The stories told in the Okmulgee-shot series “Reservation Dogs” emerged from tragedy.
The death of a young man has motivated the children in his circle of friends to want to escape small-town, ground-floor life. Idea: Somehow, let’s find enough money to go to California.
The show’s creative team could have used the too-soon death “only” as a boost for the series and moved on to the adventures of the children of Rez Dogs. Instead, in season two, the surviving friends continue to deal with their friend’s absence.
The latest episode, which became available to stream Wednesday via FX on Hulu, focuses on one of the youngsters, Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), as he starts a job as a roofer. Bear’s deceased friend’s father is on the roofing crew. Their one-on-one conversation on the rooftop serves as a reminder that “Reservation Dogs” is a comedy that doesn’t shy away from serious subject matter.
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As a result, instead of being out of sight and out of mind, deceased friend Daniel seems to be increasingly prominent in the Rez Dogs tapestry.
Daniel, who appears in flashback sequences, is played by Oklahoma actor Dalton Cramer, a Seminole from Seminole. He turned 22 before attending the Season 2 red carpet premiere on July 29 at the River Spirit Casino.
In a subsequent phone interview hosted by FX, Cramer opened up about his story and how the pioneering and critically acclaimed series, which features an all-Indigenous cast and creative team, tackles important topics. No stranger to some of these topics, he said he dealt with mental issues and depression.
Cramer said “Reservation Dogs” brings so much “real stuff” to viewers. Of course, the comedy is real, “but sometimes we are sad and broken and lost. It’s good to finally be able to show it.
Cramer makes his acting debut on the show. When asked how he ended up on the show, he went further and explained what made him want to become an actor. He said he looked at things that didn’t have much depth when he was a kid. These things did not whet his appetite. It did:
“When I was 14 I watched ‘Good Will Hunting’ with Robin Williams and it made me cry like a baby,” he said. “I was like, ‘wow, the movies are amazing.’ They can make you feel those feelings. After that, it was like, ‘I wish I could do something like that.’
A lover of comic book-inspired material, Cramer watched Charlie Cox in Marvel’s “Daredevil” series and began doing scenes from the show in his bedroom.
“That’s what really appealed to me, but I never thought I could still do it,” Cramer said. “I just thought that was really cool.”
Cramer’s mother heard about the auditions for “Reservation Dogs” on Facebook. The series was co-created by Sterlin Harjo (from nearby Holdenville) and Taika Waititi. As a “filmmaker”, Cramer knew both names. There was nothing to do at the time (he said he was working for his stepfather), so he decided to audition.
“I got the script and read it everywhere and loved it,” he said. “I was hoping it would be shot in Oklahoma. There was a chance I was going to New Mexico, but I think Sterlin fought for (Oklahoma) and I’m glad he did it because all my friends (on the show), they all could see why I love Oklahoma as much as I do.”
Cramer had never auditioned for anything before. His pre-audition butterflies had to be meaningful.
“It really hits you when you walk down that hallway,” he said. “I think I was the last person there. All the chairs are up. There are cups and bottles…near the chairs and my name was at the bottom of the list. When I was signing my name , all you had to do was take that leap of faith and sign your name I grabbed the doorknob and opened the door and there was Sterlin and (casting director) Angelique (Midthunder) and there it was. is the whole story.
Cramer said they were surprised it was his first audition for anything (he told them he only acted in a drama class at Seminole High School), but they immediately called him out. comfortable: “They were amazing in the audition room. I can never thank them enough.
Cramer said he chose the role of Bear. There was no dialogue for Daniel in the script, although Daniel’s name was mentioned.
“It wasn’t like they made me read for Daniel,” he said. “They just thought I was good for him. After the last audition they emailed me and asked if I wanted to play Daniel and I said “sure”.
Daniel’s cause of death was not revealed until the penultimate episode of the first season. Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs) discovered Daniel’s body after he hanged himself.
After the episode aired, Jacobs wrote an article for Time magazine about how “Reservation Dogs” is opening up a crucial conversation about suicide in Indigenous communities. The story, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control, said Native Americans have the highest suicide rates of any racial/ethnic group in the United States and Canada.
“Suicide is something that plagued my own rez and crept way too close to my family,” Jacobs wrote. “Countless cousins and community members have been lost, leaving our families in shambles. Growing up, I almost lost someone I loved dearly. Words fail to describe the despair and anguish of having a suicidal loved one. I thank the creator every day for still having loved ones around me. But not all of our relatives were so lucky. Daniel as a character was inspired by a real person, and while filming this episode he was treated as such.
David Treuer, who wrote an in-depth story on the “Reservation Dogs” for the September issue of The Atlantic, said so many Aboriginal people have a “Daniel” in their lives, meaning someone who lived hard and died too young.
“I’ve had a few Daniels in my life,” Cramer said. “It means a lot to be that character.”
Daniel’s friends and loved ones are struggling to deal with his departure. Perhaps “Reservation Dogs” will show viewers that even though you’re dealing with personal issues, you’re a valued member of someone’s “world.”
“You have to give it time and figure things out,” Cramer said. “That’s what I hope this show shows kids who are struggling with this stuff, suicidal or depressive thoughts or feeling lonely and not feeling heard.”
Cramer, after saying he had battled depression, responded to a follow-up question by saying, “It was a tough time for me, and it felt like it was me against the world.”
He said it took him a while to realize he had “all these people around me,” and he mentioned several family members as part of his support group.
“I was blind,” he said. “I came out of this fog.”
“I feel awesome,” Cramer said, adding that he has a beautiful family.
A two-time father, Cramer has a son named after the Miles Morales incarnation of Spider-Man, and he has a soon-to-be one-year-old daughter, Aria, who coincidentally shares a name with a character in the universe. Marvel. (He just finished reading the entire Invincible comic, which is not a Marvel property.)
Cramer said it’s mind-blowing to think about how he beat the odds and landed a role on a show like “Reservation Dogs” when he first auditioned. He said the best part of being on the show is meeting all the people on it. Being on the show cemented his desire to continue being a professional actor.
“Growing up and living in small town Oklahoma, you never think you’re going to be on TV or the big screen or working with people who won an Oscar,” he said. “You never think about it until it happens. That little kid in you is still in awe and honestly can’t believe it.