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Hot Show, Dirty Politics: 'House of Cards' Actress Tanis Parenteau

Actress Tanis Parenteau, Metis, discusses her role on 'House of Cards,' the Netflix series starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.

The second season of Netflix’s political drama House of Cards, which was released February 14, is dense with Native American subjects, from casinos to corruption to federal recognition. Appropriately, there are a great many Native American actors who lent their talents to the widely acclaimed web series this time around.

One of those gracing the screen is Métis actress Tanis Parenteau. Parenteau, who holds a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from The New School for Drama in New York City, played the role of “Tammy,” a server in an Indian casino. Parenteau recently sat down with ICTMN to discuss her role in House of Cards, and the scene she filmed with Comanche actor Gil Birmingham that never made it into the series:

How did you go about getting the role?

So I freelance with a management company here in New York City, and they just called and said they had an audition for me with [Casting Director] Julie Schubert and I went in. I had two scenes to audition with and I went in and did them with Julie. … And then there was a span of two weeks between my audition and when they offered me the part. And in that two weeks I kept getting phone calls from my manager every other day saying, “You’re on a very, very short list.” And then another phone call was that they wanted to add two more scenes to my part, and wanted to know if I’d be willing to do a little nudity. I said, "Yep." I said, "I trust the show. I trust the writers. I trust the network." So I knew that it was all in good taste; I wasn’t worried about that at all. Whatever they wanted me to do I was down for doing.

Did you have any scenes with Kevin Spacey or Robin Wright?

No, I didn’t. My first day there I get out of the van and we’re walking to the soundstage because they said they wanted me to meet the director, James Foley. So, they’re leading me to the soundstage and I hear them say, “Kevin’s stepping,” and that means that he was coming out of his trailer and then I got goose bumps. And then he walked right beside me to the soundstage and I got to watch him and Robin Wright do a scene as soon as I got to the set. It was amazing -- watching the two masters do their thing. I had a scene with Gil Birmingham, but it didn’t make it into the final cut of the episode. It was so good! But those things happen. Working with Michael Kelly was amazing. He's a pro at what he does.

Could you tell us more about the scene you had with Gil Birmingham that didn’t make it into the series?

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My character -- Gil is her boss in the casino. … Basically [in the scene] you don’t see me give up information, but Michael Kelly’s character gets it out of me. So it eventually gets back to Gil, the casino boss, that somebody gave up info and he knows it’s me. So our scene was sort of an interrogation scene. It was really short, but basically he was reprimanding me and threatening me with disenrollment for my whole family. Gil was really scary in that scene. I had a chance to hang out with him after, so we went and grabbed a bite to eat. He had so many words of wisdom about being a Native actor -- all this stuff that I was so thankful that he shared with me; he didn’t have to. I think he’s a tremendous, tremendous guy.

Parenteau with Gil Birmingham. Image source: Instagram.

Are you looking to do more film or more stage?

At this point right now I’m looking to do more film because I do a lot of theater. Theater isn’t a problem. Theater’s great and I love it. Actually, a lot of the parts that I get sometimes I don’t even have to audition; I’m getting offers from people I have worked with before. But I’m really trying to get back into the film and TV world. There’s a lot of great work out there.

What’s next for you?

I’m doing a play at the end of April; I’m starting rehearsals for a play called “Manahatta,” by a Cherokee playwright. Her name is Mary Kathryn Nagle. I’m playing the lead in that and it opens May 15.

What are your words of wisdom for the next generation of Native actors?

Make sure you have your training -- finding your own process and learning your craft. If you’re going to learn, if you’re going to train, I would definitely pick New York, for sure. … What better city to learn how to act in than New York?