Elizabeth Frances, who plays Prairie Flower on The Son, talks about immersing herself in the world of the Comanche and describes the bond between Prairie Flower and Eli.
Q: How did you prepare for this role, particularly when it came to learning the ways of the Comanche tribe?
A: Preparing for this role was a treat and also a really humbling experience. I was able to go to Juanita Pahdopony, who’s our Comanche consultant. I drove out from Austin to Oklahoma and stayed with her for a few days and got to speak to not only people in the community but also to her. I went to the Comanche National Museum out there. I sat on her couch, and she went through the Comanche dictionary. I just wanted to entrench myself in that particular tribe’s culture and history as much as I could before we started filming. I also got to meet the tribal leaders out in Oklahoma and speak with them and get their blessing. That was really important to me because I’ve worked a lot in the native community, and I’m ancestrally Cherokee. I’ve learned to be very respectful and that each tribe is so different especially in their customs and history. It was invaluable to be able to work with Juanita, who’s also a descendant of Quanah Parker [a famous Comanche leader], and to be able to become entrenched in her world and her history as much as possible and take that then to Prairie Flower, in terms of that character’s journey and why Eli and she connect. I would ask her, “Hey, if Prairie Flower did this or that, is that really the custom, could she have as much ownership to what she does and as much freedom?” And she’d say, “Oh, absolutely. She would be a free spirit until she gets married.” So we would have a lot of these conversations and she was a huge resource, and I know that she was a huge resource for Philipp [Meyer, author of The Son and Executive Producer of The Son], as well.
The process of learning [Comanche] was definitely a challenge because we’d get the script in English and then [Juanita] would have to go to an elder who spoke it. She would record them, and she would go to the dictionary, because she wasn’t raised speaking the language. She would then take that language and use the dictionary and go back and write it out for us. By the time we got it, it had been through that whole process.
Q: Why does Prairie Flower go from seeming to hate Eli, to wanting to go to his tipi at night?
A: For Prairie Flower, she’s in this world where Charges the Enemy wants to marry her, and Eli — I think that the initial attraction to him isn’t really because she thinks that he’s interesting or she’s particularly attracted to him. I think it’s a power play. I think it’s: Here’s an option. I can control this kind of relationship, but he also could be viable in the tribe because obviously Toshaway has taken an interest in him. So, I think the initial part of their relationship for her really is I want to control my destiny eventually — her destiny in the tribe. And Charges the Enemy really isn’t a man that, if he were a husband to her, is someone she could be with and remain independent, and [with] Eli [she] could. Coupled with that, the underlying attraction is this guy came into the tribe and challenged her and he kind of wins. She’s like, Oh, hell no. I’m going to take my power back.
Q: What do you think Prairie Flower and Young Eli have in common?
A: As their relationship develops, I think that, underneath it all, what happens is you really find essentially two orphans, who have been adopted by this tribe, that sort of find a mirror in each other. I think that’s where the love comes from — it’s seeing each other, that Eli’s been taken into this tribe and his family’s been killed and her family’s been killed basically by the white men. I think that something about that common experience is what brings them together. But also coupled with how complicated it is that the boy who looks like the people that killed her family is the one she’s essentially falling in love with. I think that’s sort of the root for me of the arc of their relationship over the season.
Q: We learn that Prairie Flower’s family and people were murdered by settlers, while she hid to stay safe. How do you think this has changed the Prairie Flower we see now?
A: Her family being massacred has affected her not only as a survivor, which also plays into her relationship with Charges the Enemy. But even when we’re introduced to her, she’s a woman in charge. She’s a little bit of a bully, and I think that comes from a survival instinct. Her instinct is to survive and that what happened to her family will never, ever happen to her. I think that having that experience so young — she was in the early part of her development before she came into the tribe, so she’s old enough to remember — that absolutely plays into her instincts and need and want to survive, whether it’s in a romantic relationship or her status in the tribe, because I think she needs control.
Q: In Episode 8, Prairie Flower gets married after fighting it for so long. Why does she finally go through it?
A: Eli’s gone, and when she has that talk with Charges the Enemy, he does appeal to part of her. Because as much as she wants independence and freedom and freedom to be with the person she wants to be with, he really does appeal to her by saying her family in this tribe has taken her in, taken care of her — and, for a tribe that is now struggling with food, with supplies, he’s bringing something to the table that the family needs.
We worked with the writers because that episode changed a lot from what it was initially, and I liked it because it made her more human, and it gave her a choice. He wasn’t just this one note evil guy who’s like, “Oh, who’d want to marry that jerk?” He really became someone who understood her role in this community. A tribal community is really almost like an organism, and she understands at that moment her role in the organism and also her responsibility to family. And her decision to marry Charges really is making a decision bigger than herself, and I think that that’s a big part of her development into womanhood.
Q: How do you think Prairie Flower has impacted the adult Eli viewers come to know?
A: I think Prairie Flower was absolutely key to his feeling like this tribe is now his family. I think that love and understanding on that deep, deep level, outside of learning to be a warrior — that she and Toshaway, in combination, are two different types of love that he needed to have: a parental love and also, in a way, a romantic but also sort of sisterly love, not to sound creepy. But I really do think that there’s that kinship that they have — that is key to him feeling like the tribe is his family.
Read a Q&A with Paola Núñez, who plays Maria García.
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