From stumbling into acting to honoring his family's heritage, Jeremy Gauna chats about his life as an up-and-coming entertainer and influencer.
He is an up-and-coming actor, model, and purveyor of positivity who wants to share his and others' stories in order to change the world for the better. Jeremy Gauna has been a part of some high-profile Cowboys & Indians projects lately, most notably our Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 fashion shoots.
We recently caught up with Gauna, who has also had some amazing acting roles recently (including playing a warrior in Taylor Sheridan’s hit mini-series 1883). He tells us how he broke into show biz and into Sheridan's world, how sports saved his life growing up, how he honors his family’s heritage, and how he continues to learn more not just for himself but for his tribe. Check out our full interview below.
C&I: First, how did you get started in modeling, acting, and show business in general?
Gauna: It’s a wild ride, a wild story for me. So I was working for The Dallas Morning News at the time. I had been in marketing/advertising for a good six years there. One day I’m walking into work and somebody waves me down, and they say, “Hey, actors, go down the hallway to the left and change.” And I say, “what are you talking about?” He says, “oh, you're not an actor?” I replied, “Nah, man, I’m going to work.”
So it was for the show called Queen of the South. They’re filming at the Carlisle Room, which is right across the street, behind Dallas Morning News. So as I'm walking in, another guy stops me, thinks I’m an actor, gives me a card, and says, “Hey, go take your picture on this white wall, email us, and tell me when you’re done.” So I went and found a white wall, took my picture on my cellphone, posted it, and reached out to this Andre guy. The casting call was for Mexican, Native American, and Indigenous people. So I left Andre a voicemail saying, “Dude, I’m the guy you’re looking for. If you don’t pick me, that’s discrimination.” Just jokingly. Anyway, five minutes later, I get a call back from, Andre. He says, “We'd love to book you for background.” I was like, sure. Thinking, I had PTO saved up for that.
So I literally took a couple of days off from work, and then while I’m there on set, I remember I’m meeting all the main star actors on Queen of the South, and I'm talking just me being me, just socializing and treating everybody the same, with love. I guess I interacted with some of the writers, some of the producers, and then also more actors. And they all said that they loved the energy that I brought.
I remember talking with Zahn McClarnon, we had conversations at lunch and he was telling me I had a good look. He said I could carry a conversation very well. He says, “I think you should probably consider getting into this man, it’s a wide-open industry right now, there’s more opportunities that are about to start coming.” And this was before Reservation Dogs. This was before Yellowstone, I mean, this was back in 2018. So I’m listening to Z’s advice, and then I remember a writer came up to Zahn while we’re filming. She’s like, “Hey, you know, we need some Native actors for some speaking roles.” So Zahn looked at me and as he is talking to her, and he goes, “What about these guys?” Z opened that door for me. Next thing you know, they’re offering me an opportunity to have a speaking role, and I am just losing my mind. I couldn’t believe what was going on. So, I took the speaking role and started getting into classes after that, because Z had also told me to get in classes. About 2 weeks after that episode of Queen of the South aired, I got an agent, Linda McAlister, and from that point on it’s just been crazy.
This year was the first year I was signed to a modeling agency, Dragonfly Agency. Modeling has just opened more and more doors. And here we are, and I don’t take it for granted at all.
C&I: So, how did you end up on 1883?
Gauna: You know, the amount of respect and love that you give to people that reflects back on to you. And what I mean by that is a lot of the opportunities that I’ve been given haven't come from, you know, going out and finding auditions, they’ve come from word of mouth; people who say, “Hey, I know this guy, Jeremy...”
Kelly is a guy I know from working on the set of The Chosen. Kelly got his hair done with Tim. Tim does hair for Yellowstone. So Kelly showed him my picture and Tim says, “Oh my God, he’s a handsome Native American. Who is this guy?” So, because Tim then took that to who he needed to on his end and said, "Look at this guy." ... And then I get an audition soon after that for 1883. I go through the audition process, and then next thing you know, I'm working on 1883 with the same people that I just watched a week ago on TV. So, it’s pretty neat.
Always treat everyone with respect, even if they treat you negatively. And if they hate you and they cuss at you, just keep a smile and kill ‘em with kindness.
C&I: We love your Instagram (@choctawnativejp) and we see you mention how basketball saved your life. Can you explain that further?
Gauna: I think basketball saved my life beyond teaching discipline in athletics. What I mean by is, like, being bored and not having anything to do. Instead of going out and getting into trouble, I’d pick up a basketball and go shoot hoops. In high school, I was a very hot-tempered kid. I’ll tell you what, my baseball coach, it got to the point where I tried to fight him every day in practice, just talking trash, just for no reason. I don’t know why. I was just hotheaded. You couldn’t tell me anything. ‘Cause I already knew it.
I was the best. No one was better than me. I didn’t have to practice. I just went out there and did it. And I didn’t know at the time, when I was a kid, that if I had actually put in the work in practice and used that mentality to help my teammates get better, oh, we’d have won State, I’d probably be playing professional baseball or basketball right now. But all that to say, whenever I would lose my temper or something would stress me out, or I felt like fighting somebody, I would pick up a basketball and I’d go play basketball.
But it’s more than saving my life because basketball taught me how to interact with all kinds of different people from every different race, from every different background through the game. My dad will tell you, I went and played hood basketball with adults when I was about 10 years old. They taught me how to be tough and they taught me how to not back down. Taught me how to develop my game. And so that way it taught me to be better in the game of basketball.
