Zahn McClarnon Is Just Being Honest After 30 years elevating supporting roles, the Dark Winds lead wants to take more risks
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Zahn McClarnon Is Just Being Honest After 30 years elevating supporting roles, the Dark Winds lead wants to take more risks

Great interview with vulture.com .

You remember Zahn McClarnon’s face. He infuses every part — resistant Cheyenne Reservation chief of police Mathias on Longmire, menacing mobster Hanzee Dent in Fargo, unpredictable Westworld host Akecheta — with a mixture of poise and intensity that electrifies the screen, rendering even his quietest parts unforgettable. Now, after 30 years in supporting roles, McClarnon steps up to lead in AMC neo-noir series Dark Winds and unleashes his vast skill set.

As Joe Leaphorn, a Navajo Police lieutenant investigating two murders while navigating distrustful members of his own community and dismissive white colleagues, McClarnon maintains an unguarded resolve that vacillates from steadiness to restlessness, as if his loyalty to investigative procedure was his way of reckoning with the discrimination he’s faced his whole life. Lieutenant Leaphorn is slyly funny in scenes with Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon), his conflicted new deputy; gently paternal with the steadfast Sergeant Bernadette Manuelito (Jessica Matten); tender with beloved wife Emma (Deanna Allison); and furiously defensive of the Navajo land and people. Though McClarnon dismisses the idea of a formal process — “I learn my lines and try to tell the truth,” he says — his approach to the material and ability to remain present anchors Dark Winds with his grounded performance.

Dark Winds’ first-season finale aired July 17, but McClarnon won’t be offscreen for long. The second season of Reservation Dogs, in which he plays tribal lighthorseman Big, premieres on FX on Hulu August 3, and the second season of Dark Winds will go into production later this year. Between Dark Winds, Reservation Dogs, and Rutherford Falls, there is more Native representation on TV than ever — a shift McClarnon, the son of a Hunkpapa-Lakota mother and an Irish American father, wants to see translate into more Indigenous people in decision-making network positions and more ethnically ambiguous roles for Indigenous actors.

You’ve played many law-enforcement figures over the years — Longmire, Reservation Dogs, and now Dark Winds. In terms of your process, is there anything shared among these roles?
They’re all different characters. Matthias on Longmire was the friction between the reservation and Bob Taylor, who played Longmire. When I tried to be nice — I would change lines, or I would approach it in a different way — I was always told by the producers, “We really, really need that friction between you two.” Which is understandable, I get it. Growing up the way I did, seeing the racism on those reservation border towns — preparation for that was pretty easy.
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