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BTS Shot of Elva Guerra taken by their co-star Devery Jacobs

My Casting Story: Elva Guerra on ‘Reservation Dogs’

As fans of the hit FX series Reservation Dogs eagerly await its upcoming sophomore season, we thought it’d be a good time to catch up with one of its season one breakout stars. Elva Guerra virtually sat down with Casting Networks to share the audition journey that took them from Oklahoma to Los Angeles, much like their character in the show. Keep reading for the inspiring story of how Guerra became an actor when they were just 16 by booking a recurring role on the first-ever project they auditioned for, which happened to be a collaboration between the likes of Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo.


It’s great to virtually meet you, Elva, and before we dive into your casting story, I’d love to hear your take on the character of Jackie.

I feel like everybody knows a Jackie. Right? Everyone is familiar with the “mean girl” type, and I’ve talked to a lot of Native people who see someone they know in the character. Jackie is this very headstrong and stoic kind of girl that some hate and some love. We get a glimpse into who she really is in the first season, and I’m excited for the next season to reveal more about her. Plus, I’m so different from Jackie as a person, which makes it really fun to play her. You get to act angry and mean — it’s a good way to vent your emotions without actually hurting anyone in real life. I sometimes wonder, though, if people connect me to the character and think I have a similar personality.


I’m getting some very kind vibes just from this interview, which speaks highly of your acting ability to play such a different character. Now, what can you tell us about the process of booking Reservation Dogs?

I was 16 when it all started back in 2020 and had never acted before. I saw on somebody’s Instagram story a casting search that was looking for Native teens to be in an upcoming TV show. I initially thought they were looking for background actors so when I showed up at the casting location, I was surprised to learn they had lines for me to read. I was actually auditioning for Elora because the character of Jackie didn’t exist yet. I gave the best read I could using what I’d learned through a school film class, as well as what I could gather about the character. When I walked out of the audition room, I saw the hallway just filled with Native kids, and I was the only one there with dyed hair. I had the same style at the time that Jackie has in Reservation Dogs because Sterlin ended up liking it so much that he had me do it for the show.


That feels like a big compliment!

Thanks, and I didn’t really think much about the first audition after I got back home from it. Then I found out I got a callback, but I didn’t initially know what that meant since it was my first. At the time, I didn’t think I was going to go far in the casting process. It sounds sad, but everyone around me had so much more experience. So, I kind of had the mindset that I was just going to have fun and see what happened.


When did booking the series start feeling like a very real possibility?

It was around my third audition, which was in LA of all places. I started feeling like this was something serious and that maybe I could do it. You know? It felt like Sterlin and [casting director] Angelique [Midthunder] saw something in me. I had never been far outside Oklahoma at that point, and the LA audition also marked the first time I’d ever flown. When I saw Taika Waititi there, it all started to feel very real. That’s also when I met the other actors who ended up being in the show. Lane, D’Pharaoh, Devery, and Paulina were all there — it’s sweet to look back at when we were still new to one another since we’re so close now. But Devery and I were both auditioning for Elora, which was intimidating for me. I was a 16-year-old with no acting experience, and she was this professional actor who’d already worked a lot. So, I was dealing with some self-doubt. Then Covid hit, which pushed production back, and I figured I didn’t book the series since I wasn’t hearing anything. So when Angelique reached out a few months later to offer me the new role of Jackie, I was surprised. I read her description and got so excited to play the character.


I can’t even imagine that moment, finding out you’d booked the first thing you ever auditioned for, and it was a recurring role. And how has playing Jackie on Reservation Dogs since impacted your career?

It paved the way for me to do an episode of Rutherford Falls, which I actually booked after Reservation Dogs, even though it came out first. And a fellow cast member from Reservation Dogs, Zahn McClarnon, recommended me for an upcoming AMC show called Dark Winds. I ended up booking a series regular role on it, playing a character named Sally Growing Thunder. Dark Winds is coming out this year — we already filmed it — and playing Sally was such a contrast to Jackie. The characters are drastically different, and it was encouraging to see that I had the versatility as an actor to be capable of both roles. It led to this moment where I started believing I could really make this into a career. Reservation Dogs made that possible.


Before we wrapped, the 18-year-old actor expressed gratitude for a number of people who’d contributed to their first-ever casting story, including their teachers Ms. Smith and Mr. Magrini for encouraging them to go after the opportunity. “And I’ll always be thankful for Sterlin,” Guerra added. “He basically made my career, just because he had faith in me. Reservation Dogs will always have a special place in my heart — I owe my youth to it.”

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

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