Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs

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Interview By Nicole Jardim
Photographed By Matthew Hiew

Building strong momentum in the entertainment industry over the years, Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, has worked endlessly to create a career she's passionate about. From directing to writing and of course acting, she's proved with determination and passion anything is possible. Looking to draw some insight and inspiration from the star, we sat down with Jacobs to talk about everything from her start in the industry to thoughts on representation and the future.

You’ve been in the industry for quite some time now, writing, producing, directing and acting. Tell us a little bit about your journey. Was there a specific moment where you realized that acting was the career you wanted to pursue? 

 

I grew up in Kahnawà:ke, Quebec with an offbeat, creative family. We were kind of black sheep in my community, since we focused on performing arts, gymnastics and music versus hockey and our traditional game of lacrosse. I’d attended the Turtle Island Theatre Company’s summer camps and always, always wanted to act — my mom would attest that I rein-acted every Disney VHS imaginable.

But being Mohawk and Anglophone in a French province, I thought there was no way I’d ever be able to be successful as an actor. I decided if I were unable to pursue my first dream of acting, that I wanted to help Indigenous people, so I went to school to become a counsellor. But as fate had it, I was sucked right back into the industry after I auditioned for Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls, in what became my first leading role in a feature film. They say you don’t choose acting, but acting chooses you, and I couldn’t agree more.

Your first acting breakthrough role, as a lead in Rhymes for Young Ghouls was monumental in your career. How did this breakout role as Alia shape your career moving forward?

Landing Rhymes enforced the idea that my career was only limited to what I imagined for it. It opened so many professional doors for me, and was a stepping stone to all of the projects I’ve worked on since. But most importantly, working with Jeff on that movie helped me prove to myself that a Mohawk kid from Kahnawà:ke could absolutely be a successful actor.

What was your favourite part about shooting that film?

My favourite part about working on Rhymes for Young Ghouls was working with an Indigenous writer/director and cast; there was just an inherent understanding that everyone possessed. At the time, I didn’t understand how rare that was, and now I miss it constantly.

 

Luckily, we got the Rhymes film fam back together while working on Jeff’s second feature, Blood Quantum, which is being distributed by Elevation Pictures and is available on digital and on-demand!

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Before landing that role, you were training to be a social worker, working at the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. What were some takeaways from that experience? If you weren’t acting at this moment, do you think that being a social worker would have been your career of choice?

I sometimes try to imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t pursued acting, but I can’t fathom it. I know that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Working at the shelter and studying correctional intervention was something I am undoubtedly passionate about; I learned so much about our criminal justice and social services systems and how much has to change for Native people. If anything, my experience there ignited my commitment to telling Onkwehón:we stories and helping Indigenous people.

Pivoting back to acting, more recently you played Sam in American Gods . What did it mean for you to get that role? How was it tapping into that character and bringing her to life?

Landing American Gods was massive for me — I’d sought out the role of Sam for years and having to fight to play her during the casting process gave me so much autonomy.

Plus, playing Sam is so much fun. I learn so much from each character that I play, and I try to carry Sam’s tenacity and cheekiness with me wherever I go.

Recently, you had the opportunity to attend Comic Con in San Diego to promote The Order Season 2 and STARZ’s American Gods. You’ve stated before that it’s been something that you have been aspiring towards, for years. What does being a part of Comic Con mean to you? Why was it such a monumental moment?

I’m a huge fangirl and graphic novel geek myself, and I’ve wanted to attend Comic Con for years. But I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t go until I was invited with a project. Last year’s Comic Con was such a wild moment because I was invited to speak not only on one panel, but two, with two different projects; American Gods and The Order. I took it as a marker to how far I’ve come in the years that I’ve been pursuing this career, and I’m beyond grateful.

As a proud member of the Kanien'kehá:ka Mohawk Nation and an activist of Indigenous Rights, what does it mean to you to have a platform that allows you to share stories of culture and uplift Indigenous voices?

It’s pretty overwhelming, not gonna lie. Carrying the weight of representing my community in an industry that has essentially ignored Native stories is a responsibility that I take very seriously.

I make sure to celebrate every milestone, like when Yalitza Aparicio was the first Indigenous woman ever to be nominated for Best Actress at the 2019 Oscars, or when Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ The Body Remembers was picked up by Ava DuVernay’s distribution company.

In film especially, there is this large history of misrepresentation for a number of communities. What is your opinion on the level of diversity and inclusivity in the industry right now and how do you think it can improve?

While I still see an enormous mountain ahead in terms of where the industry needs to move to represent Indigenous communities properly, I’m so inspired by my peers and am hopeful with the steps we’re taking.

 

I think the greatest step the industry can take is hiring Indigenous writers, directors and producers in key roles. That will inherently shift our stories to be more creative, cast diversely, and will give an authentic Indigenous perspective that we’re so desperately in need of.

You’re incredibly talented and creative both on screen and behind the camera. How do you use your creativity to impact the industry and pave the way for different industry practices in the future?

Niá:wen (thanks!) I’m trying to encourage different industry practices with the little power I have; I challenge productions to hire paid cultural consultants and writers, and in projects where I’m a key creative, I involve BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ collaborators wherever I can.

Working on a number of projects that can require a lot of your time, what are some ways you like to unwind or ground yourself?

I am a FOODIE. I love food, I love cooking and trying new recipes out for me and my partner. The act of cooking puts the rest of the world on pause and the only thing that matters is whatever’s sizzling in the pan. I usually find new recipes through Pinterest, but currently, I’m cooking my way through Antoni Porowski’s Antoni in the Kitchen.

Looking forward into the future of your career, where do you see yourself moving towards? Acting, Directing, Writing, or maybe a completely different avenue?

If I sit in one place for too long I get antsy, so I see the future of my career looking like acting, writing, producing and all of the above. I love storytelling and this artistic medium, no matter which discipline.

Lastly, are there any big projects in the works that you’d like to share with us?

I have a bunch of upcoming projects that I’m super excited about! You can catch reprising my roles as ass-kicking Lilith in Season 2 of The Order (Netflix), and as two-spirit Sam Black Crow in Season 3 of American Gods (Prime Video/STARZ). You can also find me playing Mani, a young Montreal lawyer who returns to her remote community in the feature film Bootlegger — my first-ever role entirely in French, which is slated to hit film festivals this year!I have a few other exciting projects approaching that I can’t talk about yet. But you’ll just have to stay tuned to find out! *

Editorial Team

Photography: Matt Hiew

Editor, Creative Direction and Stylist: Nicole Jardim

Videography: Stephanie Blaquera

Talent Representation: Project Four PR

Hair Stylist: Mel Jaramillo

Makeup Artist: Ashleigh Blair

Designers: Steven LeJambe

Elianor Couture and Moscato Pink Courtesy of

Toronto Fashion Academy

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