Dallas Goldtooth graduated from rider to writer on “Reservation Dogs.”Goldtooth was riding a horse when he introduced himself to viewers in the debut episode of the shot-in-Oklahoma series last year.Goldtooth plays William Knifeman, a deceased spirit warrior who died at the Battle of Little Big Horn. He didn’t engage in fighting because his horse stepped in a gopher hole and fell, squashing its rider.
Since that day, Knifeman has journeyed through the spirit world encountering lost souls. Among them is Bear Smallhill (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), one of four Indigenous youths who, in season one, schemed to leave small-town rez life behind for a fresh start in California.Goldtooth’s hard-luck spirit warrior mentors Bear throughout the first season of the groundbreaking and award-winning series.
Season two will premiere with back-to-back episodes Wednesday, Aug. 3 via FX on Hulu. Goldtooth’s character will return. Bonus: Goldtooth co-wrote the first two episodes with Ryan RedCorn and Sterlin Harjo, a Tulsa filmmaker who co-created the series with Taika Waititi. Goldtooth and Devery Jacobs, who plays Elora Danan Postoak, were invited to join the writers’ room for season two.“I can’t tell you how excited I am for this moment,” Goldtooth said during an interview arranged in advance of the season two premiere.“I mean, we’ve been working together — Sterlin, Ryan and the other 1491s — for almost 15 years. We’ve come a long way to where now our names are going to be on TV.”The 1491s? Prior to “Reservation Dogs,” Goldtooth, Harjo, RedCorn, Bobby Wilson and Goldooth’s stepbrother, Migizi Pensoneau, were in the 1491s, an Indigenous sketch comedy group so named because Columbus arrived the following year. Now all five of the 1491s are on board for “Reservation Dogs,” which employs Native talent in front of and behind the camera.
What’s the secret origin of the 1491s?
“Oh, man. We were just scrappy rez kids who just wanted to make videos to make people laugh, you know? Honestly, that’s how it started with us. We just wanted to make our families laugh.“The origin of the 1491s is it happened in Minnesota (where I am from) and Oklahoma independently of each other. And we kind of came together after seeing each others’ work and decided to make a video together. In Minnesota, my brother Migizi and I started making videos just to make our families laugh and people laugh and post them online. And Sterlin happened to be up in Minneapolis with Ryan RedCorn. Sterlin was doing a talk for one of his movies and we reached out and said, ‘Hey man, you guys want to make a video together?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ So we pulled in my buddy, Bobby Wilson, who had the keys to a youth center that we could use and we all made a video together and that was the Wolf Pack audition. So that was the start of it. We just had this drive to tell stories, to enjoy doing it and to do it differently.”
So Sterlin just happened to be in Minnesota and you all began teaming up?
“We immediately got on the same page, our comedy and things that we find funny. And after that video, we started making more videos. We started getting requests to travel across the country and I’m proud to say that, because of the 1491s, we’ve been able to basically see almost all aspects of Indian country over the years.“And, as such, I feel like our comedy has expanded to really incorporate those stories that we’ve encountered. And that’s why when you watch ‘Reservation Dogs,’ so many of the things you see or so many things Native folks see in the show reflect their daily life because I feel like there’s a lot of universal struggle, right? There’s a lot of universality in our experiences and so I just feel fortunate to be a part of this experience of bringing that to life.”
Sterlin had you audition for William Knifeman because maybe they had you in mind?
“I didn’t know what was going on. And then he gave me a call and said, ‘Hey, I want you to put in an audition tape for this role.’ He wanted me to audition for Big, the cop. Then he had me read on a second level for Spirit. I was going for both Big and Spirit. ... I didn’t have any expectation.”
We’ll see more of William Knifeman in the coming season?
“The Spirit returns in season two and continues to delve out mystical wisdom to the different characters. I look forward to seeing how people react to the season and to Spirit. I think a lot of people like the character Spirit, so I hope the wisdom that’s delivered this season resonates with people.”How does the writers’ room work? Does everyone gather in the writing room and, hey, here are the stories we are going to tell in our episodes and let’s hash out who’s doing what?“This being my first time ever in a writer’s room, I have no idea how they do this. I had no idea. I still don’t have an idea of how what is ‘normal’ for a writer’s room. We did it our way. Sterlin did it his way, which that’s on brand for Sterlin. He’s like screw what other people do and screw expectations. We’re going to do it our way and make it amazing.“The process was really collaborative. ... Sterlin came in and said, hey, we’ve got 10 episodes and we started off with the great question of ‘where do you want to end at?’ ... Let’s work toward that.“And then, for the most part, it was just like, let’s talk story. What are funny things that happened in your life? What are the experiences from your childhood? Let’s explore that and the things that we love and things that made us laugh. Those stories are what show up in the show.“Chad Charlie is a first-time writer with me on the show. Chad Charlie, his Native folks are from British Columbia and he talked about his experiences. There’s a story there we pulled into it. He wrote the third episode and there are elements of his life experiences that are woven into the third episode.”
Why does “Reservation Dogs” work? Why do people love it?
“I think, on one level, for the vast majority of viewers, they have never seen a story like this. They have never seen a story of Native folks who live in a contemporary setting in rural Oklahoma. For those who live in rural areas, it’s rare that we see stories that talk about small-town living. ...“And I think on a more personal level for Native folks, it really resonates because we’re telling stories that mean something to us that don’t trivialize our experience and don’t over-dramatize. The show explores the nuances of what it means to be an Indigenous person today. And that’s terrifying, exciting and lovely all at the same time.“So I think it’s bringing together all these different intersections, which, in my limited experience of being in Oklahoma, is a great example of Oklahoma. Oklahoma is such an intersection of culture that people don’t even realize that."
Red carpet, season premiere events
The season two premiere of FX on Hulu’s “Reservation Dogs” is coming to Circle Cinema with a free community screening 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3. The free screening at Circle Cinema will include the first two episodes of the new season.