The Indigenous actress plays an idealistic young reporter opposite Hilary Swank’s New York transplant in the ABC series.
She’s not anybody’s Tonto. And you should never, ever, mistake her for one.
Roz Friendly, the ambitious and idealistic reporter played so vividly by Grace Dove in the exceptional new ABC series Alaska Daily, is an Alaskan Native who’s determined to cover a story too often overlooked by local and national media: The crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). Trouble is, just when she finally gets a chance to dig deep into a mysterious death for the newspaper that gives the weekly drama its title, her editor insists she work with a more seasoned journalist: Eileen Fitzgerald (two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank), a recent New York transplant whose brilliant career as a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners investigative reporter stalled with brutal abruptness after she trusted the wrong source to land a major scoop.
Disgraced but still defiant, Eileen accepts a job from the Alaska Daily editor, Stanley Cornick (Jeff Perry), a former colleague who knows she’s looking for a shot at redemption — something she would never admit to anyone, not even herself — and he needs an ace newsperson to compensate for the relative lack of resources at his financially diminished paper. At first, Eileen insists on flying solo, even when she’s working in unfamiliar territory. But she lacks the background — and, yes, the people skills — to delve into the MMIW epidemic. On the other hand, Roz knows the lay of the land, and the particularities of her people. But she’s not at all happy to serve as a gloried gofer for some brassy, burnt-out hotshot whom, she (rightly) suspects, may be more interested in earning front-page headlines than helping Indigenous people.
And she really, really gets rankled when anyone assumes she is Eileen’s assistant and not her associate.
But never mind: Stanley orders them to work as a team, and so they work as a team. Grudgingly at first, with no small amount of mutual distrust. But the longer they look into a long-unsolved death that law enforcers are loath to officially declare a homicide, the more… Well, the less likely they are to kill each other before they solve a murder.
Mind you, the MMIW crisis isn’t the only thing demanding attention from reporters at Alaska Daily, the newspaper. Much like the classic 1977-82 TV series Lou Grant, Alaska Daily, the weekly drama, juggles two or three subplots in each episode, as the overworked journalists cover everything from the announced closing of a beloved local eatery to the corruption of a compromised politicians. But the beating heart of the show — so far, at least — is the dogged enquiry into a tragedy that represents a multitude of real-life deaths and disappearances.
Created for television by Oscar-winning writer-director Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Alaska Daily was inspired by “Lawless: Sexual Violence in Alaska,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of investigative reports by an Anchorage Daily News team led by Kyle Hopkins (who serves as an executive producer for Alaska Daily). “Tom read ‘Lawless,’” says Grace Dove, “and saw that this is something that has been happening for a very long time, but most people didn’t know about it. I mean, as an Indigenous person, I've known about it — I grew up along the Highway of Tears in Prince George. And I think it’s incredible that this is now on network television, and going into the living rooms of people that may not even know what is happening — not only in Alaska, but all across [North America].”
Dove, a Secwépemc actress raised in Prince George, British Columbia, has heretofore been most widely recognized for her appearance as the wife of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass in The Revenant (2015) and her guest starring roles in such TV series as Resident Alien and The Order. She recently wrapped filming the five-part limited series Bones of Crows, in which she stars as Cree matriarch Aline Spears, who survives Canada’s notorious residential school system to continue her family’s generational fight in the face of systemic starvation, racism, and sexual abuse. During World War II, she uses her exceptional ability to understand and translate codes while working as a Cree code talker for the Canadian Air Force.
We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Grace Dove about her life and career. Here are some highlights from our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.
C&I: So we have to ask: Do you have any journalism in your background? Did you write for your high school paper or anything like that?
Grace: It’s quite hilarious because I considered not becoming an actor to become a journalist. I can’t make this up. I worked for my local TV news station before I was even out of high school, and I was a community reporter.
C&I: Where was this?
Grace: Northern British Columbia. And I’m not kidding, I went to the local news station and I said, “I’m ready. I’d like a job.” I mean, I went to the boss at the station and said, “I’d like a job as a reporter.” And he went, “How old are you?” I said, “Fifteen.” He said, “Do you have your driver’s license?” I said, “No.” And he’s like, “How are you going to get around to tell stories?” I said, “I can find a ride.” See, I assumed that my parents would drive me, because they’ll always support me to follow my dreams, right? He said, “Come back when you have your driver's license.”
