North of 60 Interview: Dakota House

One of the storylines that captured viewers' attention during the entire six years
of the show was the development of Teevee Tenia. In sometimes painfully slow
steps, he grew from a rebellious teenager to someone willing--and able--to take
the reins of leadership himself.

Dakota House not only brought Teevee's struggles to life on the screen, but also
lived out many of them himself. In this interview, he talks about his role on "North"
of 60," some other projects, and Teevee's ordeals in the latest movie.

"North of 60" publicist Fran Humphreys was also with us.

Note: The first section below has some spoilers for "Another Country."

The story of "Another Country"

PW: Let's talk a little bit about "Another Country," since that's the order of the day. Big surprise--Teevee's in trouble again. But this time it's more serious than just mooning Eric Olssen!

DH: [laughs] First season, '92?

PW: Yeah, I think the first episode.

DH: It was, yeah.

PW: Why don't you explain a little about what Teevee's up to this time. His visit to Calgary near the end of the series didn't go too well...

DH: I think this time around, he has a better sense about going to the city and dealing with these corporate people. When he gets there, I'm sure he knows what he's going for and how he's going to address everybody. As it turns out, he gets framed for murder, and he's taken for a new, completely different ride. Nothing that he's been used to.

(Click on photo for larger image.)

Sure, throughout a lot of years and seasons that we went through, I'm sure there's a couple seasons where I spent the entire season in the cell [laughs], but Teevee going to the city and going through the remand center and being all shackled and everything is a different experience. On top of that...I don't know how much I should give away...

PW: Go ahead and say what you want. I can always take it out.

DH: So anyways, they try to kill him in jail, and he escapes and sort of befriends his cellmate--who's played by my buddy George [Leach], who's a wicked guitar player.

PW: The cellmate escapes, too?

DH: No, actually, he picks a fight with the guards as we're being escorted out.

PW: Why did Teevee decide to escape?

DH: Well, he was innocent, completely innocent. And the way things were going for him...they had revoked his bail, someone had tried to kill him already. His cellmate was like, "You're going to be dead before you make bail." So when Matthew Fowler, his cellmate, comes up with this plan, Teevee thinks about it, but he bites. When the time for escape comes, he gets into a fight with the guards, and they're beating him up, and they cart Teevee away. As he's going for his preliminary, he sees his chance and takes it, and gets wounded in the process of escaping, and makes his way back home.

PW: Even though he's wounded, he gets away?

DH: Yeah.

PW: So he's innocent, but he figures he isn't going to get a fair shake in the city?

DH: That's exactly it, yeah. He sees it's all a downward spiral for him, from solitary to all the other stuff that happens. He just doesn't see any light above the clouds.

PW: So after his escape, Teevee makes his way back to Lynx River.

DH: Yeah, he gets some help and makes his way back to Lynx River. Pieces of the puzzle start coming together, and he finds out who and why.

PW: Who committed the murder and why?

DH: Yeah. Makes him confess, with a knife to his throat. Cuts him a couple of times.

PW: That's a good incentive to talk!

DH: [laughs] Yeah! "What?" [in high-pitched voice] "Okay, okay!"

PW: You have a lot of scenes in this movie. It really is mainly a story about Teevee this time. Of course, you were in a lot of "Dream Storm," too...

DH: Yeah, but not as prominent as this. This is the lead pretty much, with Hugh Thompson.

FH: You really set the tone for it in "Dream Storm"--as a leader on set, as an actor, you yourself laid down some tracks. But how does it feel to be holding the show, because that's really what's going on here?

DH: I feel really good about it. I mean, I have my chance, and it's a great challenge, and it's something I've been looking forward to probably most of my career. Being on top of that Teevee, with a great character throughout the series and the development of Teevee, the character, has been outstanding, for me to get the show and almost be the show is a new dimension.

And for me to be working every scene on set, it just gives me so much more, you know, so we do a scene and then you're in the next scene blocking and the next scene and so forth, it doesn't give you the chance to sit back and relax and then you lose it again. So you're there all the time. And of course I read the script a number of different times through so I know where I am all the time. But being able to work every single scene, it feels good.

Teevee and Dakota

PW: So being in one scene right after another actually helps you stay in character. You can't fall out of character long because you're always needed to be Teevee.

DH: Right. Mind you, getting into character for me is pretty easy! And if I stayed in character the entire time, I don't think I'd have any friends on the set. [all laugh] [imitating Teevee] "Screw you! Who are you looking at?!"

PW: Now, now, none of us believe you're really like that! [all laugh] Although, some people have suggested that your life has paralleled Teevee's in some respects...

