Indigenous-helmed shows mark ‘significant moment’ in television history, says Cree actor

Three decades into his acting career, Michael Greyeyes believes we’ve arrived at a landmark moment for Indigenous people on the screen and behind the scenes.

The actor known for his roles on Fear The Walking Dead and seminal films like Dance Me Outside recently landed a role on Peacock’s Rutherford Falls.

The American sitcom has garnered a lot of attention for being the first comedy to have a Native American management and creative control, a position in the industry known as showrunners.

Half of the writing team behind the first season of 10 episodes is also Indigenous.

Greyeyes, who is Nêhiyaw and originally from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, plays Terry Thomas, the CEO of the fictional Minishonka casino.

The show was co-created and is co-produced by Sierra Teller Ornelas, who is Navajo.

Rutherford Falls debuted in April but Greyeyes believes it’s making television history.

“The very concept of it is ground breaking, in the fact that Sierra is our showrunner and she’s Native,” says Greyeyes on the latest episode of Face to Face.

“Ive been working in Hollywood and in this industry for nearly 30 years, and I’ve worked with many Indigenous directors who have written and directed their work, but I’ve rarely been in a position where one of the executive producers is Native and that’s an extraordinary shift.”

Watch the trailer for Rutherford Falls

Greyeyes is proud to be part of the show and overwhelmed by the response it’s getting, especially the feedback from Indian Country.

He feels a show like Rutherford Falls also changes the way non-Indigenous viewers see Indigenous people.

“This kind of programming has not been seen, it’s been absent from our televisions,” he says. “We don’t get to see families laughing, figuring things out, loving each other. Hollywood has focused much more so on our history which can often be quite tragic or our trauma. And this show doesn’t do any of that. It talks about Native joy.

“The response from non-Indigenous viewers that have seen the episodes so far confirms something that we’ve been saying for a long time, is there’s huge talent in our communities. What’s been missing has been opportunity.”

Another much talked about Indigenous-led show is also coming to a big American network this summer.

Reservation Dogs has Indigenous showrunners and an Indigenous cast.

“It marks a moment, like a significant moment in our media, where Indigenous-led shows have taken a spotlight,” says Greyeyes.

This year has been a busy one. Another film he’s starring in premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Greyeyes lost 35 pounds for the role of Makwa in the crime thriller, Wild Indian.

He also picked up a Canadian Screen Award nomination for performance by an actor in a leading role for his work in Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum.

In recent years, he’s had roles in AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead and HBO’s True Detective and I Know This Much is True.

It’s been nearly 30 years since he acted in his first feature film, but people still recognize him from it.

“I love that film. Once in a while, when I’m travelling, someone will yell out ‘Gooch!’” says Greyeyes who calls Dance Me Outside an important, cult classic that still holds up.

Greyeyes is also an associate professor at York University in the theatre department.

Prior to getting into acting, he had an impressive career in dance and on the stage.  Greyeyes is a graduate of Canada’s National Ballet School and holds a Masters in Fine Arts from Kent University.


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