Grace: So I went back the next year at 16 and they gave me a job.
C&I: Good for you.
Grace: I was a community reporter. So, yeah, I worked on weekends and I worked after school. And that was my first full-time paycheck.
C&I: What experiences from that gig do you think you’ve drawn upon while playing your role in Alaska Daily?
Grace: Well, I think that I was naive in a sense that I really had no idea about the work I would do eventually, but I knew I wanted to make a difference. I remember telling Tom McCarthy that story, and I think that’s probably why he knew I was right for this role, because I've always been so ambitious as a person. And I think Roz is the same way. My character in Alaska Daily has probably been doing the same thing her whole life — wanting to tell stories — but in such a bigger way. It's about so many deeper stories and trying to get the truth out to the world. I mean, Roz is who I wanted to be when I grew up, and now I get to play her on TV. It's incredible.
C&I: Is there anyone in your family with a background in journalism — or acting?
Grace: Definitely not. No, I come from parents who are very humble teachers. We used to travel around northern British Columbia, flying float planes to communities where they taught, and that was it. And I think that my dad and my mother just always supported me when it came to being creative, and knew that I wanted to be in front of the camera since I was very young. I had a TV show at nine years old in Prince George. Which is not the biggest thing, I know, but I always wanted to move to Hollywood. I always wanted to be an actor. And my dad, just as a teacher, wanted me to at least graduate from high school, so that I was grounded and I could represent my people in a good way and not get lost in the showbiz.
C&I: You have become a spokesperson for better and more accurate depictions of Indigenous characters in film. Can you remember the first time you saw a misrepresentation of an Indigenous person in a movie or TV series that really upset you?
Grace: I come from such humble beginnings, I swear, I didn’t grow up around TV. We didn't have TV. And so I think I was somewhat protected from that — and from feeling underrepresented. I was too busy outside playing with sticks and fire and bikes to know I wasn’t represented. You know what I mean? But by the time I reached Vancouver, when I went to study at acting school, that’s when I started studying. That’s when I started understanding and feeling that fire of, “Oh, I've never been represented.”
C&I: And now?
Grace: I have such a hard time looking back. It's like, I’m looking at what’s being cast now. We just need to do such a better job at making sure that we are casting authentically. And that’s what Alaska Daily does wonderfully. I mean, one of our lead actresses in the early episodes, Irene Bedard, who I’ve looked up to for so long, is Alaskan Native. She is from Anchorage. She grew up in Alaska. So I look to her for guidance. She is just so phenomenal, and Tom made sure to hire a mentor like that for me to play off of.
C&I: Speaking of mentors: In the course of what we’ve seen so far, Hilary Swank’s character, whether she wants to be or not, is meant to be on some level a mentor to your character, even though Roz has her own franchise. As actors, how do you work that out? Yes, there’s the script. But do you ever get together over a couple of beers after work and say, “Okay, now how are we going to play this relationship tomorrow?”
Grace: I think Hilary is already such an established actor, and someone that I have wanted to work with my entire life. So she already has her choices, her creative ideas behind Eileen, and I just riff off of it. I mean, it’s always such a privilege to work with someone so established and brilliant. And for us, it’s like we spend 15 hours sometimes on set, so we don’t have lives outside of work. That’s the reality of the work that we do running a TV show. So we wake up every morning, and we look at our scenes, and we see each other in the hair and makeup trailer and go, “Okay, another day, let's just do this.”
C&I: Do you remember the day on the set, or the day on location, when you were shooting a scene and it hit you: “I'm really pulling this off! We are really pulling this off!”?
Grace: I’m waiting for that day. I think as creatives we are always pushing to be better, to be smarter, quicker. And I think the reality of a TV show is that we are always running to catch up. I mean, I’ve only done films up to this point, and I’m used to a six-week push and you’re done. And we are in a six-month marathon. So I don’t know if there will be a moment when I feel like I’ve accomplished something, but maybe that's the point. This is what I asked for. This is the dream. I want to be able to go to work every day and feel like I’m doing something important.
C&I: Well, at least Roz doesn’t have to worry about having a husband who might be attacked by a bear.
Grace: [Laughs] Very true.