Dark Winds Q&A — Zahn McClarnon’s Joe Leaphorn Faces Major Moral Questions 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 McClarnon to talk about all things Season 2, including the explosive action of Episode 1, reconnecting with his friends on set, and the challenges Leaphorn faces this season.

Q: Episode 1 throws viewers right back into some serious action, but we also get to see that Leaphorn has settled into what looks like a peaceful morning routine. It’s nice to see him happy and relaxed... but that doesn’t last long. How did it feel to get back into his boots again for Season 2? 
A: Oh, it felt wonderful. What we tried to do [in Season 2] is show Joe Leaphorn more in his element. Within the Native communities, specifically the Navajo Native community, we wanted to show different aspects of that community. One way of doing that, in the limited time that we have per episode, was to show what a person like Joe Leaphorn would do in the morning, as far as tending [to] his animals. We're just trying to bring the audience a little bit more of the culture. It doesn't have to be through the language. It doesn't have to be a ceremony. But culturally this is what a man on the Navajo reservation who has sheep, who has horses, etc. would do with his mornings — we're trying to capture those elements of the culture. So, we tried to show Joe in his daily routines and there was so much more that we wanted to show but we only have so much time per episode. I thought it was important to show those aspects of Joe. It was wonderful to come back and jump right into Joe. Different pair of boots, but they were still comfortable. [Laughs]
Q: It’s great to see how Leaphorn’s precinct has grown and there are new faces at the station. We learn that Bernadette has risen up the ranks and taken on more responsibility, and Leaphorn is of course there to support her every step of the way. We learn so much about these characters through their relationships with others—there’s definitely still a mentor/mentee dynamic between Leaphorn and Bernadette this season but the unspoken trust between them feels even more solid than before. What was it like deepening that dynamic this season with Jessica Matten? 
A: I love Jessica. I love working with her. I think she's an extremely talented actress. She's very grounded in those moments. It was very easy to connect with Jessica. You know, we've been friends for quite a few years now and even in our personal relationship there is that father/daughter vibe going on. I've got a few years, like 20 years, on her, so I could actually be her father. It's just very easy to connect with her. It actually brings emotion up right now, thinking about that relationship. I don't have a daughter but it's easy for me to go to that spot and I really like doing that, the father/daughter or father/son stuff. I do have a niece and I love her very much. I understand that love. It's just easy to connect with Jessica, really easy to do, and I think it shows on screen.
It absolutely does. It’s beautiful that that authenticity is there offscreen too.
Yeah, I like scenes like that a lot. It's easy to connect to and it becomes very, very real to me. And having an acting partner like Jessica makes it even easier.
Q: What's so satisfying about the show is the balance between the light-hearted moments and the serious heart-stopping action sequences—especially in Episode 1! You mentioned last season that sometimes you can be "a little too serious and intense” on set, but I imagine the fact that you’re shooting such a variety of scenes helps shakes things up and keeps a smile on your face while on location? 
A: Oh yeah, you know Kiowa Gordon is the person that brings that levity to a set. He's always joking around. He's like a young kid! He's always having fun and we need that on sets. I need that personally. It just brings a humor and an energy that's lighthearted, and I think that that dynamic between me and my energy and Kiowa works quite well. I love him around and I love being around him. He makes me laugh and not a lot of people make me laugh! Kiowa definitely makes me giggle quite a bit.
Q: Let’s talk about the scene in Episode 1 when we see Chee and Leaphorn riding together again and poking fun at each other. It’s so exciting to see these two team up again—as a viewer watching their banter is like reuniting with friends you’ve missed! It’ll be interesting to see how their relationship evolves now that they can investigate independently of each other. Your working relationship with Kiowa has now taken you through several projects, but it still must have been so exciting to be back on set with him for Season 2! 
A: Yeah, we've been friends since we did The Red Road in 2014. So, we’ve been friends for quite a long time, and I always like working with Kiowa. He makes me laugh and that's so important. This year we're trying to bring more levity to the show to make it more authentic, touching on the humor within the different Native cultures because it's a universal within all cultures. There's humor within the communities and we really wanted to touch more on that. I think we did it with the relationship between Jim and Joe.
I love the way that you guys rib each other. It feels really natural and full of love, even when you guys are totally throwing barbs at each other.
We throw more barbs off camera! [Laughs]
Q: The realization at the end of the episode that BJ Vines’ stolen box contained Joe Jr.’s belt buckle that he wore the day of his death is... just absolutely shocking. It felt like last season Leaphorn had done some work to come to terms with his son’s death and now it’s all being dredged up again. Leaphorn’s search for answers isn’t over yet and the discovery of the belt buckle will surely serve to push him to his limits to get those answers. How far is Leaphorn willing to go to get closure?   
A: I think finding the evidence about what possibly happened to his son or finding evidence that maybe it wasn't just a mine explosion is huge for him. Somebody actually did something. I think Joe struggles quite a bit in Season 2 with what that means to him… what is justice and what could revenge look like? His moral code gets challenged in Season 2, it’s questioned, and we see how that affects his relationships with Emma and everybody around him, including his father. Does Joe cross the line? What is that line? What does that line mean to Joe? I think people can relate to characteristics like that within Joe Leaphorn. He lives with the love and guilt from the past, not being able to protect his kid and his family. He carries that guilt with him always about his kid and how he died. He carries that in Season 1 and into Season 2, until he finds some evidence that might show something different. Can you imagine finding the killer of your own child? What does that person deserve? Joe gets the opportunity to make those decisions in Season 2. It's a complex situation that Joe finds himself in.
*This conversation took place before the SAG-AFTRA strike.

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