As described by his PR team at the Anderson Group, Marcus LaVoi wasn't always destined to be an actor, born and raised on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota, he went on to serve in the military and enter law enforcement for the California Department of Corrections where he served for over 14 years.
In the years he has been working toward his acting career, he has worked on various film sets as a security and bodyguard, a stand-in role and more.
His dedication paid off, having appeared on The Young and the Restless, Days of our Lives, CSI: Miami, Six Feet Under, and most recently on Gone, The Last Appeal and Den of Thieves.
Marcus LaVoi is an intimidating force, to say the least with the rugged features and intensity of spirit you definitely want on your side in a barroom brawl. But the people that know him, know him for a kinder and gentler side.
As described by his co-star Sivan Alyra Rose — who plays the part of Sasha Yazzie, Big Frank’s niece — “Marcus is literally the biggest scary big guy, but he has the mushiest heart of gold.”
In an interview with Marcus LaVoi and Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling, LaVoi discusses his life before Big Frank, preparing in gas station bathrooms in the true grind to become an actor, how it was to work on the stellar hit Chambers, advice for young hopeful actors, and how he has his sights set on a possible role such as a gangster warrior that swings an ax.
Most importantly— even if it is cliche’ — says LaVoi, “Always believe in yourself because if you don't believe in yourself, nobody else will.”
Vincent Schilling: How did it feel to be part of a production that you know something culturally first-hand?
Marcus LaVoi: Netflix has done an amazing job of changing the paradigm of cultural diversity and cultural awareness for being a Native American. Man it is such an honor to finally be a part of a show it is bringing our people to light in a positive way. We are not riding around on horses shooting arrows at people. We are normal everyday people doing normal everyday things.
We did a Native American Round Table with Native director Sydney Freeland. We did the interview with Sivan, myself, Sydney and the writer Jason Gavin. He was one of the main writers on the show all four of us were interviewed and it is being aired on Netflix.
Vincent Schilling: You've done a lot of work from soap operas to stunts to intense gritty roles. How did you get started in acting?
Marcus LaVoi: I grew up in law enforcement, and I was also a workaholic that never took a sick day. I was in San Diego at the time and would get auditions in Los Angeles. I would call in sick get in my pickup truck, I would clean up in a shell bathroom gas station and drive back home. I did that for years when I was trying to pursue this. If you don't believe in yourself no one else is going to. This is my destiny.
Vincent Schilling: How did you get the part of Big Frank?
Marcus LaVoi: This was a regular audition process. There were 500 Big Frank's. I did a self-tape audition with my acting coach, and from there they sent me to a workshop. I worked with Alexa Fogel the casting director, who is amazing. She read with me during the final phase with the producers, all the executives were sitting on the couch in the back wall, I don't know if I was nervous or what, but she put her hand on her chest and said, 'slow down.'
Vincent Schilling: Well, I guess you slowed down. You got the part. How was acting with Sivan Alyra Rose? She is doing a great job as a relatively new actress.
Marcus LaVoi: I am very fortunate to have worked for some of the big shots in the industry. And I have worked with people who don't have any experience. Sivan had no real experience she came in there as green as she was and set the bar for the rest of us. I was so impressed with her. She had a huge mountain in front of her with this role and she overcame it. She not only overcame it she set a standard for all of us. She brought it, you know what I mean? It seems like she never had a day off.
Vincent Schilling: Your character Big Frank is extremely intense. How much of Big Frank is Big Frank and how much is Marcus in this role?
Marcus LaVoi: I have to give a ton of credit to Jason Gavin, as well as the writers and staff of this production. Big Frank is written to win. He is the guy you just want by your side. Big Frank is pretty parallel to me. Big Frank is the type of guy you want next to you in a bar fight. I am a family man, he is a family man, he has a connection to his culture, he is ex-law enforcement. I am these things as well. He parallels me and it wasn't a real far stretch in how I think. They turned out some great writing and the rest is history.
Vincent Schilling: You have been posting some pretty cool stuff for example on your Instagram and talking about Chambers. How has the response been to the show and to you as an actor?
Marcus LaVoi: This whole thing has been amazing. before the show began I think I was somewhere around 21,000 on the IMDb starmeter rating. Now I am at 57.
Vincent Schilling: Wow, get out.
Marcus LaVoi: I am absolutely amazed that is the highest rating of actors on the show even the big wigs. As I said I am a lot like Big Frank in life. I am not super good with computers, and I have had this social media Instagram account for about a year.
And I was thinking I really didn't want to do it. My manager said I needed to get involved in social media and I didn't want to do it. I think I had about 400 followers on Instagram for about a year. Now I bumped up to about 4,000 and growing just since the show and people are saying some great things.
Vincent Schilling: What do you think is next for you?
Marcus LaVoi: Here's the thing. I feel as though I'm in very great shape. I work very hard, and I work out every day. Still think I can pull off the tough guy, action stuff. I'd love to play an actor on some battlefield in some kind of period piece swinging an ax, or some kind of gangster warrior hero type of thing. I have also put a lot of years and a lot of effort and a lot of training—including a lot of theater training for many years— I have put a lot into my craft and I think the dad has given me some range and depth. I want to do everything. I want to do roles that show I can act. I want to do some emotional stuff like with Sasha in Chambers.
Vincent Schilling: To me, one of the most engaging moments during Chambers is when Sasha was in the hospital and you walked up you are frantic, and you were so emotionally distraught as your character all you could ask was if she wanted something to eat. That was a very profound moment to me.
Marcus LaVoi: Thank you so much, Vincent, I appreciate that. it was a method thing, I really prepare for a role. When I take on a seen a character or a role, I do such an in-depth background on that character for that scene. I go back years and years. I asked what are the layers behind what this character is going through at that moment. I think there is a certain amount of method acting involved. For example, I lost my mother about 10 years ago due to cancer.
Vincent Schilling: I'm so sorry.
Marcus LaVoi: Thank you, Vincent. I remember those moments of being by her hospital bed and I remember feeling that awkwardness, and I remember the last words my mom said to me. She said, 'I ran my race I finished strong, I kept my faith.' It was so inspiring. I remember those moments trying to be strong by her bedside and I didn't want to break down because she didn't need to see that. So to answer your question, I think there is a lot of method acting, and I think real acting comes from what you've been through in life. To bring those moments to the screen is the beauty of acting. We can become anything, but every role is still a part of us.
Vincent Schilling: Why do you think this is such an important show to Indian Country?
Marcus LaVoi: I would just reiterate that the show is portraying Native Americans in a very positive way. We are normal we are not some forgotten race. We are here. We have talent. We have value. I am hoping that this show brings that back to life and shows that we are still here, and we are still strong.
Vincent Schilling: What would you say to young Native actors who want to pursue this type of career after being inspired by Big Frank portrayed by the White Earth actor Marcus LaVoi?
Marcus LaVoi: I would just like to say, and I know this sounds cliche, but never give up on your dreams. As long as you have breath in your lungs, there is still hope. If you don't have hope you are hopeless. Always believe in yourself because if you don't believe in yourself, nobody else will.
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling