First Native actress starring in a Netflix series, Sivan Alyra Rose talks about ‘Chambers’
Like many Native women at the forefront of politics, leadership and more, Sivan Alyra Rose, San Carlos Apache, is also making history as the first Native American woman to star in a Netflix series.
Rose plays the character by the name of Sasha Yazzie, a young Native woman who undergoes a heart transplant then must deal with the psychological, spiritual and other-worldly influence of a potentially evil heart — received from a non-Native girl who had died hours earlier than Sasha’s physical mishap had occurred.
Indian Country Today’s review of ‘Chambers’ starring Sivan Alyra Rose:
Related: ‘Chambers’ Netflix series featuring Native actor Sivan Alyra Rose is a stellar heart-wrenching thriller
In an interview with Sivan Alyra Rose and Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling, Rose talks about what it was like working with powerhouse actors Uma Thurman, Tom Goldwyn, and Marcus La Voi, and what it is like to be a 19-year-old artist, model and actress representing Indian Country.
Vincent Schilling: Great job in Chambers. You are getting a lot of great response on social media as well.
Sivan Alyra Rose: I really appreciate it. It's just that I am super hypercritical, and over analytical of everything that I do. I've always been that way in high school and college. I'm an academic. I really cared about school and stuff, so when it came to Chambers, I was like ‘I don't know exactly what the syllabus here was supposed to be. I didn't know the grading scale.’
When I started acting, I was like, all right, I just don't want anyone to think I'm lying. I don't ever want to feel like I'm up here lying.
Vincent Schilling: Were you worried about that? Is that something you were concerned about in this series?
Sivan Alyra Rose: Well, I was never an actor. Bad acting sounds like they're reading a script. I didn't want it to be like I was lying. I was Sasha. I wanted to be that girl. Yes, now I am an actor. But before that, I hadn't had any traditional or professional training. But I had been a huge fan of movies and screenplays and stuff, so I think that helped.
Vincent Schilling: One thing that I noticed is that you had a lot of different relationship nuances between who you were kind of interacting with at the moment. Did they help your process?
Sivan Alyra Rose: I'm about genuine connection and genuine relationships, and just being a genuine person 'cause, I don't know, it just makes things easier in life. When it came to relationships with everybody, I would be sitting there, and they would be like, "Try it like this. Try it like that," and I'm just like, "No. A brown girl would never do that in this situation."
Vincent Schilling: Good for you in owning your space. How did you approach your character Sasha?
Sivan Alyra Rose: I gave her quirks. I called them quirks 'cause that's how they felt. It's that like things I would do that would make me feel like her. People'd be like, "You have two voices," and I was like, "Yeah, my white people voice and my comfortable voice."
I wanted her to feel like an authentic brown teenage girl, and I wanted her to be everything I wish I was in high school. Confident in my sexuality. I've been saying this in interviews 'cause that's what I want her to be is just this ultimate brown teenage girl. Fighting demons and trying to keep her loving relationship with her boyfriend stable and healthy at the same time.
Vincent Schilling: There is a diverse cast. Including several Native actors.
Sivan Alyra Rose: So many of my co-stars, you know it's a very diverse cast. They have all been acting for a while. I'm one of the only people on here with this is my first time kind of attitude. But there's a privilege in this industry that really doesn't exist for Native Americans at all. Griffin Powell-Arcand, my co-star, he acted as a child, like a child child, and he was in a Native American western movie. We've never gone out of that. We've never branched past that. Other than like Smoke Signals and some classics like Pow Wow Highway. Those were classics. I don't know why we f**king stopped there, but we did.
Vincent Schilling: Right. Well, we're finally I think starting to step outside of that a little bit. A little bit.
Sivan Alyra Rose: Yeah, and I'm glad that we are because it's what I'm trying to knock down that idea, that privileged idea that Native people can also want to be actors but not riding horses. You know? That they have to feel they're confined to an identity that was designed for them. 'Cause I'm straight from the rez. I literally grew up on the reservation.
Vincent Schilling: It was nice to see that Sasha and Frank lived outside of the Navajo reservation. Just kind of an outskirt close to it that still appears similar to the rez with the skateboarding kid going everywhere. I was like, ‘that is so recognizable, but not stereotypical.’
Sivan Alyra Rose: To me, it's just so disheartening that we were put in this design stereotypical box, and it never really branched out of that. I'm just glad Chambers is finally at least pushing that direction.
Vincent Schilling: How was it working with Marcus La Voi, who portrayed your uncle Big Frank?
