On the current Sundance TV series The Red Road, which airs Thursdays at 9 PM Eastern, Zahn McClarnon plays the supporting role of Mike Parker. For McClarnon, Hunkpapa Lakota (Standing Rock Sioux), the part is another profile-raising credit that complements his work on another well-known TV series: A&E’s Longmire, on which he plays Tribal police officer Mathias. He’s also known for his work on such productions as Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002), Into the West (2005), The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines (2006) and Resolution (2012).
Taking a break from his filming schedule, McClarnon took a moment to talk to ICTMN about his Red Road character, who is the best friend of Phillip Kopus (played by Jason Momoa) and the portrayal of Native people in the series.
What’s the scope of your part in The Red Road?
My character (Mike Parker) is a recurring character — it’s not a huge part. I play in it for four episodes — however he is an integral part within the spectrum of the series. Mike Parker is Phillip Kopus’ best friend, who is betrayed by him.
He is a little mixed-up, and is not the sharpest tool in the shed. He has some problems and makes some bad decisions, as a lot of us have done growing up. We all have made bad decisions. Mike is a good guy deep down inside but again, he’s made some horrible choices.
Aren’t those types of characters fun to play?
What was it like working with Jason Momoa and other native actors?
Jason is a wonderful guy and an awesome man — he was a lot of fun to work with. I think he is a fabulous actor, and I think a lot of people will be surprised when they see this. His film presence is unbelievable; you cannot take your eyes off him. Kiowa Gordon and Gary Farmer are also in this series; I have worked with Gary in the past and he is a great man. Kiowa is also a wonderful actor and is probably one of the top native talents that we have. Kiowa was really good; I was totally surprised with his work. I never had met him before — I just knew he was in the Twilight series.
The Native community in this series is racially mixed — you’re depicting Indians who may not look like the “Indians” the audience is used to seeing.
The Rampanough Lenape are not a federally recognized tribe and they are quite a mix of different heritages. There is a lot of African-American mixture and everybody looks quite different, Lisa Bonet and Tamara Tunie are also in the series — [the filmmakers] were pretty right on with casting. I have spent some time on the East Coast, and I have hung around with Lumbees and some of the other guys in the Boston area. Everyone is so mixed. It’s not the typical Plains Indian look, not the Dances with Wolves look. It’s a mixture of the different heritages. I think this is quite accurate.
How is the portrayal of the Native community in this series?
There are positives and negatives in every community and this is definitely a darker series. The characters in here are not all negative portrayals; there are good people as well. They had cultural advisers on the set and the producers went by the book — but this is still fiction, and it is still a television show, which is in a sense heightened reality.
Some people may be looking for that sense of a “reservation” like Pine Ridge, but this is a different part of the country, and this community is not on a reservation.
At its heart, The Red Road is about conflict between Native and non-Native people living in close proximity. What can the audience take away from this conflict?
The racism that goes on between communities, both native and non-native, goes both ways, and from both sides. I think this series captures that.
What’s next for you?
I am going back to do some work on Longmire. We will be doing some shooting starting March 18th. I really love working on that show — the people are fantastic.