Why The Cast Of Dark Winds Looks So Familiar

The adventures of Navajo reservation cops Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee return to television in AMC's new series "Dark Winds." Author Tony Hillerman's New Mexico-set mystery novels were adapted into a trilogy of TV movies for PBS in the early 2000s, starring Wes Studi as the cynical Leaphorn and Adam Beach as the younger, more mystical detective Chee. The new series from "Jack Ryan" writer/producer Graham Roland (with an assist from Robert Redford and George R.R. Martin) is more of a free-floating adaptation of Hillerman's oeuvre, taking plots and inspiration from several novels, including 1978's "Listening Woman" and 1982's "The Dark Wind," while keeping Hillerman's keen sense of atmosphere, place, and history.

The six-episode series is, perhaps more than anything else, a showcase for an incredible collection of Native American and First Nations artists, both in front of and behind the camera. Series director Chris Eyre made his mark nearly 25 years ago with the Sundance winner "Smoke Signals," and the show's writing staff is full of up-and-coming indigenous writers and filmmakers, including Razelle Benally, Billy Luther, and Erica Tremblay, who also worked on the hit FX series "Reservation Dogs." In front of the camera, the cast is a murderers' row of longtime character actors, rising talent, and at least one beloved sitcom star. Here's a look at where you might know the cast of "Dark Winds" from.

Jonathan Adams

Actor Jonathan Adams plays Lester, proprietor of the local gift shop, which doubles as the reservation morgue when needed. Lester has lived and worked on the reservation for a long time and has delved into Navajo culture and beliefs, as seen in Episode 2 when he takes part in a peyote ceremony with some of the men of the reservation. He has also been there long enough to have history with many of his customers, and perhaps more than a few secrets — like why a tacky tourist painting for sale in his shop has stacks of cash hidden in its frame.

The Pittsburgh-born Adams has over 100 film, television, and video game credits to his name. Viewers might know him as one of Tim Allen's Boomer buddies in the long-running sitcom "Last Man Standing," but his voice will be familiar to anyone who has played "Diablo II" or "Diablo III," in which he performed the archangel Tyrael. Adams has voiced many a superhero and villain for both DC and Marvel animated series and movies, including Martian Manhunter, Absorbing Man, Darkseid, and Kang the Conqueror. And fans of the Fox procedural "Bones" (or "Bones" heads, if you will) will no doubt recognize Adams as Daniel Goodman, head of the Jeffersonian Institute in Season 1.

Deanna Allison

One of the strengths of both the series and the novels that it's based on is the way characters shine a light on the many issues facing Native Americans without didacticism or lecturing. Deanna Allison plays Joe Leaphorn's wife Emma, a nurse and midwife at the tribal clinic. While sitting in on an examination of a pregnant young Navajo woman, Emma cautions the patient to give birth at home rather than the clinic, against the recommendation of the white doctor attending to her. Emma's advice stems from the U.S. government's shameful practice of forcibly sterilizing indigenous women, a practice of which she herself is a victim. When she suspects that her patient is being abused at home, she asks Joe to look into it, but that request may have supernatural consequences.

It's hard to believe, given her command of the screen and chemistry with a seasoned pro like Zahn McClarnon as Joe, that this is actually Allison's first significant role in a television series. Her only other on-screen credit is in the Chris Eyre-directed 2003 television movie "Edge of America." Allison is a member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes.

Ryan Begay

The two crimes that set the series in motion exemplify the tangled knot of histories, loyalties, and relationships between the characters. In one of them, an old man and teenage girl are found dead in a motel room where a healing ceremony was apparently taking place. The girl, Anna Atcitty (Shawnee Pourier), was once in love with Joe and Emma's son, Joe Jr. His death caused a terrible rift between Joe and Anna's father Guy, played by Navajo actor Ryan Begay. When Joe learned that one of the men in Guy's peyote ceremony had a vision of the accident that killed Joe Jr., Joe took his anger out on Guy and shot him in the leg. Now, delivering the news of Anna's death, Guy (who sports a permanent limp) is beside himself with grief and rage.

Begay got his start writing and directing the 2008 short film "The Indian Within," and has notched appearances on "Longmire," "Breaking Bad," and "Succession." In 2017 he was featured on the first season of the Epix adaptation of Elmore Leonard's "Get Shorty" as gangster Clipper, and in 2021 he appeared in an episode of the Peacock series "Rutherford Falls."

