Michael Greyeyes discusses his role in the Vampire Apocalypse Netflix series: 'V-Wars'

Greyeyes as Jimmy Saint: 'This is the first time in 27 years of being a professional actor that I was hired for a part that wasn't Native specific.'

First Nations Cree film and television actor Michael Greyeyes — known for his work in such productions as True Detective (2019) Woman Walks Ahead (2017), Fear the Walking Dead (2017), Klondike (2014) and The New World (2005) is about to add an unannounced role in the media as Jimmy Saint in the upcoming and highly anticipated V-Wars on Netflix.

V-Wars is a several-episode series that has already wrapped initial filming in many locations in Canada and is now in post-production. The series is a Vampire-themed horror thriller based on the comic anthology edited by Jonathan Maberry and championed by lead character and producer Ian Somerhalder. 

Michael Greyeyes will play the part of Jimmy Saint, which as of the time of this article posting has not been discussed in the media, nor has his role been listed on the IMDb (Internet Media Database) film industry website.

In an exclusive conversation with Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling, Greyeyes discussed his role, his excitement for the series and playing the role of an actor immersed in the world of an oncoming Vampire Apocalypse.

Vincent Schilling: Hello Michael, I have to say without a doubt that I am certain Indian Country as well as the rest of the world is going to love V-Wars, who doesn’t love vampires? What are your thoughts as we begin to talk about this project?

Michael Greyeyes: My thoughts are that it is all becoming about genre, or what the industry calls genre films. I think what Netflix revealed when we finally started to grasp that platform, is that genre is one of the few reasons that people seek entertainment anymore. You know? ... like the horror genre, comic book, sci-fi and vampire genres. These genres, people will take money out of their wallet and go, 'I have to see this. I have to see this.'

And our access to that market as indigenous people, it's porous. We are in-like-Flynn, man. And also, our populations watch genre. For me, V-Wars was a no-brainer. It was a no-brainer. I said, ‘What's the story about it?’ And they said, 'It's a science-based approach to the vampire genre.' And I was like, 'I'm in.'

First of all, although perhaps past its heyday, the vampire genre is like all genre things: it's a metaphor for the world we live in. And I think that the writers, the showrunners for this piece, they took the IDW brand, and this thing that John Maberry had created, begun, and they took it in a really smart, highly political direction. And when I was reading it, I was like, 'This is good. This is really good. If they have the budget and the effects are good, this is a kind of vampire show that I would want to watch anyway, even if I wasn't in it.'

Vincent Schilling: You are in a great position to give a bit of relief to Indian Country. Just this week I reported that Netflix has just canceled any additional seasons of Chambers.

Michael G.: I know.

Vincent Schilling: The wonderful thing is that Sivan Alyra Rose, Marcus LaVoi, and other Native actors are spectacular and I know we'll continue to see them in stuff. But now that this announcement's coming out that you're going to be in V-Wars, that there's still some representation of a Native presence in an otherwise fairly non-diverse industry. So how does that feel to be in your position?

Michael G.: It's gratifying. I mean, it's also hard won. It's hard fought, hard won. We have as a community, always been agitators, saboteurs to gain access to an industry that wasn't built by us, that wasn't marketed to us. And so, I'm of a generation that benefited from path-cutters and trailblazers. So I'm in a unique position. It's like doors were opened for my generation, doors are opening up for subsequent generations, and my response is, 'by all means necessary, by any means necessary'. So to me, what convinced me to take the role of Jimmy Saint was this was a production that just said, 'We're looking for a Jimmy Saint.' There was no requirement that he be white, black, Hispanic or Asian.

Michael Greyeyes as Qaletaqa Walker - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 3, Episode 8.
Michael Greyeyes as Qaletaqa Walker - Fear the Walking Dead, Season 3, Episode 8.

Vincent Schilling: How was the audition process in that light?

Michael G.: When I went into the audition room, I was expecting to see my friends. You know? Like all the people that I audition with, and all I saw were guys I'd never had seen before. There were a lot of white guys, and I was like, 'Oh. Oh wow. Okay. So they do not know who they want yet,' that's really what I assumed. I was like, 'Oh, when they said that they're interested in diverse casting, they're actually for real serious about it.' So I went in there, and one of the directors and executive producers was there. So, I did my audition. I came and I'm always prepared. So, I felt it went really well. Smashed it. And we got an offer the next day. Right? So, that's unusual.

Vincent Schilling: Wow.

Michael G.: And they hired me. And so Vincent, that is the first time in 27 years of being a professional actor that I was hired for a part that wasn't Native specific. So that is, to me that blew my mind. First of all that it took that long for the industry just to see me as a qualified actor. But I was so happy because it wasn't written as a Native character it avoided a lot of the tropes and kinds of writing that we still tend to see. So, this character was fantastic, his name's Jimmy Saint. He's a biker, so, I had to learn how to ride a motorcycle, first time in my life. Well, second, my character Gooch rode a motorcycle.

