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Michael Greyeyes on 'groundbreaking' Indigenous focus of 'Rutherford Falls'

Last Updated Aug 12, 2020 at 10:54 am EDT

Actor Michael Greyeyes poses for a portrait as he promotes the film "Blood Quantum" during the Toronto International Film Festival, in Toronto on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Canadian actor Michael Greyeyes says he’s been waiting decades for a project like “Rutherford Falls.”

The Peacock streaming service announced this week that Greyeyes is among the cast members in the upcoming series, which touts the largest Indigenous writing staff for an American TV show.

Ed Helms, Sierra Teller Ornelas, and Mike Schur created the comedy, about a small town in upstate New York that borders a reserve.

Helms plays the town namesake, Nathan Rutherford, who fights the moving of a historical statue.

The Toronto-based Greyeyes plays the CEO of his tribe’s mid-level casino.

The Plains Cree performer says he booked the project in early March, but the pandemic put a halt on things until recently.

“I read the scripts and I was just really blown away, gobsmacked at how smart they were,” Greyeyes said this week in a phone interview.

“It took me a while to get through every script because I just kept laughing. As I said to Sierra, sometimes I was crying for joy, because it’s a kind of representation that I’ve been waiting 30 years to come out of Hollywood.”

Peacock hasn’t announced a premiere date for “Rutherford Falls” yet, but Greyeyes said he plans to do a table read in Toronto via video conference soon and then fly to Los Angeles to shoot.

Other cast members include Jana Schmieding as Nathan’s longtime friend, and Canadian actor Dustin Milligan of “Schitt’s Creek” fame as a reporter/podcaster in the town.

Greyeyes said the series felt “groundbreaking,” partly because it deals with Indigenous identities outside of the trauma that’s a part of their history.

“This is really new territory,” Greyeyes said from Halifax, where he’s set to shoot the film “Wildhood” by writer-director Bretten Hannam.

“We haven’t seen families portrayed in this way.”

Greyeyes said he was thrilled when Teller Ornelas, who is Navajo and Mexican-American, said the writers’ room would be half Indigenous.

“When diversity enters into a writers’ room, the door is literally pried open and there’s easier access,” said Greyeyes, who is also a choreographer, director, educator and founder of the non-profit Signal Theatre in Toronto.

“This is what I think is at the crux of these sort of social movements, is access. It’s not that we’ve been unable or incapable of making shows like this. It was a question of opportunity.

“And with ‘Rutherford Falls,’ the paradigm is shifting to not simply an inclusive workspace but a workspace that is redefined.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2020.

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press