DH: Oh, it's crazy. There were times when I'd look over my shoulder and like, "Where are these writers....what the hell's going on?" Because it was like a fantasy world that I was living in. Teevee would get in shit, then oh my god, I was getting arrested by the cops.

(Click on photo for larger image.)

PW: So at times, the storylines about Teevee have paralleled your own life to an uncanny degree.

DH: Yeah, yeah. You know, there were times when I just thought, "What the hell's going on?" You know when I had two kids and Teevee had another kid, I'm more! Ah-hah, I'm ahead of the game! [all laugh]

PW: I don't think I'm the only one who feels that the character development of Teevee was one of the pivotal threads throughout the series. To see him from episode 1, where he's mooning Eric Olssen, to episode 90, that beautiful scene where he's making an offering of the moose he's killed and he really thinks about some of the things he hasn't been doing right in his life...what's your feeling about Teevee's development over the six years of the series? Did it seem realistic to you?

DH: It did. It also gave a lot of the viewers a chance to see that you can grow up. You can be this and you can grow up. Even going back, I mean even my life as a kid--and I was a kid, I was 18 years old when I started. And here I was, I grew up in an inner city in Edmonton, and all of a sudden I was put in a fishbowl. And any time I wanted to dick around or hang with my friends, bang, they're on me right now, right? It wasn't like I was any better or worse than anyone else out there, it's just that they're printing stuff and I was always made to seem like the bad guy. But you know, it was never that. I would never go in and say, "I want a press conference because this isn't what happened." I just wanted to let it ride.

But yeah, the development of my character, it's been great. I feel very privileged to be working with all these veterans who've been around for years. It's like a classroom here when I'm working. I sit back and I watch it. I learn from the best of them, I learn the craft. I think De Niro said, "If you're going to steal something, steal from the best." You know when I'm watching, I take little bits of this and that and I hone a little bit more on my skill and just make it that much better. With this movie, I think people are gonna see that, "Oh, shit, he can act!" [laughs]

PW: I think people got that message a long time ago! To me, it has been very realistic how Teevee takes two steps forward and one step back, or sometimes one step forward and two steps back. Every time we thought that Teevee had his act together, he would do something to screw it up. He'd run away from town, he'd hit Bertha. So I think by the time we got to that 90th episode, we could really tell the difference, that this time he really meant it. Not that he wouldn't ever make mistakes again, but that he was finally coming to terms with what he had to do to be a man.

DH: Right. You know what, I think Teevee is a character you love to hate, for sure, but he's definitely a character that you can understand and you can sympathize with, as well as all the issues that he's going through. You know, a lot of people have been through those things, too, and they can understand that and go, "Wow, I've just been through that!" I think that gives them more to relate to. So many people who I've run into, it's like, "Oh man, I know what you're going through." "Teevee, or Dakota?" [laughs]

PW: And they say, "Both"? [laughs]

DH: [laughs] Yeah!

PW: Have you gotten the impression that Teevee's growth has helped some kids see that they can grow up and lead responsible lives?

DH: I think so. But not only that, I do a lot of youth conferences, public appearances and stuff. When I'm out there talking to people, I don't tell 'em what to do and what not to do. I tell 'em my story, some of the things that I went through, my philosophy, and just words that really mean something. And coming from myself--who's a national figure, I guess--they listen and they want to hear what you're talking about.

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And when you're talking about stuff like some of the stuff I talk about when I was a kid growing up in the inner city, and I get little kids through teenagers whose mouths just drop open, like "Wow, you went through that??" As it says in my bio, I realized that some of your best friends can be your own worst enemies. A lot of people, you know, they hook up and they're looking for that acceptance, and a lot of time there's sort of bad apples who are accepting everybody because they want them to do their own bidding. That's how the kids get hooked up. And they glorify it. "Oh, you stole a car--wow! How fast did you get it?" That kind of bullshit.

Now, when I go back to my old 'hood and stuff, I see some of the people who I used to hang out with, and they're bums now. They're collecting bottles and stuff. And they just never grew up. They just couldn't get it, you know? And me, fortunately enough, I grew up quite quick at a young age. Still, I mean, there was that hint of the street and stuff, and when I came into film and everything I fell into it. Almost overnight I was across Canada.

So I think in that sense with the conferences and for people that are watching the character and the development of it, it's good for them. It's good for them to hear that. Even to see a fictional character, how bad he was, how he developed to be an upstanding community member.

PW: The chief, in fact! Who would have thought? Teevee had to be the least likely person in Lynx River to ever be chief.

DH: We joked about it a number of years ago. We were sitting around, and Doug [MacLeod] and Tom [Cox] and some of the guys were there, and like, "What about if Teevee was chief?" And we all laughed! "What about it? Yeah, ten years from now I could see that!" Little did I know a couple of seasons later I see "Chief Tenia." "Chief Tenia? What?! Let me go back in this story. Where did I become chief?" [laughs]

PW: And you're taking a leadership role in real life, too.

