The veteran actor is working overtime on the small screen, stepping into a long-deserved leading role for AMC’s western mystery series Dark Winds
Filed in Interviews

The veteran actor is working overtime on the small screen, stepping into a long-deserved leading role for AMC’s western mystery series Dark Winds

Great interview by cowboysandindians.com

Zahn McClarnon is ready for his close up.

After establishing himself as an exceptionally versatile actor and an attention-grabbing screen presence in supporting roles, and amassing a resume highlighted by such major TV credits as LongmireThe SonWestworld, and Fargo, the 55-year-old actor is front and center as the star of Dark Winds, the acclaimed AMC drama based on the popular Leaphorn & Chee mystery novels by Tony Hillerman. McClarnon propels the neo-noirish limited-run series with a performance fueled by equal measures of focused intensity, dry wit, slow-burning anger, and repressed anguish as Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, a dedicated lawman at a remote Navajo Nation outpost in 1971. While trying to solve a local double murder — and, maybe, connect it to a big-city bank robbery — Leaphorn relies on the assistance of a trusted associate, Navajo police Sgt. Bernadette Manuelito (Jessica Matten), and a possibly untrustworthy new officer, Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon). He’s something of a workaholic, but we’re left to assume that solving crimes also is a way for Leaphorn to distract himself from the death of his son and the widening rift between himself and his wife, Emma (Deanna Allison).

Inspired by Hillerman’s Listening Woman, and co-produced by Robert Redford and Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, Dark Winds is one of three TV projects keeping McClarnon gainfully employed these days. He’s also in his second season as Officer Big in the sitcome Reservation Dogs, and soon will be seen again as William Lopez — a role he first played in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series Hawkeye — in Echo, a spinoff that will be the first series in the MCU driven by a Native American hero (Alaqua Cox). So, no kidding, we consider ourselves fortunate that he could fit an interview with C&I into his busy schedule. Here are some highlights from our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.
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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
Filed in Interviews

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.
Continue reading 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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