Dark Winds Q&A — Kiowa Gordon on Jim Chee’s Brushes with Death This Season

In Season 2 of Dark Winds, Lt. Joe Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon) and Sgt. Bernadette Manuelito (Jessica Matten) reunite with Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon), their former deputy turned private eye, when their separate cases bring them together in pursuit of the same suspect (played by Nicholas Logan).  In this Q&A with amc.com, we caught up with Gordon to talk about the epic hospital showdown in Episode 3, how his on-screen relationship with Jessica Matten differs from their off-screen friendship, and what Chee has learned from facing his mortality this season.

Q: Seeing these characters again in Season 2 is like seeing old friends again after some time apart. What did it feel like heading back for Season 2 and putting on Chee’s 70s outfits again?  
A: It was awesome! I was just so happy that we got to go back and do it again. Season 2 really builds on the foundation we created back in Season 1. It’s like we're family and it just felt really good to get back in there with Zahn, Jessica, and everybody — plus a couple new faces too. I loved the additions. I think the first encounter when I see Joe and we’re just kind of laughing at each other, like, "Oh my gosh, look who it is!" felt like such a good reunion. Chee really lets his guard down. He doesn’t have to play the FBI guy anymore. He doesn’t have to be Leaphorn’s subordinate. It's just like, "Hey, dude, we're on the same wavelength here," so it was really cool to see a new layer of our dynamic happening there.
Q: There are so many amazing action sequences involving Chee this season, but the sequence at the hospital in Episode 3 when the Blond Man aka Colton Wolf comes after Chee is just insane! Everything from the pacing to the way it was shot builds so much tension. This season it feels like Chee really has to throw down a lot more and the role is more physically demanding than ever. What was it like working to bring these heart-pumping scenes to life? 
A: That scene is so good! When I first read the script for Episode 3, I was like, "Dang, this is badass!" Yeah, I think a lot of has to do with the stunts. Without the stunt crew, we couldn't really get it done. We wanted a raw realism to it, so nothing too polished since Chee’s probably out of practice. He probably didn't get into too many scuffles. Maybe a couple bar fights? Michael Nankin shot that episode and Paul [Elliott] was the cinematographer. I love our crew. They really gave us a nice field to play in, and Nick [Nicholas Logan who plays Colton] is just a joy to be around off camera. Our characters don't even speak to each other, but there's so much going on and Nick has this quiet intensity while I'm just running for my life.
Chee’s in survival mode. He has a gunshot wound and he doesn’t know who the hell this guy is. That whole sequence was us just running around the hospital. The camera crew was following us around, just running with us, and there were so many technicalities that we had to nail to make it all work. The hardest thing was pulling myself up into that little crawl space above the room that we fight in. Chee’s just running on pure adrenaline. The stunt work that Nick and I did with our stunt doubles was so much fun! He was throwing me around, choking me out, and I threw a fricking lamp on his head! I loved it. Nick, he's so serious. He's in his head and sometimes he can't even look at me because if he does, he'll just break. He'll just start laughing! We're just big old goofballs, and I'm glad that I got to meet him and work with him. Then to see him busting through the window! I saw it from both angles. It was crazy! Then you see the stunt guy falling out the window, landing on the car — it's just such a cool fricking sequence and I've never been a part of something like that before.
It's very jaw-dropping. As I was watching it, I kept thinking that the only reason Chee survived is because Bernadette brought him that medicine pouch.
Yeah, right? Yeah!
I think he needed that. I think he needed a little something in his corner to get through that.
Definitely. It was the protection Chee needed.
Q: It's so great to see Bernadette and Chee poking fun at each other and giving each other a hard time again. You and Jessica have such amazing chemistry on screen. What was it like prepping to deepen that relationship in Season 2?  
A: It’s just wonderful to work with people that you consider family. We’re like siblings, which is weird for our on-screen personas. It's so funny! [Laughs] But we have each other's backs. We hang out. We went out to a couple of spas and hot springs, just taking days to hang out, just being with each other and breathing it in. That lends itself so much to our relationship on screen. You do all that work, and then you don't even have to worry about it. Once the camera's rolling, it just comes so naturally to us. It's hard to get serious sometimes because in between "cut" and "action," we're always just goofing around and it's just a lovely place to play. I'm so happy that we get to do this with Zahn and everybody else. It's such a tight-knit little group we have here and I'm glad that we're doing it all together. I hope that we can do this for many years to come. I mean, we have the source material to do it, so why not?  
Q: Even though Chee brings a lot of lightness and humor to the show, he also has some real moments of connection this season. It feels like he sees himself in Benny Charley so those scenes with him are really moving. I especially loved the moment when Benny changes his collar to look like Chee’s.
A: [Laughs] I loved that moment too!
What was it like tapping into this gentler side of Chee this season? I know you're a dad in real life.
Yeah, and I think that's what really set the tone for me. I was like, "Oh wait, I know how to talk to kids. And I was a kid once. How would I want to be talked to by a grown-up?" I also think that Chee has no idea what he's doing. Benny, he's such a character himself. The actor playing him is named Jet and he’s a really cool kid, really laid back. I feel like he had something deep inside of him that really embodied the character and he kind of reminded me of myself when I was younger. He kind of looked like me when I was a kid. It was really nice to get those quiet moments in the show, this other side of Chee that you would never have expected. He’s kind of like a cool uncle.
Q: We’re at the halfway point of the season, and there’s still lots to unfold... but of course I’m already thinking of a possible Season 3. What do you love the most about playing Chee and are there other parts of his story or his character that you’d love to explore? 
A: Yeah, I love that he's ripped his Band-Aids off, he's opened his wounds, and he's healing. He's a strong guy and he's determined to set his course back in the right direction because he was kind of floundering, maybe lost even. He has a couple regrets, but he's moving forward. He has some optimism, but he's also pessimistic at times. He wants to be engrossed back into his culture and I want to see that happen too because in the books he's training to be a singer and he knows all these songs. His uncle taught him all these songs, taught him how to be a healer, and I would like to see those aspects incorporated into later plot points for him. I’d love to see his growth and see that he's not just going to be a lawman. I feel like that's just too easy. He can't just ride on that. He needs places to go. I want to see his relationships flourish. I think he's finally realized he's got to handle things a little bit more carefully going forward, since he really had to face his own mortality this season. I think in Episodes 2 and 3 he's grappling with the thought that he isn't an invincible man. He has faults, he makes mistakes, and he needs to maybe learn from them. That’s what being human’s all about and I want to see more of that.
*This conversation took place before the SAG-AFTRA strike.

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