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Devery Jacobs: 'Reservation Dogs' captures spirit of Native communities

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Devery Jacobs: 'Reservation Dogs' captures spirit of Native communities
Devery Jacobs (L) and Lane Factor star in "Reservation Dogs." Photo courtesy of FX

NEW YORK, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Recreating the experiences of all contemporary Indigenous people for a TV show may be impossible, but Devery Jacobs said her new FX comedy, Reservation Dogs, authentically captures the spirit of life in Native communities, while focusing on characters and stories to which audiences of any background can relate.

"There are 500 different nations, tribes, cultures and languages across Turtle Island [North America], let alone Indigenous people across the globe, and, through its specificity, it ends up becoming universal," the 27-year-old Mohawk actress from Canada told UPI in a recent phone interview.

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Set in contemporary Oklahoma, the half-hour series follows four young adults -- led by Jacobs' smart, resourceful Elora Danan -- as they commit petty crimes to finance their planned move to California.

The eight-episode show, which premieres Monday, was created by Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) and Sterlin Harjo (Four Sheets to the Wind), and stars D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Paulina Alexis, Lane Factor and Zahn McClarnon.

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"We all have these different experiences and backgrounds and cultures, and we're coming together to help Sterlin tell his story. This entire series is based on his childhood, his life, his upbringing in rural Oklahoma," Jacobs said, adding she and her co-stars studied the history of the region to help them better understand their characters.

"It feels familiar. There is such a connective tissue between Indigenous folks," Jacobs said.

As a massive fan of Waititi and Harjo's oeuvres, Jacobs -- known for her performances in American Gods and The Order -- campaigned aggressively for the role of Elora Danan.

"The Native film community is so tiny, and I've known of Sterlin's work forever, and I've always wanted the chance to work with him," she said.

"Taika's 2010 film, Boy, is my favorite movie of all time, and when I read the breakdown for Reservation Dogs, it was essentially the Native American version of Boy," which takes place in New Zealand.

Jacobs said she grew up watching their films, thinking they could be about her community and family, just with different accents.

"I knew that I needed to gun for it," Jacobs said of learning that Reservation Dogs was in development.

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"It was the perfect project and one that I had been hoping and dreaming for," she added. "I had been fortunate enough to squeeze my way in there and make my way through the process. I knew that I could really bring a lot to the character of Elora Danan, and I'm so happy that I am able to be a part of this."

Jacobs is surprised when people describe Elora as the moral center of the group of thieves.

"Take that how you will," she laughed. "She's kind of like a big sister to everybody."

Jacobs, who acknowledges Elora Danan can be "moody" with a "chip on her shoulder," also is engaged in a power struggle with her friend and accomplice, Bear, after the death of their friend Daniel a year earlier.

"He was the one who kept the peace between everybody," Jacobs said of Daniel. "The group is still trying to find their footing."

The actress said she is proud to play the multidimensional role, which is a young woman who does what she thinks she must to survive, but sometimes feels guilty about it.

"In her mind, she would never cross a line. Bear is the one who is more sensitive to their surroundings and considerate of their community, whereas Elora's main focus is just getting out of this place," Jacobs said.

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Several jokes are made in the first three episodes about Elora Danan being named after the baby in the 1988 fantasy movie Willow.

Jacobs thinks Elora Danan's whimsical moniker follows a tradition Waititi started with Boy, which featured characters called Dynasty and Falcon Crest.

"It stems from a love for 1980s pop culture and geeking out, and I think Elora Danan's name is no exception," Jacobs said.

Kirk Fox, who plays the guy at a scrap metal shop who pays the kids for a stolen food truck in Episode 1, is the first to casually mention Elora Danan's connection to the movie, and then regale the bored kids with Willow trivia.

"Kirk Fox had improvised all of the facts in his audition, and they decided to cast him and keep" his speech, Jacobs said.

When the first trailer dropped, she recalled, social media posters seemed obsessed with the repurposing of the iconic name.

"There were tons of comments of people being like: 'Are they not going to address that she has the same name as the baby in Willow?' 'Do they really think they can get away with that?'" Jacobs said. "They're just going to have to wait and see the show."

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