I attribute basketball to just basically keep me levelheaded for times where I could have easily chosen something opposite. I could have gone to drugs or I could have gone to ... I don’t know ... there’s so many other things that I could think of. But sports in general just basically saved my life because it kept me so busy.
My dad also kept me busy. My parents split when I was young but they didn’t live far from each other. Eventually, I got to an age to where I was too out of control for my mother. So I moved in with my dad. It was rough on me and it taught me certain ways to control my anger and handle certain things. What I mean by that is he wouldn’t give me the opportunity to go out and do stupid stuff when I wasn’t at school or I wasn’t playing sports. He had me working every single day.
I’m talking Saturday, Sunday, we had nothing to do. I finally had a day off where I didn’t have any tournaments or anything. I wanted to go hang out and play video games, whatever. He would say, “Get up, son; we’re gonna go put a fence up.” The fence had been fine for years, but he just wanted to redo the fence. So my dad always found ways to keep me busy, and I attribute work and basketball, both saving my life.
And to this day, like, I get stressed out. I have things that I have to worry about just like any other person. And my outlet is basketball instead of, you know, turning to something else. I go and I just shoot hoops. And when I’m done shooting hoops, I feel fantastic. It’s something as simple as washing my car if I’m stressed out. I’ll go wash my car and just looking back at how clean my car is afterward, I feel like I've washed away all the nonsense. It feels good.
C&I: You are proud of your Mexican and Choctaw heritage; what do you know about your family’s history?
Gauna: The specifics on my side of the family haven’t really been talked about and I think that probably resonates with a lot of Natives because we’ve lost our elders and we’ve lost so much information. For example, my grandfather is full-blood Choctaw, but according to the government, he is not, because he didn’t have the proper paperwork. He was adopted, and, you know, things got lost and transitioned. So there’s a lot of it that we don't know and that it’s gonna be hard for us to track down.
It is my mom’s side that is primarily Choctaw and my dad’s side is Hispanic. I think that’s why my features come out looking so Native because I have both Choctaw and Southern Mexican.
C&I: Did your mom know or teach you about your Choctaw heritage?
Gauna: No. My mother was young when she had me; she had four kids. And pretty quickly, you know, her focus was providing for us. It’s tough because she wasn’t taught it either. My grandfather worked quite a bit and was always gone. He was providing for the family. Both my grandfather and grandmother let us just be who they were at the present time of where they were located. So country life was us, growing up in the Ennis and Palmer area of Texas. My grandma and grandpa provided four-wheelers and dirt bikes.
So a lot of that family history died there with my mom. Not being educated on it ... and I think a lot of that is because it’s painful for my grandfather; on his side there was a lot of things that happened that we don’t know about that he won’t discuss. And I think it just was easier for him not to talk about it and just to move past it and still attribute certain things to the tribe. But as far as educating our family, it wasn’t something that was done. I had to ask my grandpa certain questions while he was here. He passed away last September, so I had to reach out to him. I had to reach out to certain other family members in the tribe as well. And see what I could dig up on my own. It was tough,;it’s a tough battle because like I said, a lot of the documentation’s been lost.
So yeah, there’s a wide range of things that I would love to dig into and learn more about. My grandmother’s still here. Unfortunately, memory seems to be an issue, and so I’ll continue to try to dig and learn and see what I can find from her as well to learn and continue to grow, because knowledge is growth.
C&I: What made you personally want to learn more about your Choctaw heritage and history?
Gauna: So, it started with just wanting to embrace my heritage more, my culture more. And that was a key point for me through my grandpa. It started with growing out my hair, I wanted to learn more about that, so I started learning more and then, you know, at that time I was like, man, I don’t know enough about my tribe to represent it the way that I should. So years ago I started reaching out to my chief. I asked, "What could I do? How can I get involved more?" So I started attending the Choctaw Pow Wow every year.
What made me really say, "OK, I need to do this and I need to learn this wholeheartedly" [was that] I knew that there’s gonna be limelight on me eventually with what I’m doing. And if I’m not knowledgeable on my own tribe, how can I portray a Native American on camera? So that was my mentality to do more due diligence. Do more research, reach out to tribal members, reach out to elders. I started getting roles that would require me to speak different languages for different tribes.
If I’m gonna be this person that needs to represent for the Choctaws then I better be knowledgeable on a lot of the stuff that we have going on. Not only in our communities, but also in our culture, outside of our culture, what we’re doing for other tribes, what other tribes are doing for us, what’s going on with our youth. I mean, trying to learn and give the elders their flowers while they’re here, you know?
For both my Mexican and Choctaw heritage I’m trying to learn more every day, and that includes learning the languages. I’m learning more and becoming more fluent in both. I took classes in January with other fellow Choctaw actors. So, that’s powerful. But I think for me, it speaks to both aspects of having the Choctaw side and also the Hispanic side and the Mexican side to have the best of both worlds, like Hannah Montana in a sense, because I literally have such a wide range of knowledge to learn and grow from on both aspects.
Now I know I’ll never know it all; there’s too much. But like I say, I wanna use my platform as an ability to educate myself and/or others on things that I may not know and that they may not know. What I plan on accomplishing is when I get more followings and more people involved, I would love to open up doors for everyone to tell their story.
What I would like to do is open up my platform for people to come and share their side. So, in a sense, I’m learning about a different tribe at the same time, but we’re all growing together, and it’s another way for people who have no idea about any of this. To listen in and maybe, you know, educate themselves.
To see more of Jeremy Gauna, check out his Fall Fashion, Spring Fashion, and Gift Guide.
Photography: courtesy Scott Slusher and Chris Douglas