Vancouver-Based ‘True Detective’ Actor J.D. Montgrand Pushes Back Against ‘Leathers and Feathers’ Stereotypes With Podcast ‘Actors and Ancestors’

Rocky Cree actor and host Joel D. Montgrand explores onscreen representation with today's best and brightest Indigenous actors.

Indigenous characters have been a mainstay of Hollywood pictures since the earliest days of cinema. But it’s not breaking news though to say that, until recent years, the overwhelming majority of these onscreen depictions have ranged from one-note and stagnant at best to dangerously stereotypical at worst. One of the main contributing factors to this dark and complex ball of wax is that Indigenous people have rarely been allowed the opportunity to have control over their own stories in the pop culture narrative. With his podcast Actors and Ancestors, which launches its second season on June 21st, Rocky Cree actor J.D. Montgrand is pushing back against the “leathers and feathers” representations we’ve commonly seen over the last century of film and TV history. 

Readers may recognize Montgrand from his breakout role of Eddie Qavvik, the sweet bartender in HBO’s True Detective: Night Country, but he has been working steadily as a Vancouver-based actor since 2011 after moving here from his hometown in Northern Saskatchewan in Treaty 6 and Treaty 10 territories. As with many creative endeavors, the idea for the podcast was bred out of necessity.“It all started because I was looking for something to listen to. I wanted to hear about other Indigenous artists,” says Montgrand about his initial concept for the show, which is funded by a competitive grant from the Indigenous Screen Office. “My career started to take a turn by getting two very high profile shows and I was like, wow, how have other people navigated these journeys that they’ve had? I could find one-off interviews but I really wanted to have something like this on the map so that other people could actually have an idea of what to expect getting into this industry. How to get into it, why they should or maybe even why they shouldn’t, all the challenges that are presented in it.”

black and white photo of an actor on a grey background looking into the distance
Photo: Kristine Cofsky

Through personal, engaging conversations with seasoned actors and rising stars, Montgrand and his guests explore their personal experiences in the film and TV industry, delving into the importance of portraying Indigenous characters in a modern and dynamic way, and addressing practical industry challenges like the struggle to finance films with Indigenous leads. Season one started with a bang, with Montgrand interviewing Seaconke Wampanoag actor Kali Reis, his co-star in True Detective, who made her mark going toe-to-toe with industry veteran Jodie Foster. In season two, which launches with a conversation with Dakota-Diné actor Dallas Goldtooth, the host aims to take all the joys and lessons gleaned from producing his first season and continue to elevate Indigenous voices while providing valuable, concrete insights into the industry.

“There’s been a transition over the last five years compared to even 10 years, and compared to 20 years before that,” he says, reflecting on the boom of Indigenous-centred stories in recent years, from Reservation Dogs and Prey to Lily Gladstone’s scene-stealing performance in Killers of the Flower Moon. “There are these huge leaps and bounds and now I don’t think there’s ever been a better time for Indigenous actors. It’s not that there’s a ton of work; the community is still small enough that we all kind of know each other and we’ll know who’s competing with who for what part, but the beautiful thing is that we are starting to be able to take control of our stories. We’re no longer being handed these parts and told what to do… Even being able to advocate for accuracy in a lot of these parts—it’s pretty wild to see.”

Actors and Ancestors is produced and recorded on unceded and stolen xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) territories.Listen to all of season one now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your streaming platform of choice. Looking to add more Indigenous voices to your podcast queue? Check out Montgrand’s recommendations: The Aunties Dandelion, Canadaland’s Pretendians, and the soon-to-launch Creepy Teepee.