DH: Yeah, I've done conferences and public appearances and that kind of deal across Canada since like '92, '93. I do plays with the community, real stuff that kids can relate to and they can grow and where they can get rid of a lot of the negative energy. We talk about some of the issues that the youth are dealing with, and from those issues we develop a play, and at the end of the conference we put the play on for the community. The amount of emotion that happens during and after the play just blows me away.

Other projects

FH: I'll need to update your bio because of the "Dreamkeeper" thing.

DH: Yeah, yeah.

PW: Boy, about half the people I've talked to today are involved with that project!

DH: Yeah, a lot of people are on that. I hear Tantoo Cardinal's going to be playing my grandmother. They were talking about shaving my head. Now they just want my hair to grow.

Fran Humphreys and Dakota House
(Click on photo for larger image.)

FH: You'd actually look good.

DH: I was thinking, you know. I've had my hair pretty short before. I would have gotten pictures if they would have shaved my head. Who knows, maybe after the show--change the look.

PW: Can you talk a little about your production company, Clear Sky? What are you doing with it, or hope to do?

DH: Ultimately what I want to do is have an empire!

PW: Okay! [laughs]

DH: Actors, singers, models...I teach acting too, eh? Two of my students are professionals. One was in "Dream Storm"--Toby Campbell, who played Alex in the show. He had the knife, or found the knife or whatever. He was one of my students. Our production company before that was called Sharc House, and we did a pilot for APTN. "Sharc House" is sort of a collaboration of our names: "Sh" for Shane, Nathaniel's brother; "arc" for Arcand, his last name; and "House" for me.

PW: So it was you, Nathaniel Arcand, and Nathaniel's brother?

DH: Right. Shane, Nathaniel, and me.

PW: Are they involved in this new company, Clear Sky?

DH: Nathaniel was working on some stuff with me, but he has some shows that he's really busy with, so I'm sort of taking over it. I've got a couple of projects that I'm writing right now.

PW: For TV?

DH: Yeah, and a feature that I have lined up. On top of that, as soon as it's done here, I'll be talking to David McNally, a buddy of mine who used to teach at the Red Deer College. He's going to open up the acting school with me. He's going to do up a curriculum, and I'm going to do a professional film and television school. And, at the end of this year, before the year is out, I should hopefully have my two children's books published.

PW: Children's books? That's terrific. What are their titles, do you know yet?

DH: The first story that I'm doing is called "Dancers in the Sky," and it's about the northern lights and how they came about. And the second one is called "Dream Catcher." I brought this dream catcher back from Ontario, and I gave it my daughter. She took it to school, and the kids were like, "Wow, what does that do?"

PW: They'd never seen one?

DH: I guess they'd seen 'em, but they didn't know what it was about. And she was like, "Dad, could you write me a story about the dream catcher?" And I just sat down and yeah...[scribbling sounds]...and I gave it to her.

PW: What ages are the books for?

DH: Um, I'm thinking, because the first one I want to do a read-along with it, and at the end of the drumbeat or the end of the melody or whatever, you turn the page. I'd be like, I guess, the narrator. I'm thinking maybe Grade 2 and older?

PW: Both of them.

DH: Yeah.

PW: And your kids are how old?

DH: Four, six, and nine.

PW: Did you say you have a feature film under development for Clear Sky?

DH: Yeah, well, that's where I want to take it, is to the screen. I'm writing a script already, and the bible's pretty much done.

PW: Did you say there's also a series under development.

DH: Yeah, a miniseries that I'm doing.

PW: So those are projects that you work on as you get time.

DH: Yeah, I've been working on them for a little bit, and I have some people who are working on funding and stuff right now while I'm out here. So when I go back, hopefully everything's in order and I can get right back on it until something comes up. But I've got a laptop with Final Draft [scriptwriting software] on it.

[Wilma Pelly comes in with fried chicken wings for Dakota]

DH: Oh, yeah!

PW: And as usual, Elsie takes care of Teevee!

DH: Oh, yeah--on and off the set! [all laugh]

PW: Boy, you have that woman well trained!

DH: [speaking with mouthful of food] Wilma babysat for me, too, a couple times when I was living here. She's just like my grandma, for sure.

Filming in jail for "Another Country"

PW: I know you've been on set all day, so please do go ahead and nibble. But maybe between chicken wings, you could answer some questions for Fran, who I know has some for you.

FH: I do, thanks. I want to talk about some of the issues behind the story of "Another Country."

