Roseanne Supernault is breaking serious ground in the film and television industry. Not only is she an exceptionally talented actress who’s plowing through racial, ethnic, and gender barriers, but she’s also using her creative work to inspire youth and bring indigenous communities together.
A Metis Cree from Alberta, Supernault is passionate about telling Aboriginal stories with honesty and integrity. Her passion and pride run deep, both lending powerful hands to her performances. Over the course of her career, she’s received extensive praise for her truthful portrayals of Aboriginal characters, including Natalie Stoney in the hit television series Blackstone and the title role in the 2013 film Maina.
Her latest film The Northlander follows a similar vein. Set in a futuristic dystopia, the film is what Supernault calls an “Aboriginal Sci-Fi” and in it, she plays a huntress navigating a world where danger and questions of identity lurk in every corner.
Following The Northlander’s recent Western Canada Premiere, Supernault took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to chat with us:
What can you tell us about your role in The Northlander?
I play Mari in The Northlander. She is a huntress. It’s the first time I’ve ever played someone who has a murderous side or who has murdered somebody before. (laughs). The central character is Cygnus who is also a hunter for his people in this diaspora sort of world—a dystopic world. So, we’re in this dystopic world, I think it’s 2961, and there’s this mixing of people. I’m this lone wolf huntress who got pulled into this group of individuals who are led by the antagonist Torik, who is played by Julian Black Antelope.
This is the first time that I stepped into a very strong sort of warrioress role that’s more mature. The closest thing anyone would recognize of that kind of archetype from me would be Maina. In Maina, I played this girl who’s a hunter who goes on an adventure, and it becomes a love story, and that’s where the similarities end between Maina and The Northlander.
How did you become involved with the project?
It came through a recommendation. I got booked for another film called Juliana and the Medicine Fish which was directed and produced by the lovely Jeremy Torrie who was the executive producer of The Northlander. I believe Benjamin [Ross Hayden], the director of The Northlander, watched my film Maina and he loved it and booked me from that. Maina has opened a lot of doors for me. I’m really grateful that I had the chance to do that film.
Nice! What was it like exploring that kind of murderous, dangerous character? How is that different than some of the other characters you’ve played?
I play a lot of dramatic roles. (laughs). I do. I don’t know if it’s just…I would love, in the future, to play more comedy. That’s actually something that I’m looking to do, and I think that’s quite typical of the actor’s journey. You start to play a genre or a tone so much that you begin to strive or pine for the other tone. And for me, it’s this tone of wanting to do more romance and more comedy which is funny because, a lot of the time, romantic comedy actors want to do more drama. But I’m not complaining about doing drama. I love doing the deeper stuff.
In terms of playing someone—in the time when we were filming the movie, it was very dark to go through it. I don’t consider myself a method actor. That being said, it’s not like you can exactly turn your character off like a light switch. In between scenes, you kind of turn the light switch off when they say cut, but then for me, I notice a lot of actors would just kind of hover. We kind of hover in that tone and then once they call action, we’re back into it. In that sense, it was very challenging to go through.
Let’s talk a little bit about Blackstone. You were working on that for a few seasons. How would you describe your experience filming that series?
It was almost like–it was Film Set 101 for me. That show opened so many doors for me. The showrunner, Ron Scott, gave all of the actors so much opportunity with doing b-roll stuff. They were doing interviews with us constantly on set. We were always getting pulled aside to do interviews, and I loved that aspect of it because I really did get to practice and train for what it was like to be interviewed with a camera. Also, Ron Scott is definitely one of my favorite directors that I’ve ever worked with. He’s what one would call an actor’s director, and the cast was phenomenal. I mean, I was playing off people that I had grown up watching on TV and film as a child. Just getting to play across them for me was a dream come true.
I also feel that the storyline and the arc for Natalie Stoney and the journey that the Stoney family goes through in Blackstone really resonated with a lot of people. I’m grateful to anyone who sent me messages talking about their own experiences as they related to what they were seeing in Blackstone, because a lot of what you’re seeing in there—that stuff really happens. That stuff actually is going on in people’s lives. So, it was really awesome for me to participate in such a powerful narrative.
Now, your character Natalie was really interesting and felt very fleshed out. What was it like to play her and be kind of a mirror for Michelle Thrush’s character?
When we did the filming, and when I was working with Ron, and before we went in front of the camera, I told him I feel like that part of this show—of Gail Stoney’s conscience, of her subconscious rather—in our minds when we have this very critical aspect of ourselves; we have this critical, cynical aspect of ourselves that can often play out very dark or very tragically. But in this particular instance, I felt like Natalie was using that as a conduit to push her mother into sobriety. Natalie was very much swinging for the fence. She experienced one of the worst, most tragic and honest kind of deaths and it’s ubiquitous in what we call Native country. The suicide rates are outrageous with indigenous people. I actually do suicide prevention workshops with youth because the numbers are shocking.
In that sense as well on the show, Natalie was very much swinging for the fence and would’ve done just about anything to get Gail into sobriety. I think it’s a very special and intense and raw and brutal mother-daughter relationship…with a very, very dark side of the mother-daughter relationship that a lot of people don’t want to talk about. A lot of people have very strange…it’s like the strain that you see in the father-son relationship in The Place Beyond the Pines that also sort of transcends into something greater than we can see.
