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Saskatchewan actor reveling in breakthrough role as Qavvik in True Detective: Night Country

Joel D Montgrand's character in True Detective, Eddie Qavvik, stands in front of his ice shack in Ennis, Alaska. (Submitted by Joel D. Montgrand - image credit)
Joel D Montgrand's character in True Detective, Eddie Qavvik, stands in front of his ice shack in Ennis, Alaska. (Submitted by Joel D. Montgrand - image credit)

The latest season for one of television's most beloved crime drama series has a Saskatchewan connection.

Joel D. Montgrand is playing the role of Eddie Qavvik in True Detective: Night Country, the fourth season of the HBO anthology series.

Montgrand, who is from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, which is near Prince Albert, spent most of his youth in La Ronge. He has been grinding his way through the acting business hoping to land a mega role.

He was among several Indigenous actors who auditioned and were being considered for Qavvik, which means wolverine in the Iñupiaq language.

Finding out he had been cast as trooper Evangeline Navarro's love interest in True Detective was a thrilling moment.

"My agent called me up … and people from all over the building heard me yelling, jumping around," Montgrand told CBC News. "I was so elated and I ended up starting at the gym like three days later."

He said director Issa Lopez told him that she wanted Qavvik to have a specific look, so Montgrand immediately got to work to lose 25 pounds before the start of filming.

"Let's just say [Qavvik] has moved away from the dad-bod situation that I had going on at the time," he said.

Qavvik and Nvavarro sit in a ice shack during episode 3 in Season 4 of True detective.
Qavvik and Nvavarro sit in a ice shack during episode 3 in Season 4 of True detective.

Evangeline Navarro, left, and Eddie Qavvik sit in an ice shack in the third episode of True Detective's fourth season. (Submitted by Joel. D Montgrand)

A lovable character who skirts the law, Qavvik also has a tender side when he interacts with Navarro.

Raised by powerful matriarchs, Qavvik isn't trying to assume any additional roles, nor is he trying to change the woman he's in love with, Montgrand said of his character.

"It's accepting of who she is, and I think it [serves as] a positive role model for any men out there," Montgrand said.

Qavvik has also been described as a heartthrob, and Montgrand thinks that description is hilarious.

"I think it's natural that people would find him interesting and alluring," he said.

Former teacher 'saw something' in Montgrand

As a teenager, the thought of acting wasn't something that captivated Montgrand.

He described himself as incredibly shy in high school and usually the kid who sat in the back of class.

Unable to really sing or dance very well, he auditioned for a musical in high school after he said he was forced to. His audition featured a song that had profanity in it, and his first thought when he was finished was that he was going to get into trouble.

Instead, Mrs. Moon, a teacher from St. Mary's High School in Prince Albert, tapped Montgrand for the lead role.

"I couldn't sing. I couldn't dance. She just saw something in me," he said.

Joel D. Montgrand stands for cameras during a red carpet event for the release of True Detective; Night Country.
Joel D. Montgrand stands for cameras during a red carpet event for the release of True Detective; Night Country.

Joel D. Montgrand stands for cameras during the Jan. 9 red carpet event for the release of True Detective: Night Country. (Submitted by Joel D. Montgrand)

Montgrand has been in love with acting ever since that moment and he hasn't stopped.

'Indigenous renaissance period'

He had been cast in a couple of small pieces before moving to Vancouver in 2013, but it was after moving to B.C. that he was encouraged to find an agent.

Despite having no resume, no headshots and no appointments, an agency signed him.

His career trajectory wasn't as sharp as he hoped it would be, from roles in music videos, to student films. But the opportunity to star opposite two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster and other established actors in True Detective, which is set near the Arctic Circle in the fictional town of Ennis, Alaska, is one he still finds surreal.

"I've run the gamut of the emotional roller-coaster. I had a minor panic attack when suddenly you're starting to get messages from people all over the world" Montgrand said.

The first few episodes of the season have already aired, but just before the season premiere Montgrand warned his mother that she might want to skip the first few minutes because of a sex scene.

"Of course everyone watches this thing and she gets back to me, 'how come you didn't warn me?' And I was like, 'I did. I told you multiple times.' She was like, 'oh, maybe I was just too excited to listen to what you were saying' … classic mom," Montgrand said.

Joel D. Montgrand, middle back row, stands with his family in Saskatchewan.
Joel D. Montgrand, middle back row, stands with his family in Saskatchewan.

Joel D. Montgrand, middle back row, stands with his family in Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Joel. D Montgrand)

His family in Saskatchewan is proud of him and he said they continue to show their support even though Montgrand lives in B.C.

He said he had to leave Saskatchewan 11 years ago to get a jump on his acting career but admits the industry has changed a lot since then.

"Nowadays the nets, they're cast wide open and I know people that are thriving. You can stay connected to where you're at now and I don't think it's an absolute barrier as it was before because there's just a lot more things going on that are locally based," Montgrand said.

He hopes to soon make a trip home to Saskatchewan with his partner.

LISTEN / Montgrand encourages Indigenous youth to pursue acting:

In the meantime, however, Montgrand is preparing to walk the red carpet ahead of his next release, Avatar: The Last Airbender, which debuts Feb. 22. He will be playing the character Hakoda in the new Netflix TV series.

Montgrand encourages more people to get out there and get into acting, especially young Indigenous people who were once shy like he used to be.

"There's never been a better time to get into the industry," he said. "We're in an Indigenous renaissance period now. People want to hear our stories, they want authenticity."