Paulina Alexis always knew growing up she wanted to do something creative but never had any Indigenous television shows to draw inspiration from.
Now the 20-year-old Edmonton actor is starring in one and being an inspiration for the next generation of Indigenous actors.
She plays Willie Jack in Reservation Dogs, a coming-of-age comedy about four teenagers in Oklahoma, with an all-Indigenous cast and crew.
The show is written and produced by Oscar-winner Taika Waititi of Jojo Rabbit and Thor: Ragnarok fame.
“It was amazing,” Alexis told CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM on Thursday.
“It’s definitely different than being in non-Indigenous films. I felt like I was related to everyone, like everyone on set reminded me of someone from back home.”
Edmonton AM5:05Disney Plus series features local Indigenous actor
Originally from Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation west of Edmonton, Alexis has been acting since she was 14.
Despite being a lively person who loves the camera and doesn’t shy away from performance, she found herself nervous for the first time when auditioning for the role.
“I’m not usually the type of person I get scared when it comes to auditions, but specifically for this one I was,” she said.
“I grew up watching all of them,” she said, referencing Waititi, American director Sterlin Harjo and actor Zahn McClarnon.
Reservation Dogs was originally about three boys and a girl but Alexis’s personality shone so brightly that showrunners decided to cast her instead of a boy for the character of Willie Jack, a carefree, sarcastic and tough member of the group.
An accomplished actor, Alexis has worked on other major projects including Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which will be released in November. But she said working on a show with an all-Indigenous cast held a lot more meaning for her.
She spoke fondly of her time on set: having inside jokes with cast mates and creating their own games while also having solemn moments that brought them together in their experiences as Indigenous people.
Alexis always knew she would end up in a creative field but never considered the screen industry because of a lack of role models.
“I wish I had a show like this to watch, to make me feel, I guess, more comfortable going into that industry,” she said.
She said being able to participate in Reservation Dogs has been an empowering experience, one she hopes other Indigenous children, especially from her own community, can be inspired by.
“They’re so excited and so proud of me, my whole community,” she said.
She plans on hosting a screening for the kids in her community.
“I just can’t wait to see all their faces,” she said.
Released in the United States on Aug. 9, the show has been praised on Twitter by celebrities like Mindy Kaling and Mark Ruffalo. Alexis doesn’t have the social media platform but said she’d heard the show’s been getting a lot of attention.
“It’s just crazy and blows my mind every day.”
Reservation Dogs will be available in Canada on Sept. 15 through Disney Plus.
On Thursday it was renewed for a second season.