Growing up in Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in Quebec, Canada, Devery Jacobs always wanted to act, but never dreamed she would ever have a career in television and film.
Jacobs studied to be a counselor before shifting gears, making a short film and later graduating from the Actors Conservatory of the Canadian Film Centre.
As a queer, Indigenous English-speaker in a French-speaking territory, it was perhaps inevitable that after several parts in Canadian television series, Jacobs would feel more at home in the U.S.
But nothing matched the acceptance and sense of belonging she felt on the Oklahoma set of the FX comedy Reservation Dogs.
“Even though Oklahoma is not my nation, it felt like home, and the folks there made me feel like family,” Jacobs says. “All of a sudden, I was surrounded by a sense of community that’s been through similar circumstances. It was so easy to develop a shorthand, with no need to explain or justify our choices.”
Created by Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo, Reservation Dogs is based on Harjo’s growing-up years in the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. The widely lauded series tells the story of four teenagers plotting to leave the reservation after the death of a close friend to find new lives in California. Jacobs plays Elora Danan, the moral compass of the group, bent on urging them to leave their homes and families.
Jacobs was drawn to the series by the prospect of playing a powerful young woman exhibiting leadership through her strong personality. She was also eager to work with Waititi, the Indigenous New Zealander whose 2010 film Boy, about an 11-year-old Maori obsessed with music superstar Michael Jackson, had a profound effect on her.
“I saw many overlapping things in his work among Indigenous people globally,” she says. “In Boy, I saw similarities to my community in Canada. The differences are in who tried to colonize us.”
Contrasting the treatment of Native people in Canada and in the United States, she says, “In Canada, there’s more mainstream representation but more outright racism. In the U.S., it feels like Native people are invisible. I don’t know which is worse. There’s a reckoning that needs to happen in both, but I’m happy that through media we can start those conversations.”
When Jacobs moved to New York to pursue acting work a few years ago, she found that most roles for Indigenous women were stereotypical.
“I had an incredibly difficult time finding roles that interested me, so I started writing, directing and producing my own projects,” she says.
A turning point came when she was cast in the Starz series American Gods, based on the Neil Gaiman novel in which gods are humans in a tale blending ancient and modern mythology with fantasy and Americana.
“I knew I needed to play that character,” says Jacobs, who fought for the role of half-Cherokee college student Sam Black Crow by writing a letter to Gaiman about the importance of the character. “To portray Sam was a great moment for me and my career. I love her. I’m so adamant she’s my favorite from the book and very grateful to bring her to life.”
To the dismay of fans and to Jacobs, Starz canceled American Gods after its third season concluded earlier this year. “There’s no sense of closure, and I would love to finish and play Sam," she says. "It’s my hope we’re able to see more of the story.”
In the meantime, Jacobs moved on to the role of Jess Wells in the Peacock comedy Rutherford Falls, a show that also represents a breakthrough for Native talent on and off screen.
“I had never worked with so many talented and funny people, like [co-star] Jana Schmieding,” she says. “[Co-star] Michael Greyeyes is such a legend and icon. We had both worked on [2019’s] Blood Quantum but had no scenes together. Watching him work and filming his monologues was a master class in the craft of acting.”
Next up, Jacobs is joining several other performers she admires — including Tatanka Means, Zahn McClarnon, Elliot Page, Michelle Yeoh and Vin Diesel — in an animated action-adventure series based on a popular videogame.
ARK: The Animated Series takes place in a primeval world where dinosaurs and other now-extinct creatures roam the land. Things change when a modern-day paleontologist arrives and tries to survive in this strange universe.
“I’m really excited to work with some of my heroes and be among them," Jacobs says. "Although we all did our voice parts remotely with equipment sent to each of us during the pandemic. It was an adventure."
One of only many that are surely headed her way.