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Trickster’s Kalani Queypo Talks Bringing Legends To Life

Trickster -- "Episode 5" -- Image Number: TRK105_0009.jpg -- Pictured: Kalani Queypo as Wade -- Photo: Lindsay Sarazin/Sienna Films Trickster XIX Inc. -- © 2021 Sienna Films Trickster XIX Inc.

Embodying the titular Trickster on the CW/CBC show of the same name is not an easy task. But Kalani Queypo was up to the challenge of taking on a god-like character steeped in myth, while also bringing humanity and modernity to Wade and Wee’Git. We talked with Queypo about finding the characters and what it means to bring such a modern indigenous story to the screen.

The Mary Sue: What was your relationship to the mythology coming into this show? Because with Wee’Git/Raven you’re playing this very powerful trickster god. What was your relationship with Raven before this show?

Kalani Queypo: Indigenous cultures all over the globe have some version of a trickster. In North America, it could be a coyote, could be Raven. There’s a lot of different versions, but oftentimes one of the common threads is that they’re tricksters, and they sort of teach lessons. They teach you, they mess with you …  they’re this mystery and they’re fun and devious and sort of duplicitous.

I got to do some research and some books were shared with me, so I got to read some stories. And then of course I got to read the novel [The Trickster trilogy series by Eden Robinson], which was so much fun going into it. I sort of looked at the amalgamation of knowledge that I had. And then I zeroed in on this one. And, of course, we had that source material. The actual novel that it’s it was based on. So I got to really lean into that and get some clues from that.

What do you go, what is it like as an actor when you’re playing such an otherworldly character, because Wade really does have this very inhuman vibe to him that’s really fun to watch.

I’m going to tell you something, I really leaned into his humanity and I really leaned into his worldly, or I should say earthly existence, him being a part of this earth and for centuries. Right. So that’s really interesting to me … because on the one hand, it’s daunting, right? It’s like, ‘oh my gosh, how do you play a character who’s 500 years old?’ And he’s experienced all that and has all these abilities

But then there’s also this freedom that comes along with it, because I felt like it sort of opened up what he could be like. And I have to say, the creative process was so supportive for me because I got to really dive into my imagination and really look at, okay, well, if I can see all these old stories about Wee’Git and the kinds of things that he would do, then I could read the novel and see like his experience specifically as Wade in Robinson’s book, then it sort of gave me that permission to say, dream big, man, like, look at you, get to make this character who he is.

We get to see this really fun flashy guy, right? Like he’s like riding a motorcycle, a leather jacket, smoking cigarettes, saying all the cool things. And I’m wearing pants that were too tight for him or whatever. [Then] we start to see him bonding with his kid, answering all these questions that he has, and he reveals himself as a trickster, reveals Jared’s mom Maggie to be a witch and he reveals all this stuff, but at the heart of it … you start to see him create a bond and to start to really care about this boy.

So that’s my very long answer—I really lean into the humanity of it, and with the fun and flair of “I can shapeshift, I know more than you and I get to share what I want to share with you, and I’m going to run this game. And then things start to get slippery. And I can only outwit and trick so many people. So I love the idea that people don’t know when I’m telling the truth, when I’m telling only part of something.

Trickster -- "Episode 2" -- Image Number: TRK102_0001.jpg -- Pictured: Kalani Queypo as Wade -- Photo: Sienna Films Trickster XIX Inc. -- © 2020 Sienna Films Trickster XIX Inc.

You can always tell that Wade knows a lot more than everyone else around him and or you can’t quite know what’s true and what’s not, and it’s such an interesting just to watch you perform that way. Cause it’s so fascinating and you’re so compelling on screen.

Oh, thank you. Like you said, his knowledge is simply by being around for so long, and more and more, it gets revealed, like what he knows and what makes him who he is and what that means to be a trickster. It just gets thicker and heavier and richer and more complicated. And it’s super cool. And it’s so fun to watch.

And I’ll be honest with you. I would literally be like, is this too much? Cause I would just go for it, and really have fun with it. And I had to really trust the director, the writer … and that’s what was really cool—throughout the process, they were constantly rewriting and adding new scenes and it was based on watching our performances … It sort of gives you that launching pad to say, okay, go big.

When I spoke to Crystle Lightning, she said it was so nice to play an indigenous character who wasn’t in the 1700s. Has that been your experience?

It was definitely super cool for me because I’ve had very cool opportunities to be in period pieces. Being in a situation where you’re reawakening any language that hasn’t been spoken for over 150 years and really getting to dive into the character elements of the way that someone moves, the way that someone speaks, and connecting the parallels between language and how that affects the way that somebody sounds in a period piece—it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work to learn languages and to simply create an accent in a way that fits how your character would sound in that particular time period with the influences of colonizers and other cultures that are coming into that region at that particular time. All of that work has been, has been really great.

I will say … Crystle and I were celebrating … like while we were doing costume fittings and camera tests and stuff, because we knew this was something that was so special, to be a part of a largely native cast that was doing a story where we weren’t the sidelines, supporting the bigger story. That when we would walk on set, there was indigenous representation across the crew in every single department and being a part of something that had integrity that was offering up something so fresh, something that we haven’t seen on television that was a modern, that was crazy cool.

I got to look the way that I look today, of course, you’ve got all the embellishments … but we got to look the way that we are today and it’s set in this blue-collar, industrial town, and we get to see this idea of what this particular family unit looks like, what this community looks like. And we get to get a glimpse into that world.

Growing up, I didn’t get to look on television and see a lot of representation of what I look like, a little Brown kid and, and I hope that native youth are looking on screen and seeing themselves and being reminded of their families, and also normalizing the idea of seeing people on screen, hearing indigenous stories. And learning that becomes normalized in the sense that it becomes an absolute option for them to become an actor or a writer or a novelist or a crew person on a set and a filmmaker or any of that, you know, it makes it a reality, it’s not some fantasy. I hope one day, we can live in a world where we have an indigenous story being produced by a major network, like CW, which stands for diversity, who brings forth these really exciting stories that we don’t get to see in mainstream media.

Trickster airs Tuesday at 9:00 on The CW with episodes available the next day on The CW app.

(images: Lindsay Sarazin/Sienna Films Trickster XIX Inc)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.