DH: Well, I'll tell you what--I'm going to be on my best behavior after this. There's no way I'm going to jail! [all laugh] I was already saying that after I read the script a few times. "I'm going to be on my best behavior after this show is over." I'm going to hibernate!

FH: In fact, it was written just to scare ya! [all laugh]

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PW: So I guess when they were doing the scenes in jail, you didn't care for it?

DH: Oh, I tell ya...

FH: What was your feeling about that? Because it felt pretty real to me. It was pretty scary. The remand center was a creepy place.

DH: It was. I don't know if people take it from this perspective, but from my perspective, when I was sitting there at the table and seeing the scratches on the table and some of the nicks and everything...just sitting there looking at those wondering, you know, how hard it must have been for those people there. Of course they did the crime and all that stuff, but coming from the flip side and going, "Oh my god." You can't see out the windows. All you know is if it's night or day. If you go right up to the window, you can see an outline of the skyline. I was freaked out just thinking, "Oh my god, the people who must have been here. It drives you crazy.

PW: I hadn't realizes those scenes were filmed at a real jail.

DH: Yeah, it was right at the remand center. There's one scene in the solitary where Teevee was thrown in after they tried to kill him and sort of gets in a fight with a guard in a blind fury and anyone who comes at him, it's like survival. And for that he gets thrown into solitary. And it was really an emotional scene where he'd just completely lost, everything's just completely caving in around him: his family, his position, his community. And here he is in solitary and it was just like, this like 12-second camera pan until it got like right in front of my face. I was just like in the zone and I do this blank look.

PW: It sounds like you were really feeling what that situation would be like.

DH: Anything I play I always try to feel that. Growing up where I did and stuff, and everything that I went through, I try to use my life experience in everything. Now, the last ten, eleven years, my adult life, it's been new experiences for sure. The good with the bad, the bad with the good. I just try to use all my life experiences just to make it that much more real.

And I like watching a lot of documentaries and A&E and those kinds of shows that have the real things going on. ER room and stuff like that. It's like the real deal so I can see what they're going through. 'Cuz who knows, man, I'll probably never have [knocks on wood] my leg almost shot off or something to that effect, and being able to watch them and just know the pain that they're going through, to see it, to feel it, it's just like, yeah.

PW: It helps you as an actor.

DH: Yeah.

FH: So did doing that scene do something for you. Because it sounds like sometimes the line between Teevee and you goes back and forth. What were you thinking about during that 12-second pan?

DH: I was just thinking about the script and everything that he had been through. I was just sort of in the zone. Of course, in a really intense scene like that, it takes me a couple minutes, five minutes to get there. Then once I'm there, I can come out of it, I can joke around, and then I can go into it real sound and bang, it's there.

"Another Country" and the Canadian justice system

FH: I think this story is interesting because it does shed light on something I think is real, which is in Canada, the white legal system is full of native people just going through hell. There's a big, big movement afoot to repatriate some of the justice...

DH: You know what? When I was 18 or 19 I bought a Jaguar, it was actually a V-12, '76, just because. I'd never ever seen any aboriginal driving a Jag like that before, and I thought, "Yeah, I can do it if I want." And I bought it.

And I was getting pulled over three, four times a week, because it didn't look like it was my car, I guess. I had detectives pulling guns, "Turn the car off!" I'm just like, "What's your problem?" And I look back and he's like, "Oh my god, you're that guy off that show." And I'm like, "Yeah, what's the problem?" "Oh, you didn't look like you, man." "Well, aren't you going to ask me for my license?" "Oh yeah, I'd better make it official, eh?" But just like a lot of crap. I try to look past it. For sure they do their job, but they shouldn't be...I see a lot of...hmmm, what's the word I'm looking for...Racial issues? Discrimination?

One time I was with my agent, I was in my Jag, and it was downtown. And this cop must have been a few blocks behind me. And I just made it through this yellow light. He speeds up, comes to the side of the car, and says, "Step out of the car right now!" I'm like, "What's going on?" He says, "I saw you run that red light. Don't give me any lip!" When I jump back in the car, Daryl, my agent, goes, "What was that all about?" I said, "It happens all the time," and he's like, "I've never had anything like that ever happen to me." And I'm like, "Well, you're white."

A good thing about "North of 60" is we're not your stereotypical aboriginal show that you see out there, and I think it gives people a better understanding of who we are and it shows them that we're not so different from them at all.

FH: It's now been nearly ten years since "North of 60" went on the air. What do you think about that?

DH: I think it's been outstanding. It's become a tight place now, very close, very together. I feel very comfortable when I'm here working with them, and it makes me happy what we've done. Tenth-year anniversary--I'm just like "Wow!" I'm so blown away. And on top of that, my character and his storyline...I couldn't ask for anything more.

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Text and photos (c) 2002 Patricia F. Winter.

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