Sundance Channel is going dark with its second scripted original series, “The Red Road.” The network seems to be looking to follow in the footsteps of other cable channels like AMC, FX and A&E, and that is what drew the actors to the project.
“As an actor, it’s always great to play a dark character. It’s challenging and interesting to be able to go to places as an actor that you couldn’t go as who you are,” Tamara Tunie, who plays Marie, tells Zap2it.
Kiowa Gordon, who plays Junior, adds, “I always want to work with dark material.”
For Jason Momoa, who plays troublemaker Phillip Kopus, it was a chance to try something new. “I feel like in this thing, no one’s ever seen me like this. No one even knows that I smile, really, or have personality, a sense of humor — whether you like that sense of humor or not,” he says.
But beyond being a dark gritty drama, “The Red Road” portrays a world that isn’t often seen on the small screen. Taking place not far from New York City, “The Red Road” tells the stories of a Native American community not recognized by the federal government and the town that exists alongside it.
Based on the real-life Ramapough Mountain Indians in New Jersey, “The Red Road” borrows its premise from a real-life problem these people are facing. The cast and creator Aaron Guzikowski used a representative from the Ramapoughs to help keep their series true-to-life.
Though the series initially depicts some of the Native American characters as being the “bad guys,” Tunie doesn’t think that’s something that will cause any backlash. “I think that Aaron and [writer] Bridget [Carpenter], they write human beings,” she says. “Nobody’s all bad, nobody’s all good. Certainly in this Native American community there are good people who are presented as well.”
Momoa tells reporters that he made a point for his character not to be entirely a villain. “I went there and wanted [the Ramapoughs] to know that, though out the whole series, [his Native American culture] going to find him and it’s going to meld together at some point,” Momoa explains of his ex-con character.
In addition to exploring this world of Native American culture, “The Red Road” also has a conflict in the family of Martin Henderson’s Officer Harold Jenson. It’s revealed in the first episode that his wife Jean, played by Julianne Nicholson, has a serious mental illness and seems to be schizophrenic.
Though no one in Nicholson’s life suffers from that disease, she says many members of the crew had people close to them who were schizophrenic and she learned a lot from their stories. “It looks differently on everyone. There isn’t a checklist of ‘if you have A, B and C, you’re schizophrenic.’ Because I wanted to be as honest as I could to what that could feel like to one person, I kind of picked and chose from the things that I read and the things that I heard and what Aaron had written,” she says.
Jean has had a troubled way of dealing with her disease, and isn’t forced to come face-to-face with it until the first episode. “She makes everyone believe she’s an alcoholic. She drinks all the time,” Guzikowski explains. “The reason she did it initially was so people wouldn’t really notice what was happening to her, and it probably just numbs her own experience too.”
Storylines from both the past and present converge to entwine the Jensons’ tale with that of the Native American tribe. But according to Momoa, Jenson and Kopus could have once found themselves in different situations.
“[Kopus] could have been like Harold. He could have been a good guy with a family and kids, but some people have been done wrong in this life, truly been done wrong. And you’re going to find that out,” Momoa says. “The two men doing that to survive under their different circumstances, so it’s fun. It’s fun being the baddy-goody.”
Though many questions are created in “The Red Road” series premiere, expect them to be resolved by Season 1’s sixth and final episode.
“All the questions that we pose in the pilot I knew we were going to have to answer by the end of it, but I also wanted those answers to themselves to conjure up a whole new range of possible questions,” Guzikowski says. “At the end of the day, I still wanted to make sure we resolve the big questions that we have up front, just so the audience got everything that we had promised at the outset.”
“The Red Road” premieres on Sundance Channel on Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.