this.

Let’s talk about Rita. We’ve seen a great deal of her dynamic with Bear, including that stand-out scene regarding his father. Will we dig further into Rita’s story as a single mother and that relationship with Bear?

Yeah, the wonderful thing about season two for Rita is that we get to see her come into her own as a woman aside from being a mother, which I was so excited about. And we have this beautiful episode written by Tazbah Chavez.

It’s been really nice to spend time with Rita as a woman, figuring out: Who am I? Aside from being a mother, where do my joys lie, and where does my happiness lie?

It was inspiring to dive in more in an intimate and incredibly comedic way. But we still have a lot of those beautiful moments there with Bear. In season two, we see Rita, the woman, not just Rita, the mother.

Which is obviously so very important. Reservation Dogs is considered a coming-of-age series. But I always feel that term often limits its focus on that certain period in your life coming into adulthood. I feel “coming of age” applies to everyone.

It happens at all different ages. I think it’s cool to parallel adolescence with adulthood. It’s a constant evolution in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 60s … which is important to explore because the whole idea of watching these stories is that we get to reach through people’s TVs or computer screens and make people feel like they’re not so alone with what they’re going through.

I love being able to explore those themes with Rita as a woman because I think, yeah, when your kid gets old enough, I’m not a mother.

Still, I’ve witnessed that when the child leaves home, who are you as a single mother when you don’t have to worry about your kid as much, and you have to get back to yourself whether you want to or not? It’s an interesting new dynamic for Rita and Bear, too.

How about romance? Are we going to see more of her love life, too?

I can say it’s possible. I’m not going to say no to anything. It’s possible we’ll see some for Rita.

Your sister is joining the cast this season, right? And she’s playing your sister?

Yeah, she’s playing a Cousin Sister. It was so fun to work together, and we have this beautiful episode. We have a few beautiful episodes that we get to play together, but it was fun because we’ve never worked together on a project.

Really?

Yeah, it’s crazy. We’ve been in the same shows, but this was the first time we got to act in scenes like this, and it was so fun. And it’s great to see your family and their work ethic; you’re hoping they’re nice to everybody. [Laughs]

But she’s such a pleasure to work with, and it was so wonderful to see her work and to step aside and just actually look at her and watch her as an actress. It was very cool.

What other teases can you give us about the upcoming season of Reservation Dogs?

There’s some pretty wacky stuff that happens, so I don’t know if I can talk about it, but everyone’s definitely going to be surprised. There are lots of very strange treats this season, so everyone’s going to be pleasantly surprised.

Moving on to Resident Alien. They have so many strong, intelligent, well-written women. Can we expect more girls’ night type of scenes and content? Because that’s fun.

Yeah, it was so fun. We loved doing that episode.

The wonderful thing about Kayla, which is similar to what’s going on with Rita, is that Kayla is also coming into her own as a woman, not just as a mother, and finding her joy and finding herself as a lawyer again.

I think all these things are exciting regarding how we’re delving into the female characters. It’s nice to be part of shows that are super thoughtful about that female journey — at any age, race, or shape. It’s cool to just work with so many incredibly talented, funny women.

I’ve noticed the complexity of these two roles and the parallels. Is that what attracted you to them?

They were just really fully formed Native women. And the funny thing is Kayla was heavily written by Tazbah Chavez again, so I’ve been able to work with Tazbah on two shows. I had done Resident Alien a few years before Rez Dogs.

I hadn’t encountered that many dynamic, nuanced Native female characters in my career. They were either written by Non-Indigenous people, which made it hard for me to put my stamp on them because there was an idea of what people wanted, or they weren’t as fully realized as the other characters.

When I got the audition for Kayla, I was like, “Oh my God. She’s this cool young mom who would punch you out if you insult her or her girls but also has the biggest heart.

It was that balance of toughness and love that was so familiar to me, especially in the community of all the women I know. It’s not an easy experience sometimes moving through the world as a Native woman. There’s definitely a toughness and a thick skin that you have to develop, but then there’s this humor, joy, too.

It’s balancing those two opposites. But when I read Kayla, I was like, yeah, I know this woman and same with Rita.

I know these women. They were both so clearly created by women with that lived experience, which I just loved. That was something I found touching and familiar about reading both of those roles.

I understand you have many passions, and you come from an acting family, so you got that bug early, but you’re getting into producing, too. What inspired you to get into that as well?

I love the creative process and the idea of more Indigenous people at the beginning of making film and television on a producer level.

I saw through my experience that that’s one way to avoid many missteps in terms of representation. If I can get involved in producing, I can start creating a really safe environment for other Indigenous people to join the team, whether it’s writers, directors, or actors.

I just felt that in my experience, I never really had many people who were Native at that level to go into productions that I was part of until recently.

We just really need more producers. We need more showrunners. We need more directors, more writers, and more Native people filling those roles so that there is a sense of safety when we, as Native actors, come to a project.

Being exploited for your look or background is a really challenging thing about this industry. When you can come into a production with like-minded people championing representation, that’s a powerful place to be in terms of creating the stories that we want to make and creating that safe environment for other Native people and other BIPOC in general.

It came out of a necessity where I felt I wasn’t seeing it as much as I would have liked. I thought, well, stop complaining about it and just. Just start figuring it out.

That segues into my final question. What mark and impact would you love to make on the industry or in general, and how do you try to meet your goals?

I love the human experience. In times like these, we need hope, love, and to regain our faith in humanity, and I want to be part of that.

I want to be part of telling important stories that make people feel seen and heard. Because I believe that when we can experience other people’s experiences, that’s what creates empathy in us, and it changes how we communicate with each other.

It changes the way we vote. It changes the way we see different communities. It changes the way that we interact with each other. I believe that we can open up people’s hearts and minds through entertainment.

——-This interview has been edited for length and clarity——-

You can catch Sarah Podemski in FX’s Reservation Dogs premiering with its sophomore season on August 3 on Hulu.

You can also catch her on Resident Alien, which returns on August 10 at 10/9c on SyFy.

Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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