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Indigenous actor and podcast host Joel D. Montgrand (Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation) is emerging as a rising star in the industry, with recent roles in HBO’s “True Detective: Night Country” and Netflix’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender."

 
Beyond acting, he shares his unique perspective through his podcast, “Actors and Ancestors,” solidifying his position as a multifaceted creative force in Hollywood. 

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Joel Montgrand, a Rocky Cree from La Ronge, Saskatchewan, discovered his passion for theater through an audition for a high school play. Despite financial constraints, he pursued a journey in acting. Theater became his solace amidst a nomadic life, leading him back to Vancouver, where he embraced opportunities and continued to pursue his passions. 

Editors note: This article has been edited for clarity and length.

Native News Online: Tell me about yourself and your journey in the entertainment industry.

Joel Montgrand: Growing up, I was incredibly shy and had never even considered becoming an actor. My first experience on stage at the age of six, I broke down in tears while modeling traditional regalia at a parade. Fast forward to age 18, when I auditioned for the high school musical on a whim, singing a song full of swear words just for kicks. To my surprise, I landed the lead role despite my lack of singing and dancing skills. Despite being terrible at first, I fell in love with acting and spent the next decade dabbling in community theater.

Eventually, someone recognized my potential and encouraged me to pursue acting seriously. Living in Vancouver at the time, I had dreams of making it as an actor but no idea how to start. A chance encounter led me to visit an agent’s office, where I showed up unannounced and clueless about the industry norms. Despite my lack of a resume or headshots, the agent gave me a cold read on the spot and decided to take a chance on me. Scraping together every last dollar, I managed to get some headshots done and dove headfirst into the world of auditions. Despite the financial struggles, I landed my first role and never looked back, grateful for the opportunity to pursue my passion professionally.

NNO: Where are you from, and how has that impacted your career path?

JM: Coming from Northern Saskatchewan, I spent my childhood in the territories of Treaty Six and Treaty Ten. While my tribe originates from the Treaty Six area, I primarily grew up in a town bordering Treaty Ten. It was a typical small northern town with lengthy, dark winters and brief, scorching summers. My deep connection to the land remains a constant yearning, even as I reside elsewhere.

I find myself advocating for climate awareness, witnessing firsthand the shifts in the environment over my relatively short lifespan compared to the world’s age. Reflecting on my upbringing, I note significant changes in the ecosystem. The once abundant insect life, which used to cover windshields during drives, has dwindled drastically. Even mosquitoes, though still present, are far less rampant than before. These shifts underscore the profound impact of climate change on our planet. Despite the beauty of Vancouver, where I currently reside, I often find myself overwhelmed with homesickness. While I appreciate the city’s charm, I remain aware of my status as a guest on this land, forever longing for the rugged landscapes and familiarity of my northern roots.

NNO: What are some things you have accomplished so far? What films have you been in and what was your experience like along the way? 

JM: My journey as an actor has been a constant struggle, one that I’m still navigating, although a glimmer of hope sparked by recent high-profile opportunities. The past few weeks have been very different, transforming the trajectory of my life. Acting emerged as my lifeline out of poverty when I could finally afford a proper bed after years on a cot. Simple luxuries like transit fares and clothing became attainable, marking a significant shift in my circumstances. 

The turning point came with a role in the movie “Beans,” shedding light on the Indigenous uprising during the 1990 Oka Crisis, an often overlooked chapter in Canadian history. Portraying a pivotal character in this narrative alongside talented co-stars opened doors for more possibilities. My name caught the attention of casting directors for “True Detective,” leading to a role that showcased my dedication and versatility as an actor. I put in a lot of work into my role, and it is something that I am really proud of. 

NNO: Tell me about your podcast, “Actors and Ancestors,” and what inspired you to start it.

JM: During the downtime between filming projects, I wanted to hear more Indigenous voices and their journeys into acting. Surprisingly, I discovered a void in the podcasting world where these stories were scarce. There were occasional interviews scattered across the internet but no centralized platform for Indigenous actors to share their experiences. I saw an opportunity to give back and inspire others through storytelling.

So I started getting some folks lined up and created my own podcast, “Actors and Ancestors.” It became a way for me to use my platform to uplift emerging artists and provide insight into the industry for those who may feel daunted or uninformed about pursuing acting. Just as I once needed a push from someone else to take the leap into this field, I hope to offer that same encouragement to others who may be hesitant or unsure. Ultimately, my goal is to inspire and support the next generation of storytellers, ensuring that our narratives continue to be heard and celebrated.

NNO: Tell me a little about your role as Hakoda in the upcoming live-action "Avatar: The Last Airbender" series premiering on Netflix today. 

MONTGRAND: I’m thrilled about the release, and I can’t wait for people to see it. I was at the premiere in LA, and I think that people are really going to love it. I only got a glimpse of the final product during some ADR work after we wrapped filming, so seeing the finished series blew me away. The visual effects are amazing, and the bending looks incredible. They’ve refined the storylines, keeping the essential arcs intact while enhancing the emotional beats of the narrative. They’ve trimmed the filler and focused on the impactful moments, making the whole series even more compelling.

Regarding Hakoda's presence in the first season, it’s a departure from the original cartoon, but it’s a smart move to introduce Hakoda early on. It helps establish connections and emotional depth for later in the series. The writing is sharp, and I think fans will appreciate the thoughtfulness behind these creative decisions. Personally, I’m already excited about the prospect of seasons two and three; it’s just a matter of waiting for the green light!

NNO: What are you hoping audiences will take away from the new series?

MONTGRAND: I’m really hoping that viewers will reconnect with the same sense of wonder and nostalgia they felt when they first watched the cartoon years ago. There’s something magical about tapping into those memories and revisiting that younger version of yourself, experiencing that sweet feeling of nostalgia. It’s a rare and precious thing when it hits just right, and I hope many people get to enjoy that sensation. For those who are new to the series, I hope they’re captivated by the story and maybe even inspired to go back and watch the original cartoon.

NNO: What are some other things you have in the works that audiences can look forward to? 

MONTGRAND: I recently wrapped filming a movie titled “Sweet Summer Powwow” over the summer. Currently, they’re in the process of finding a distributor, so once that’s sorted out, I’m sure it’ll be fantastic. The film tells a charming love story between two Indigenous students who fall for each other while on the powwow circuit. In the movie, I portray Uncle Luke, who offers guidance and support to my nephew as he navigates love. It’s a delightful, heartwarming film with a lot of charm. I’m genuinely pleased to have been a part of it. Joshua Jacobs stars alongside a fantastic cast, and it was a pleasure working with such talented individuals.

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About The Author
Kaili Berg
Author: Kaili BergEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Reporter
Kaili Berg (Aleut) is a member of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Nation, and a shareholder of Koniag, Inc. She is a staff reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Berg, who is based in Wisconsin, previously reported for the Ho-Chunk Nation newspaper, Hocak Worak. She went to school originally for nursing, but changed her major after finding her passion in communications at Western Technical College in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.