Little Bird, big break for Cree-Saulteaux actress

Darla Contois was ready to give up acting before landing lead role in Little Bird

Darla Contois had a plan.

She was going to drive a school bus in the morning and attend college in the evenings.

Contois, who is from Misipawistik Cree Nation in Manitoba, was ready to give up on her acting dreams.

That’s when she randomly received an email from a casting agent asking her to audition for a role for the upcoming mini-series Little Bird.

“I told myself that this was the last audition I was ever going to do and I was going to leave it all behind, I was going to put the career to bed, I was done,” says Contois on the latest episode of Face to Face.

“They kept asking me for more auditions but they were waiting between 3 to 10 weeks between letting me know that I actually had another audition, so, every time it happened I was like ‘ok I didn’t get it, whatever.’ And then I kept getting more auditions and eventually I got a call from Jennifer Podemski at 10 o’clock at night and I’m like ‘oh my god Jennifer Podemski is calling me on the phone right now’ and she told me I got the role and I cried. I cried. I didn’t really know how to process that moment,” says Contois.

Contois admits she was star-struck when she arrived on the Little Bird set.

The six-part limited series was co-created by Podemski and has episodes directed by award-winning filmmaker, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers.

Eric Schweig and Michelle Thrush are among the cast.

Contois plays the lead character of Esther Rosenblum, a young woman who was taken from her family as a young girl in the 60s Scoop.

Little Bird has aired on Crave and APTN in Canada and PBS in the United States.

Contois hopes the role helps open the doors to more work.

2023 has turned out to be a big year for Contois.

In October, she was shortlisted for a prestigious, Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama for The War Being Waged.

It was her first major theatre production and opened to great acclaim in 2021 at the Prairie Theatre Centre, in Winnipeg.

“I don’t think I quite understand what it is to be on this level of recognition, quite yet. I get the news and I’m like ‘wow that’s amazing’ but I don’t exactly understand what it means at the time. And I’m only now learning just how people are responding to it that it was a really big deal. And I’m really excited and happy about it,” says Contois.

Contois is working on other plays at the moment but keeping those under wraps.

She’s also written a pilot for TV that she hopes to get into someone’s hands about an Indigenous social worker who is trying to balance taking care of kids in the system while taking care of her own family.

Contois hopes 2024 is another banner year for her career and is thankful she didn’t give up on her dreams.

“Just don’t let anybody tell you no. You just make it happen anyway you need to make it happen. And I mean with the internet and things like tik tok and youtube, there are so many ways to get your voice heard and understanding that your experience as an Indigenous person is valuable to the conversations that we’re having in this country. I think it’s really important to just keep at it,” says Contois.

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