Jessica Matten is grateful for the chance to co-star on APTN’s Blackstone, Ron E. Scott’s gritty series spotlighting the issues First Nations people face on a reservation. Though Blackstone is a fictional reservation, stories of alcohol and physical abuse, and land rights are certainly based on fact.
“It was awesome to be a part of a show alongside a lot of people from my childhood,” Matten says of her character, Gina. “It was a full-circle thing. And to talk about issues that really matter to me and are close to my heart was really cool to be a part of.” Blackstone was one of her first major acting roles for the actor and Aboriginal fitness company owner and paved the way to her biggest gig to date in Discovery’s Frontier.
Debuting Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, Matten plays Sokanon, a skilled warrior, hunter and tracker in Declan Harp’s (Jason Momoa) Black Wolf Company, a small fur trade outfit taking business from the faltering Hudson’s Bay Company in 1700s Canada. Co-created by Rob and Peter Blackie, Frontier‘s six-episode first season (it’s since been picked up for a sophomore go-round) is a sprawling, violent adventure outlining the founding of Canada. As Matten describes it, it truly was an ordeal to work next to Momoa as his right-hand. Not.
“It was gruelling,” she says with a laugh. “All my girlfriends were like, ‘Did he take off his shirt?'” She wouldn’t confirm whether her co-star doffed his top, but does say he’s one of the most down-to-earth people she’s met and has nothing but good things to say about production and everyone involved. Sokanon is an Ojibway character alongside Momoa’s Declan, a Métis, and the Black Wolf Company consists of First Nations’ members coming together under his rule. A situation that occurs in Sokanon’s life causes her to join the gang, who are as much out to protect the land from Lord Benton (Alun Armstrong) and the HBC as they are to make money trading pelts. Matten likens Frontier to a Canadian Game of Thrones in that everyone is fighting for land rather than a throne.
While her fellow co-star, Shawn Doyle—he plays fur trader Samuel Grant in Frontier—is used to being part of period pieces (he assumed the role of John A. Macdonald in CBC’s 2011 TV-movie John A.: Birth of a Country), Matten never thought she’d perform in a historical project because of what she calls a “contemporary First Nations look,” and recalls the irony in being cast because of her lineage.
“I’m actually a direct descendant of the first Métis leader, Cuthbert Grant and Louis Riel, the nephew of Cuthbert Grant,” she says. “In a lot of ways, I feel as though I’m honouring my ancestors and this is a full-circle experience for my family. Things happen for a reason, and I really believe in that.” The battle over land rights has been an issue since the days in which Frontier is set and continue today, and Matten uses that in her portrayal of Sokanon.
“As much as Sokanon is a warrior, she struggles with what Harp is doing and what is right and what is wrong,” she says.
Frontier airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Discovery.
Images courtesy of Bell Media.