The winding down of summer has seen the return of two beloved shows: Hulu’s Reservation Dogs and Syfy’s Resident Alien. Both feature Sarah Podemski as characters who are mothers on a journey of self-discovery.
Podemski’s resume spans decades having booked her first role in the German TV series Blue Hawk at 11 years old. Notably, she previously worked with Reservation Dogs creator Sterlin Harjo on the Toronto Film Festival-selected Mekko. For her role, she won best supporting actress at the American Indian Film Festival.
As Reservation Dogs and Resident Alien approach their finales, Podemski spoke with LA Confidential about her upcoming film Warrior Strong, learning to set boundaries and the power of storytelling.
You recently were filming for Warrior Strong. How was that production?
How can I say this?...I went there pregnant and then I had an ectopic pregnancy and I lost the pregnancy. And then I had to go to work five days later, so it was a bit of a surreal experience.
It obviously really informed my experience, so it was interesting, but I love the script. Shane Belcourt was a really great director. He was just a great leader and he just kept everything together. And it was just such a pleasure to work with him, and also the cast of the young kids were amazing. We all came together, and I really hope that we made a great movie.
It was very generous of you to share that experience on Instagram. As someone with a platform, do you feel a sense of duty to be so open?
One of the reasons that I came into this industry was as a half Jewish, half Native human, I rarely felt represented and I rarely felt seen and I very rarely felt that people were telling stories in an authentic way from those perspectives. So I think early on, I always felt the need to, if I could, help people feel seen and heard.
I felt really isolated. It felt really unlucky that that happened to myself and my husband. I just felt the need to talk about it and to really give some space to that experience because it just happens so often. And it was so incredible to see how many women had reached out to me after that video— women that I had known for a long time. Some women that I didn't know that long, and having them share their experiences and just really realizing how little we still talk about pregnancy loss and even just women's sexual health in general. We know the Roe vs. Wade stuff is going on, but there's just such little space given to women and their bodies and their rights. I felt like I wanted to say something. It helped me feel less alone. Maybe it's a bit selfish, but I just really wanted women to feel seen and their experiences to feel seen because I know that it affects a lot of women.
The power of giving space to experiences like pregnancy loss points to the importance of storytelling whether through in-person conversations or TV and film. And I think that furthermore supports that art and entertainment ultimately function to help people.
I agree, I think that that's the power of it. Sometimes we're in it and we're like, “Oh, this is so superficial.” There's so many people that are like, “You're not changing lives.” I think it can be a balance of understanding the importance of what we're doing and really respecting that and just really being accountable for that and knowing that what we do does help people, especially for underrepresented communities. It helps shift the narratives.
I think with episode five especially [of Reservation Dogs’ season 2], it was a really historic episode. All of us were wondering the last time we ever saw Native women like this on screen, and I don't think we were able to name anything with that joy and that friendship.
Do you have a favorite scene from episode 5?
When we're steaming our privates. And what's even more amazing is that since people have seen that, people have messaged me because it is a tradition in many different cultures postpartum, post-relationship to cleanse the area of any energies that are hanging around. It has so many benefits, and to see that women felt seen in something that we've never really seen on film before, I thought that was really cool. When we were doing it, we were like, “This is crazy. This is amazing.” And we loved it, and we were laughing and it was so funny. But it's been amazing to see people respond to it.
What do you think audiences can learn about grief from Reservation Dogs? You see the kids affected by the death of their friend Daniel and Rita and her friends affected by the loss of their friend Cookie. But then you have the “Mabel” episode, which of course has a sadness to it, but is also very beautiful.
That “Mabel” episode was really special because it showed us how we can grieve in a healthy way and how we can come together as a community, and just the beauty that there is potential. Instead of running away from grief, when we come together with our friends and family and community, there is a way there is a way to heal. And I think that was a really beautiful message. And even with episode 5, these women come together. And what do they do at the end? They come together instead of running away from the discomfort and the sadness and the grief. We must come together and heal together.
In another interview you talked about how working on Reservation Dogs and being around all Native people, you came to realize that you’ve had to move through a lot of spaces with your guard up. Has being a part of this show influenced how you approach other projects?
I've definitely learned my boundaries in terms of what I'm willing to accept behavior-wise when dealing with Indigenous content because I've been able to see how it's done properly. I think I've found my voice in terms of speaking up when I feel like something's moving in the wrong direction. I'd say I feel more empowered. I feel like I have a lot more clarity in terms of the kinds of productions I want to work with and the kinds of people I want to work with and the kinds of creative people that I want to work with because I've seen that work can feel like a safe place to be.
What we do is already pretty emotional and challenging for any performer, for any storyteller. It makes it more challenging when systemic racism becomes a part of it or people who aren't respectful or when you can tell people are trying to take advantage of our stories to make money. All of those things together on top of already trying to create a safe space to give these characters life, it's a challenge that I'd like to, first of all, help support others go through it and try and use my lived experience to just help people understand how we can all do better.
You have Resident Alien rolling out at the same time as Reservation Dogs. Does it feel exciting or is it more like a weight off the shoulders?
It's so funny because it happened so long ago. You work and then you wait so long for it to come out, and then everything happens at once and you're like, “Oh my god, it's done.” It feels great in terms of being able to finally have people see it.
I'm very grateful that I'm on two shows that people were very excited about to come back. With Resident Alien, it was the second part of season 2, so it feels good. It really feels rewarding. The dream is to work. The dream is to be able to do good work. And then it's just a cherry on top when people respond to it and love it and watch it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Jaclyn Vogl