Perhaps you have seen one of Indian country’s latest rising Native stars, Elizabeth Frances, who is currently portraying Prairie Flower in AMC's latest hit series, The Son, starring Pierce Brosnan and Native actor Zahn McClarnon.
Born on a military base in Okinawa, Elizabeth Frances (Cherokee) is the daughter of a Marine Corps father who taught her the value of hard work and discipline. Her family eventually settled in San Diego, where she began doing local theatre and youth plays.
After receiving her degree from Cal Arts, Elizabeth Frances began working with such notable theaters as Center Theater Group, La Jolla Playhouse, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Native Voices and the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Accolades for her work stacked up as she was selected for an ABC Network talent showcase, and starred as Angela Maryboy in Drunktown’s Finest, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival and was produced by Robert Redford and directed by Sidney Freeland. Elizabeth Frances has also appeared in the Emmy®-nominated series Her Story, in NBC’s Heartbeat, and as Lilly Rowan on Netflix’s Love.
In a conversation with ICMN, Elizabeth Frances discussed how hard work has its payoffs and how she feels as a Native woman succeeding in a tough film industry.
How are things on the set of AMC's The Son?
I got really really lucky with this cast and crew, we really all became like a mini family. Laughing with people at the end of an 18-hour day working outside in the summer Texas heat, you KNOW that you are surrounded by not only extremely talented folks, but by genuinely good humans, and that is all to the credit of AMC and our producers.
Have you had many interactions with other Native actors on the set such as Zahn McClarnon or Tatanka Means?Most of my time was spent working with fellow actors Jacob Lofland, Zahn McClarnon and Tatanka Means, as well as Richard Ray Whitman, who I knew from Drunktown's Finest. After intense scenes, you can watch the dailies of all of us high-fiving between takes and giggling. Yes, those boys giggle! Being the only female regular on the 1849 set of The Son, I felt like their sister. I just have so much respect and love for them, and I learned so much watching them work. They all made my job easy.
You've done some great projects, including Drunktown's Finest. Are you surprised to see your hard work come to fruition by working on this scale of a project?
I would say I'm very humbled, and this is just the beginning. I have the best job. I get to transform, create characters, research and play for a living. It's a lot of hard work, but when you love what you do, hard work is the best work. The hardest work is getting the chance to do the work in the first place.
How much do you see as an actor in terms of the glitz and glamour of the acting world versus intense behind the scenes hard work?
I think the glitz and glamour, or smoke and mirrors, as I call it, is a very different beast than actually getting to do the work itself. I think in a world of social media, the glitz can seem a lot more glamorous than it actually is. I've found it important remind myself and surround myself with good people who help me check myself.
As a Native woman, what are your thoughts of a growing recognition of multicultural talents in the industry?
Representation is definitely improving and it's incredibly encouraging, but we aren't there yet. This couldn't be more true for multicultural women, Native women and women of color. We have to keep striving to not only be present in tv and cinema, but also to be at the forefront rather than a detour or accessory.
There is a ripple effect our youth will feel the repercussions of, positive or negative. We are part of an inclusive and contemporary landscape of storytelling and celebrating. We need to encourage our writers and filmmakers more than ever such as Sterlin Harjo, Sydney Freeland, Mary Katherine Nagle, Taika Waititi and Chris Eyre.
AMC, in coordination with the Comanche Nation and the cultural advisor, Juanita Pahdopony (who we could NOT have done this without), bussed in Comanche youth from Oklahoma to be extras on set and work with us. Those were the best days.
I was able to interact with all these kids who had never even been on a TV film set before. They were such a huge part of that set. We were accessible to them. They sat with us, asked us questions, ate lunch with us, and our producers Kevin Murphy and Julia Ruchman would point things out on the monitors to them and I really thought, ‘this is the next generation and they are seeing that great things are possible.
Whether they go into TV or anything else, I hope that they were able to see that whatever they want to achieve is not as far away as it may seem sometimes.
Any advice for young actors?
There are a lot of gifted and talented people, but be true to your specific voice. Cultivate and learn your craft. Don't let anyone outwork you, because that's what you can control. Find your community and the people that support you, motivate you, challenge you and understand you. They are the ones that will be your cohorts and friends for life.
What's to come for Elizabeth Frances?
In addition to getting married, my other show Love releasing on Netflix and some possible projects along the way, I'm putting my producer hat on and I’m in the process of developing a few scripts that we are looking at for 2018. So there’s more to come!
Follow Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) - ICMN’s Arts and Entertainment, Pow Wows and Sports Editor - Follow @VinceSchilling