Sivan Alyra Rose: Marcus is literally the biggest scary big guy, but he has the mushiest heart of gold. He has lived such a life and has learned so many lessons. But he's still so fun, and goofy, and innocent even though his life really wasn't fun, and goofy, and innocent. When me and him started hanging out, he called me niece, and I let him. I was like, "Yeah, that's cool. You can call me niece. I'll call you uncle." I started treating him like how I treat my uncles. Like a father but you guys are a little cooler than that. We got to know each other. I met his kids, I met his wife. It's a genuine just natural kind of mentor/apprentice relationship, and I really love it.
Vincent Schilling: You also worked closely in this series with Uma Thurman.
Sivan Alyra Rose: I felt like her little baby. I felt like she was dragon mama to me. 'Cause she was there. she didn't hold my hand, but she would let me observe her. Like in private spaces. You know? She would allow me into her private spaces to observe, and she would give me just tips while she was setting up for scenes. Like lighting tips. Just random stuff that I wouldn't know unless I'd been in the industry forever. Stand here if you want to make sure your scenes are properly lit or whatever. Just little things like that. She knows I'm smart. That she only needed to give me a little bit and I could figure out the rest myself. Do you know what I mean?
Vincent Schilling: I also appreciated your work with Kyanna Simone Simpson, who plays your best friend Yvonne.
Sivan Alyra Rose: One of my favorite scenes in the show, to me describes the approach of what Chambers is trying to do for contemporary Native America, is the scene where Sasha and Yvonne are in her room before TJ's signing ceremony. She's going through her mom's stuff, and she pulls out that green crushed velvet Navajo, really beautiful dress, and she's like, "Now I'm gonna feel like a real Dine’ woman." It's all dramatic and powerful, and then she walks in to this f**king normal ass hall type of place. Everyone's staring at her like who the f**k is this? I was like that's it right there. Even we don't take ourselves that way.
Vincent Schilling: What was the message behind the stereotypical Native doll costume?
Sivan Alyra Rose: When that scene came up, I was like that's f**king it. I was like I hate American Girl dolls because the Native dolls were always like that. I was like that's not even our f**king tribe. None of this makes any f**king sense. When that came up, I was like, ‘I hope people see this and realize the ignorance that America has continued to perpetuate on Native Americans.’ It's not shock value for us. We're gonna see it and be like, ‘haha, oh my God, lol.’ But everyone else is gonna see it and be like, "Oh my God." Everyone continues to deny the fact that Native Americans were systemically erased. Pop culturally, politically, socially, economically from American society. They call it reservations and they say we're supposed to be sovereign, but there are complete bars and ties tied to everything. If you want to build a housing community, you'd have to go to f**king Congress to get it approved.
Vincent Schilling: How does it feel to be the first female Native American lead series star on Netflix?
Sivan Alyra Rose: Yeah. I'm 19. I didn't think I was gonna get here. I've talked about it on my Twitter multiple times. Before all of this, I wasn't even sure I was gonna see tomorrow. My life was that of the average rez teenager, f**king horrible, suicidal, everything sucks for multiple reasons, and you're broke, and your mom is broke, and your grandmother's f**king broke. So, good f**king luck trying to ever make any of your dreams happen. Hope runs so thin on the rez. But now, wow, the amount of little brown, little middle school girls from the elementary school in San Carlos that follow me on Instagram now is so funny.
Vincent Schilling: What would you say to young people?
Sivan Alyra Rose: This is all I've ever f**king wanted. And guess what? You are a real person. You're not what other people say you are. You exist, you exist. Congratulations. Someone from near you is doing these things. Go ahead and go do it yourself. 'Cause I don't want to be here by myself. I'm not trying to be a f**king token or whatever. I'm this weird goth girl. I'm the last thing a lot of people agree with. I'm not a role model. I'm an inspiration. I'd rather be an inspiration than a role model.
Vincent Schilling: So you’ve told us about Sasha, how about you Sivan?
Sivan Alyra Rose: I function on my own lane. I vibrate at my own frequency. I've always been an outcast for some f**king reason even though I'm friendly and have friends, I still feel isolated in my ideas. I'm Apache and I'm not scared of anybody. I'm Apache. That means something. That means a lot to me to be like I'm an Apache woman. That is the scorned, scorched earth of the desert. The last that you're gonna f**k with.
Vincent Schilling: I was looking at your Instagram to put a post or two into this article and I saw your fashion interests as well as a cool photo of you and Uma Thurman at a SiriusXM event in New York.
Sivan Alyra Rose: I've been wearing indigenous haute couture designers. I'm helping bring more indigenous fashion and style to the world.
Vincent Schilling: That’s great, thanks for your time Sivan.
Sivan Alyra Rose: Thank you so much. Amazing interview.
Vincent Schilling: Well, that’s just great. Thanks for saying so.
Sivan Alyra Rose: I haven't gotten to say f**k this many times in an interview. Oh, and by the way, if you're wondering what my roster is now, though it is actress ... It's actually artist first, then model, and actress.
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling