Kiowa Gordon

Kiowa Gordon

November 15, 2021
Online Originals

Winds of Change

Since his first acting job changed his life, Kiowa Gordon has seen positive change in the industry regarding Native representation.

Hillary Atkin

For Kiowa Gordon, playing a shapeshifter changed the shape of his future.

Although several of his family members were in the entertainment business, Gordon had no professional acting experience when he attended an open audition and was cast in the 2009 film The Twilight Saga: New Moon. But the experience of playing Embry Call — a member of the Quileute tribe of Washington state who can transform from human to wolf — in the second installment of the popular supernatural-romance series created a transformation in his life.

The role came through an unlikely source.

Gordon, a member of the Hualapai tribe of Northern Arizona, was born in Berlin, Germany. At age two, he moved with his family to the U.S., where they settled in the Phoenix area.

As a teenager, he met Stephenie Meyer, author of the novels that inspired the Twilight Saga and a producer of the films, at his family’s Mormon church.

“Stephenie was my Sunday school teacher,” he says. “When I was 17, she told me about the [first Twilight] movie coming out and how she was casting for the second one.”

Gordon, whose mother, Camille Nighthorse Gordon, is an actress, had taken drama classes in high school and at the time was studying with an acting coach. But he was still a neophyte when he scored the part of Call, the best friend of Jacob Black, played by Taylor Lautner, a fellow Quileute who can also shift from human to wolf.

From that point on, he says, “My life completely changed. I went to Vancouver and worked on a massive project which opened my world up and gave me a sense of identity and made me fall in love with the process and [want to] build a career.”

After New Moon, Gordon costarred in three more Twilight films, each more successful at the box office than the last.

Since then, “It’s been a crazy roller coaster ride with work,” he says.

In addition to films, Gordon has appeared in several television series, including The CW drama Roswell, New Mexico and, more recently, FX's acclaimed Native-themed comedy Reservation Dogs.

Perhaps his most fulfilling experience was the role of Junior Van Der Veen on the Sundance TV series The Red Road, about a local police officer grappling with tensions between the small town where he grew up and a nearby Native community. The show, which ran for two seasons in 2014-15, was Gordon’s first regular series role. His costars included Jason Momoa, who had recently found fame on the HBO hit Game of Thrones.

Today, Gordon is working on another series with a connection to Game of Thrones — the AMC drama Dark Winds, which is currently shooting in New Mexico. Among the show’s producers is George R.R. Martin, author of the novels on which Game of Thrones was based.

Set in the Southwest during the 1970s, Dark Winds is a psychological thriller about a pair of Navajo Tribal Police officers investigating a brutal double murder. Inspired by the books of award-winning mystery novelist Tony Hillerman, it stars Zahn McClarnan as detective Joe Leaphorn and Gordon and his partner, Jim Chee.

Dark Winds, Gordon says, is “like a dream come true. I’ve been diving into the Hillerman novels and the iconic characters and it’s awesome to see what I can bring to the character with my own take on it. I’m trying to bring some truth to what was written.

“Zahn and I have a great dynamic,” he continues. “We have to play off each other, and we can get dour at times, but we lift each other up. And I try to keep nice light tone on the set because it’s heavy material.”

One way he keeps the tone light is by ribbing Martin about his reputation for being a slow writer: “I keep making jokes to George about when he’s going to finish the [Game of Thrones] books. He says, ‘If you keep asking me, I’m not going to do it.’”

Gordon’s sense of humor has stood him well during his career, in which he says he has often been the only Native person on the set. But in recent years, there have been signs of positive change.

“Now there’s so many more [Native performers and crewmembers], and more kids are going into the industry, and we need those jobs,” he says. “There’s a unique way we go about and see things. When we have a showrunner who’s a white guy, it’s a little far-fetched to have that position, which should be going to someone who knows the history, the culture and the land.”

Gordon points to his experience on Reservation Dogs as a model he’d like to see more of in the future.

“Everyone was from different nations and tribes, and it was wonderful to see everyone come together and form an alliance,” he says. “Hopefully, Sitting Bull is smiling down upon us and proud to see us become part of the mainstream.”

Read more on Native American inclusion in the television industry.

Browser Requirements
The sites look and perform best when using a modern browser.

We suggest you use the latest version of any of these browsers:


Visiting the site with Internet Explorer or other browsers may not provide the best viewing experience.

Close Window