Home Arts & Culture Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs looks ahead

Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs looks ahead

Kahnawa’kehró:non Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs has had a big year. As she says goodbye to fan favourite Reservation Dogs, she looks forward to some big projects coming in 2024. Courtesy Ryan Pfluger

Though some fans might think that Kahnawa’kehró:non Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs shot to overnight success in the acting world, it’s been a long journey to get to where she is today. 

“It’s been a lot of hard work. It’s taken me 17 years to be able to find some success on this level,” she said. “It’s got to be something you really love, because there’s inevitable highs and lows, and it’s the passion for the work that carries you through it.”

Jacobs is known for playing many characters, but perhaps the most beloved is her role as Elora Danan on FX’s Reservation Dogs, which debuted its third and final season this September. 

The show was an instant hit, making the cut on the American Film Institute’s Top 10 TV Shows of the Year for all three years of its run, and proving popular with Native and non-Native audiences alike. 

Jacobs’ performance on Reservation Dogs also reached critical acclaim, and this year she celebrated being number 13 on IndieWire’s 30 Best Performances of 2023, as well as a nomination for best actress in a comedy series at the Critics Choice Awards happening at the end of next month. 

“We had no idea if non-Native audiences would care about the show at all, or would get it, but we weren’t spoon-feeding them. We just stayed true to what we wanted to tell, and I think that ended up resonating with people,” she said. “But above all, we made this project for ourselves, and for our community, so that’s the audience who’s most important. The fact that we have a lot of love coming from (our communities) means everything.”

Though Jacobs said that it’s bittersweet to leave behind Reservation Dogs, she said the growth she experienced on the show was immense. As well as acting, she was also able to get behind the camera, flexing her creative muscles as a writer and director, having previously written and directed independent short films.

“I just feel so much gratitude to (executive producer Sterlin Harjo) for inviting me to the writer’s room,” she said. “The writer’s room taught me a lot about collaboration and structure and coming up with ideas – essentially the best one wins. And it helped instill some confidence in myself that I do know what I’m doing, with that trust from Sterlin.”

As well as having all of Kahnawake backing her, Jacobs’ family has always fostered her talent. Even when times have been rough, Jacobs’ mother, Layne Myiow, has always offered her unwavering support – as she’s done with all of her children. 

“I followed her lead. I really encouraged all of them, but it was definitely hard to balance everything all of the time,” said Myiow. “They were involved in so many different things, it was just like a little circus for a while!”

Often, Myiow said, sacrifice was necessary to allow her kids to follow their passions. She recognizes that her family has been lucky, with her working part-time to accommodate the kids’ schedules and the extended family lending a helping hand. 

“There are lots of sacrifices. I miss her. I don’t see her often, so I really miss her,” she said. “But I’m so happy that things are going well. It’s work, but she’s doing what she loves, so I’m really happy.”

She still remembers the role that set Jacobs on her path to success.

“At some point, she’d almost given up, and then Jeff Barnaby had his project Rhymes for Young Ghouls, and he fought for her to get that role, and it was life-changing for her,” she said. 2024 is set to be a big year for Jacobs, starting with Marvel’s Echo, premiering January 10 on Disney+. 

In that show, she plays Bonnie opposite Menominee actress Alaqua Cox. Cox, who is deaf, portrays Maya Lopez in the show, and Jacobs learned American sign language for the role. 

Devery is also starring as Mohawk superhero Kahhori in Marvel’s series What If…?, premiering today, Friday, on Disney+. 

The series was made in close collaboration with Kanien’kehá:ka speakers and historical experts, with community members Jeremy White and Sahawisó:ko Arquette also taking roles on the show.

Mainstream media prioritizing Indigenous voices has been a marker of change in Hollywood’s support of Native talent, something Jacobs says she’s seen a shift in throughout her years of acting. 

“I think the industry has started to become more welcoming to Indigenous creatives. I have a fear that this is a moment for Native folks that’s going to disappear as quickly as it came up, but I’m determined to be part of the creators in the industry who make sure that doesn’t happen, because we’re only scratching the surface,” she said. “This is definitely a milestone year for Native folks in Hollywood.”

Jacobs is also looking forward to sharing Backspot, an indie film that follows her character Riley as she navigates anxiety, competitive cheerleading, and her relationship with her girlfriend. She drew on her own past as a competitive gymnast, and also produced the film.

“It was a change of pace, and we shot the entire movie in 17 days,” she said. “It’s a project that I’m super proud of, and I think it’s honestly the work as an actor that I’m most proud of in my career so far.”

Backspot premiered to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and Jacobs said that though no public release date is confirmed, it should be available to watch in Canada this spring. 

evedcable@gmail.com

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.