One of my favorite moments in the films I’ve seen in the past couple years was from The Place Beyond the Pines when we see this cycle of this son riding away—I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the film—but there’s this image where the son gets this bike and he rides down the same road that his father rode down without his father having anything to do with his life. It’s almost like fate and genetics and universal law, and God knows what else. I don’t know what else but it sort of transcends beyond little day-to-day, shitty things we put ourselves through as parents of children and it transcends into this bigger picture somehow.
You mentioned before that you work with youth for suicide prevention and you also do acting and filmmaking workshops. Where does your passion for working with youth come from? Did portraying Natalie inspire that or is that just something you’ve carried with you for a long time?
When I was younger, I was exposed to workshops. I saw it as something that people could do to inspire others. I’ve had a natural inclination towards taking on a leadership position or encouraging others from a very young age. I’ve always chosen to lead a sober life. I’ve always decided to take the path less traveled, if you will. And so because of my exposure to that from a young age, I just knew that something I would eventually do as an adult was work with the youth.
I love working with the youth—they’re so honest. You’ve got to be a straight shooter with them. You can’t be fake, you can’t be phony with them. They can see a lie from a mile away. I love that about youth. And I love to be real with them and I just talk to them about the dark stuff that I’ve gone through in my own life.
Some of it actually does stem from this Natalie Stoney story. My father was quite vocal when I was on that show about me going out and doing community work. He said, ‘the work that you do as a performer is a priority to you. But you also can allow yourself to take it a step further and take that out to the world. And to take that out to the community because that ripple effect that your character is having on TV can become substantiated by the work that you, Roseanne Supernault, physically do when you go out, and you shake hands with the youth in these communities.’ My father was very, very vocal in that, in furthering my work, in storytelling, in the narrative, and inspiring youth as well.
You’re very outspoken about the struggles indigenous people face in the film and television industry. What kinds of changes are you hoping to inspire by speaking out and educating others?
First of all, we must absolutely get indigenous people behind the camera. We must continue to support Aboriginal, indigenous storytellers with the pen, with the camera, with choreography. We cannot simply be the face of a project. We must be the mind, we must be the brain of the project. It absolutely—I don’t care what anybody says—it 100 percent makes a difference when you have an indigenous director, when you have an indigenous producer. You can take any Native script and it’s like in film school—you take a script, you take sides for an audition, you give it to 10 different people and you’re going to have 10 different interpretations. And whether we like it or not, that also speaks to our nature and our nurture, to our background in religion, in race…so yeah, it does matter when an indigenous person is the one producing or directing.
I’ve taken significant risks as a minority, meaning as a woman in the film industry and as an indigenous person in the industry and as a Canadian in the industry. I have been fearless and scared shitless in rocking the boat on sets. There have been several occasions when I’ve been outspoken about something that I feel is unjust or racist, just blatantly racist. I’ve called it out, and I’ve been called out on it.
In my industry, you’re not supposed to rock the boat, and I’ve gotten taught by people to keep my mouth shut. I’ve gotten told, ‘keep your mouth shut and keep your head down. Keep moving forward. Don’t ask questions.’ I’ve been told that, and I refuse to subscribe to that behavior, and that is exactly what’s going to keep us in the place we are now in society. It’s not looking too good for humanity. We’ve got to change.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that we should be on the lookout for?
Let’s see, we’ve got The Northlander. Blackstone is on Netflix. I’ve also got a film that I’m very passionate about called River of Silence where I play a supporting role. It takes on the missing and murdered indigenous women issue and it’s by Petie Chalifoux and Michael Auger. That was filmed in Vancouver. The missing and murdered indigenous issue is something that I’m very passionate about.
Then I’ve got a kids movie coming out called Juliana and the Medicine Fish where I play Adam Beach’s sister. Adam Beach is Slipknot in Suicide Squad—that’s where you might recognize him from. I play his sister in Juliana and the Medicine Fish. Oh, and I just premiered—the U.S. premiere of Neither Wolf Nor Dog at the Edinburgh International Film Festival which is based on the novel of the same name.
What do you like to nerd out about?
Anyone will say this, but I am like, the Harry Potter nerd. (laughs). I have a wand. My first stop when I went to London was Platform 9 3/4, King’s Cross Station. I’m still waiting for my letter from J.K. Rowling. It’s just been a lifelong love of mine. I grew up with Harry Potter. I started reading the books when I was nine years old, I think, when they were getting popular. And then I saw the movies. It started when I was 11, and Daniel Radcliffe was, like, 11 years old. I grew up with them. I also, on a regular basis, fall asleep to Star Wars or I will have Star Wars playing in the background while I do work. (laughs).
And I love trivia. I don’t have time for it now, but I hope to have more free time in my life where I just learn like the nerdy, nerdy Star Wars or Harry Potter trivia. I want to know who has what wand; what was Harry Potter doing on November 12th, 1996. You know? (laughs) What other ways do I stay nerdy? Those are, for sure, my few nerdy qualities. When I was a teenager I used to write fanfiction.
A lot of people do that! Even older people do that!
I might get back into it, who knows? I love writing actually. I’m working on my screenplay that I’m writing right now. But maybe I’ll go back into that fanfiction world!
You can catch Roseanne Supernault in Blackstone on Netflix and in The Northlander which is currently playing in select theaters.