Tai Freligh interviews actor Zahn McClarnon for Barkskins…
Award winning film and television actor Zahn McClarnon is known for his work in over 80 film and television productions. He earned First Americans in the Arts (FAITA) and Western Heritage awards for his performance in the Steven Spielberg-produced TV miniseries Into the West.
McClarnon portrayed Officer Mathias on the Netflix series Longmire, previously on A&E. Zahn is a regular on the upcoming National Geographic series Barkskins, starring opposite Marcia Gay Harden and David Thewlis. He also appeared on the AMC show The Son, alongside Pierce Brosnan. Zahn is most known for his role of Hanzee Dent in the second installment of the critically-acclaimed FX limited series Fargo and more recently, for his recurring role of Akecheta on HBO’s award-winning Drama/Sci-Fi series Westworld.
In 2014, at the Red Nation Film Festival, McClarnon won Outstanding Actor in a Supporting role for his performance in Strike One. His feature film credits include Skins, Searchers 2.0, Not Forgotten and Bloodlines. McClarnon can also be seen in Yellow Rock and in the upcoming film The Silencing starring alongside Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Zahn is also starring in the Stephen King film, Doctor Sleep, currently airing on Netflix, with Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson and Jacob Tremblay. He also appears in the Disney+ film Togo, as Tulimak, alongside Willem Dafoe.
Flickering Myth’s Tai Freligh caught up with him to chat about Barkskins, working with Aquaman actor Jason Momoa, Westworld, Doctor Sleep and Native American representation in the entertainment industry.
What is Barkskins?
Barkskins is based on the New York Times bestselling novel by Annie Proulx. It’s set in the late 1690s in New France and follows a group of outcasts and dreamers battling to escape their pasts while navigating the brutal frontier hardships and tangled loyalties. But, more literally, Annie Proulx references that a Barkskin is a term that refers to someone who has skin like bark.
How did you get involved with this show?
Elwood Reid, showrunner and creator of Barkskins, contacted me about the role of Yvon. I was interested to learn more about the cultural advisors he would be working with for the story, and to see all of the cultural advisors – not just one – a Wendat, an Iroquois advisor and language revitalizers that were involved in the project really stood out to me.
Tell us about your character, Yvon.
Yvon is a Harvard educated, part Ojibwe man who works for the Hudson Bay Company. He enjoys literature and poetry and is indebted to his friend and colleague, Hamish Goames.
What do you want people to take away from this show after watching it?
I hope people are, first and foremost, entertained by the show and that they learn something about that time period in our history as well.
You have worked with actor Jason Momoa on many projects, including Frontier, Braven and The Red Road. What’s it like working with him?
Jason is a wonderful human being that I enjoyed working with.
Another project you worked with Jason on was The Last Manhunt. Can you describe the experience of filming that project? What can we expect to see?
The Last Manhunt was a project that I enjoyed being a part of. I think people will be intrigued by the true story of Willy Boy; a Paiute Indian accused of murdering his girlfriend’s father.
Your performance as Akecheta in Westworld season two episode 8 received critical acclaim. What went into that performance?
Working on Westworld was a difficult shoot but very fulfilling. I thoroughly enjoyed playing a character that was deeply in love. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into the filming of the show.
You were fantastic in Doctor Sleep. What was your favorite scene to film?
I enjoyed working with Mike Flanagan and all the cast in Doctor Sleep. I think all the scenes I had with Rebecca Ferguson were my favorite. The van scene was fun, too.
How do you think Native American portrayal in the entertainment industry has changed since you started acting (and playing Native American characters)?
I think a lot has changed in the business as far as Native representation, but we still have a long way to go. We need more Native directors and writers – we need to tell our own stories. That’s why it was great to work with consultants like Migizi Pensoneau on Barkskins – we had a Native writer in the writer’s room.
Any upcoming projects?
Hopefully the situation with the pandemic will pass, and we’ll get back to work. Until then, I’ve been working on some things that I’m keeping quiet on for the moment.
BARKSKINS is an eight-episode historical fiction limited series based on the bestselling novel by Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Proulx. The story follows a disparate group of outcasts and dreamers battling to escape their pasts while navigating the brutal frontier hardships, competing interests, and tangled loyalties at the crossroads of civilization: the New World. BARKSKINS examines the mysterious massacre of settlers in the vast and unforgiving wilds of 1690s New France that threatens to throw the region into all-out war. The ensemble cast includes Aneurin Barnard (“Dunkirk”), James Bloor (“Dunkirk”), Christian Cooke (“Point Blank”), David Wilmot (“The Alienist”), Thomas M. Wright (“The Bridge”), Tallulah Haddon (“Black Mirror: Bandersnatch”), Kaniehtiio (Tiio) Horn (“The Man in the High Castle”), Lily Sullivan (“Picnic at Hanging Rock”) and Zahn McClarnon (“Fargo”).
The show will premiere in the U.S. on Memorial Day (May 25).
‘Barkskins’ stills courtesy National Geographic
‘Doctor Sleep’ still courtesy Warner Bros
‘Westworld’ still courtesy HBO