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Cultural connection: Rio Rancho’s Tatanka Means plays Native character in ‘I Know This Much Is True’

Rio Rancho resident Tatanka Means and Mark Ruffalo on the set of “I Know This Much Is True.” (Courtesy of Tatanka Means)

Tatanka Means knows that footage will eventually be cut from the final product.

Yet, it’s the journey that he’s most thankful for.

The Rio Rancho resident has been building his career in the film industry for more than a decade.

He’s appeared in such films as “Tiger Eyes” and “Derby Kings,” even snagging a role on the TV series “The Son.”

His latest role, in the HBO miniseries “I Know This Much Is True,” is one that surprised him. Even being on set with legendary actors in upstate New York was a thrill.

“They originally wanted me for the grandfather,” the 35-year-old says during a recent interview. “I thought I was way too young for that. Eventually, I was cast as Nabby Drinkwater.”

The series follows a mentally ill man named Thomas and his identical twin brother, Dominick – both played by Mark Ruffalo – who protects and cares for him no matter the sacrifice. It is airing on demand on HBO.

Means says everyone can relate to some part of the story and all of its characters.

“There’s dysfunction,” he says. “The trauma that every generation endures. It’s universal.”

Means was drawn to Drinkwater because of how he represented Native culture.

“I always say I want to play a 21st century Native,” he says. “Nabby was working in the mills with everybody. He was part of the story. He was part of the mill and making his living like everyone else. The way the entire series is written is about immigrants and immigration. This is about the first-generation immigrants who are chasing the American dream.”

Tatanka Means on the set of HBO’s “I Know This Much Is True.” (Courtesy of Tatanka Means)

Means was also excited to see a character written on the page that connected to his culture.

The role was also different in that it didn’t portray Native people as savages.

“Being able to see him with so much is a great thing,” he says of Drinkwater. “Native people are being noticed, and we’re starting to be included. We have the talents, and we need the opportunity to show it. Being part of this series definitely brings pride, though I was nervous and apprehensive about sharing that I was part of this.”

Means says he struggled with letting people know about the role, because it wasn’t a huge one.

“When it aired, people were messaging me about the series,” he says. “It changed my thinking. I have to say being able to be that Native actor that is being shown on TV is something that younger people can get inspiration from. Even roles like this support Native film and representation.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email film@ABQjournal.com. Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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