Vincent Schilling: In 27 years you’ve never been cast in a specific non-Native role?

Michael G.: Yeah. I actually mentioned it to my agent and said, 'You all realize that's the first time I was cast in a non-Native specific role.' And they were like, 'No. No, there were others. There were.' We all talked about it and they said, 'Oh my God, you're right.'

It's sobering to understand how an industry sees us, and how they don't see us in the vast majority of the kinds of shows they want to make.

Vincent Schilling: So, with V-Wars, I've been looking at some of the chatter that's been going on, and of course, Ian Somerhalder is known as the lead creative force. What have your interactions been with him in the course of filming?

Michael G.: Ian is a huge champion of the show. He's the series lead. He's directed me in one of the episodes, and he's an executive producer on the show. From the moment I arrived on the set Ian and I got along great. He would literally see me and go, 'Jimmy Saint!' and he'd run over and he'd hug me. And he's actually a really, truly generous guy he was a huge force in Vampire Diaries, and has a huge mega following on Twitter, and Instagram, with millions of fans. I loved his approach on the set. He was always asking questions trying to make things better.

Vincent Schilling: V-Wars takes place in a pre-apocalyptic Vampire infected world just before it really hits the fan. What I like about an apocalypse movie world, is that it never has happened before and it never will happen again, but when it's happening, it is the most exciting, if not horrifying moment within any story.

Michael G.: We're in discovery with the audience. And what I really admire about our show is the writing, the writing is incredibly smart. It's topical. It's ultra-violent. It's true horror, it's really scary. People are infected by a virus. It's a viral epidemic. The virus affects people in different ways, which is so cool. In some cases, how it affects people is different. And that leads to this sort of really exciting sets of narratives that flow through. But one of the centerpieces is government intrigue because the government, of course, realizes that this thing is much worse, much worse than the media report and the initial stories reveal. And the government's like, 'We need to get ahead of this.' But they can't.

It's like it's the end of the world. Our characters are caught in the midst. There's this rich array of characters and really good genre. It's a blood bath. So, as I'm reading these scripts I'm like, 'Oh my ... no! No, not that guy! Not her!' So by the time the series sort of like comes to its climax, there's this incredible group of survivors that finally meet. So when my character and Dr. Swann (played by Somerhalder) meet, it's like a big deal because we've been in separate storylines for half the season.

When we were making V-Wars in Canada, in Hamilton, in Northern Ontario. I was looking at the images and our Director of Photography is dynamite. And I said, 'This is gritty and raw,' and it's a genre. It's a genre, it's a true genre.'

Vincent Schilling: Talking about all of this, and looking back. Michael, my God, you have played some of the best horror Native badass murder-everyone, slam-them-all, kill-them-all characters so many times. You literally have had what so many actors would really call an absolute dream career.

Michael G.: Oh yeah. I've been very fortunate. I'm full of gratitude for the journey I've been on in the past few years. It's been about, I think about five years. And I do, I definitely want people to know that I waited. I waited for a long time in my career to access these kinds of roles. As many people know, I took a break from the industry to become a professor in Canada. And I taught theater for over a decade. And that was my primary job. I was not a full-time actor. And one of the reasons for that was I said, 'I don't want to be away from my family for subpar work.' Work that is either, poorly written, poorly conceived, retread. I wanted to create new territory and new kinds of characters.

It was with Saints and Strangers in 2015 that I started to see better roles. Soon after that, it was Woman Walks Ahead. On the tail of that, it was Fear of the Walking Dead. After that, it was True Detective, then it was Blood Quantum, then it was Jimmy Saint in V-Wars.

I feel that my reps, my friends, my manager, my agents, we've been extremely careful about the kind of work that we've been choosing to do. And we didn't say yes to everything.

What was really fantastic about V-Wars is that I was home for most of it. So when I work, I'm always traveling, I'm filming in Mexico and Arkansas, currently, I'm in New York. With V-Wars I would go to work and I'd come home and I'd go to sleep in my own bed, which was the first time in a couple of decades of work where I was working at home. So my daughters loved having me around.

Vincent Schilling: Last question, any cool memories to share about Ian Somerhalder?

Michael G.: There was this scene between him and I, and let's just say that there was a certain amount of gunplay involved in the interior of a truck.

Vincent Schilling: Ok, I am completely intrigued. I only will say this, #JimmySaintWatchParty.

Michael Greyeyes: (laughs) Amazing. Amazing. I will say about this moment, emotionally, and performance-wise, Between Ian's character and my character, we were really dealing with a lot of heavy stuff, really heavy stuff, and it was really, it was a high point for me in terms of what would be revealed about my character and what was revealed about Ian's character. And for me, that was the high point of the whole season.

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Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling and Instagram - @VinceSchilling

Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

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