Excitement builds as the premiere of the TV show “Rutherford Falls” gets closer.
Executive producer Sierra Teller Ornelas and actors Ed Helms, Michael Greyeyes and Jana Schmieding sat down for an interview with Indian Country Today to discuss their excitement about “Rutherford Falls,” the NBC series premiering on Peacock TV April 22.
The show is about two lifelong friends, Nathan Rutherford (played by Ed Helms known for his role as Andy on “The Office”) and Reagan Wells (played by Jana Schmieding, Cheyenne River Lakota).
The show also stars Cree actor Michael Greyeyes (“I Know This Much Is True” and “Blood Quantum”) as one of the tribal leaders of the fictional Minishonka Nation.
Rutherford Falls interview with Ed Helms, Sierra Teller Ornelas, Jana Schmieding and Michael Greyeyes
Ornelas, Navajo and Mexican American, discussed her role as an executive producer and how the show came about.
“I’ve been working in television for about 10 years as a writer and have always really wanted to make a Native show. I had this idea for a Native anthology series,” Ornelas said.
Michael Schur, creator of “Parks and Rec” and “The Good Place,” bonded with Helms after working on “The Office” together. Ornelas had worked on Brooklyn Nine, Nine with Schur and had previously worked on a television pilot with Helms. When Helms and Schur developed the concept of Nathan Rutherford with Native neighbors, they sought to work with Ornelas.
Ornelas told how the meeting of comic minds with Helms and Schur, with an openness to explore a Native theme, sparked the creation of “Rutherford Falls” starring Helms playing a non-Native man who runs the town’s historical museum.
“It was a really wonderful meeting of minds. I had worked for many years at the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian and had a real museum background. My mom is a master Navajo tapestry weaver, and she kind of raised us in museums. And so we sort of kind of mind melded the three of us together and just sort of kept developing the idea … Then we were off to the races.”
Helms expressed his appreciation for a show that he considers to be “one of the most rewarding creative experiences” of his life.
“You know, candidly, I'm still learning about the impact that a show like this has in the Native community,” Helms said. “This show has been one of the most rewarding creative experiences of my life, not just because it's felt meaningful ... but also because the creative energy on this show, the kindness and benevolence of everyone who works on this show, the entire writing staff, our entire cast, everyone just has this dynamic that I've never experienced before.”
Schmieding and Greyeyes also talked about their characters Regan Wells and Terry Thomas.
Schmieding, a veritable newcomer to the television sitcom world, told how her career as a comedienne, as well as a school teacher, helped her prepare for her role as Reagan Wells, a character with friendships in and outside of her Native community on the show. She talked about the excitement of working with Greyeyes and Helms.
“It was a wonderful experience for me. I mean, I got to work with like two film and television legends,” said Schmieding, referring to Helms and Greyeyes. “It's been an absolute dream.”
Greyeyes spoke about venturing into the world of comedic acting with his character Terry Thomas. He admits it is a new experience. “I'm a Newt, I'm a baby walking amongst comedy superstars,” he says.
He said that he was surprised at times when the crew was laughing, but attributed the laughs to the skills of the writers, which include Tazbah Chavez, Tai Leclaire, and Bobby Wilson.
“The writing is so brilliant, and of course I'm working opposite really brilliant actors ... I was almost stunned ... when people in the room laughed. This is very new to me,” Greyeyes said.
Schmieding summed up the sentiments of the group in the interview. “I don't know how I scored the dream, but I'm very thankful. Thank you, Creator. I say it every day, this has been so much fun.”
About Rutherford Falls
“Rutherford Falls” is from co-creators and executive producers Michael Schur (“Parks and Recreation,” “The Good Place”), Ed Helms and Sierra Teller Ornelas (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Superstore”). Mike Falbo, David Miner and Morgan Sackett also serve as executive producers. “Rutherford Falls” is produced by Universal Television, a division of Universal Studio Group, in association with Fremulon, 3 Arts Entertainment and Pacific Electric Picture Company.