Jeremiah Bitsui

The other victim in that motel room was an old man named Hosteen Tso (Harrison Lowe), who seems to have no family until a young Diné priest named Hoski, played by Jeremiah Bitsui, stops by the police station. He seems nice enough, though perhaps a little too nice. After all, as Joe and his deputy Bernadette (Jessica Matten) note, it's rare to see a Native clergyman these days. Sure enough, the end of Episode 2 sees him involved with the Buffalo Society, the radical group that the FBI believes is responsible for the daring armored car robbery in Episode 1 (the series' other major crime). But is Hoski a fake priest, a fake grandson, both, or neither? Only time and the rest of the season will tell.

Bitsui has been an AMC mainstay for over a decade, appearing as doomed Albuquerque cartel enforcer Victor on "Breaking Bad" and its prequel series "Better Call Saul." Years before stepping into Vince Gilligan's crime drama empire, however, Bitsui appeared in "Dark Winds" director Chris Eyre's short film "A Thousand Roads." Later in 2022, he will also co-star alongside co-star Ryan Begay in series writer Billy Luther's coming-of-age drama "Frybread Face and Me."

Eugene Brave Rock

Alberta-born First Nations actor Eugene Brave Rock plays the other Buffalo Society member in partnership with Hoski, Frank Nakai. So far the series has shed little light on Frank, other than that he's an imposing man who's handy with a shotgun, as seen when he sticks up an unsuspecting Mormon family who had the bad luck of buying the wrong cactus painting from Lester's trading post. We do know one thing about Frank, however: whatever else he might be, he is the connective tissue between the FBI's pursuit of the Buffalo Society and Emma's young pregnant patient. Is he the child's father, or just a man who guards her mother's barn against anyone (even cops) who might stick their nose where it doesn't belong?

Brave Rock certainly cuts a striking figure, and his stature is currently on display as "The Stranger" on the AMC+ gonzo Western "That Dirty Black Bag." He made his screen debut in the 2007 HBO original film "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" and has guest-starred on "Heartland," "Hell on Wheels," and "Resident Alien," to name just a few of his recent roles. To film audiences, however, he is likely best known as The Chief, one of Steve Trevor and Diana Prince's ragtag group of World War I mercenaries in Patty Jenkins' 2017 megahit "Wonder Woman."


As Helen Atcitty, Navajo writer and actor DezBaa' plays the other side of grief from her husband Guy. While Guy is filled with rage at Joe and the entire world, Helen mourns her daughter more quietly and with more sympathy for Joe and his position than Guy can manage. Part of this is because Helen has a responsibility to her mother, Margaret Cigaret (Betty Ann Tsosie), the blind "listening woman" who was also there at the hotel when Anna and Hosteen were murdered. It is Helen's duty to keep the family together, even as it threatens to fall apart.

Born Sharon Anne Henderson, DezBaa' is a trained geologist in addition to being an MFA-trained writer and actor. She made her film debut with a small role in the 2016 Scott Cooper Western "Hostiles," starring Wes Studi and Christian Bale. She won her first speaking part a year later in the Catherine Weldon biopic "Woman Walks Ahead" opposite Jessica Chastain and Michael Greyeyes. DezBaa' has also acted on stage with Studi at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe and appeared in the 2020 HBO Max abortion comedy "Unpregnant."

Noah Emmerich

Murders on tribal land are subject to federal jurisdiction, so when Anna Atcitty and Hosteen Tso are found dead in a motel room, Joe Leaphorn hands the case over to FBI special agent Whitover, played by character actor Noah Emmerich. Joe and Whitover have a history, as seen by Joe's not-entirely-friendly nickname for him, "Highpockets." But Whitover has other priorities than two dead Diné, namely the armored car heist carried out by the Buffalo Society, and he needs Joe's help to crack that case. Luckily, he has an ace up his sleeve: Joe's new deputy Jim Chee, who is actually an undercover Fed.

Emmerich has a quality about him — no-nonsense but somehow also slightly gentle and goofy — that has led him to play any number of military officers and government agents, most notably on the long-running FX Cold War drama "The Americans." After getting his start in bit parts through the early and mid-1990s, Emmerich's breakthrough role came as Jim Carrey's best friend (or rather, the actor playing his best friend) in Peter Weir's "The Truman Show." Since then, he has made a name for himself in comedies and dramas, often as a clueless or gullible authority figure, as in his recent turns on the Netflix comedy "Space Force" and the Apple TV+ series "Suspicion."

Elva Guerra

Sally Growing Thunder is having a hard time of it. To start, she's a pregnant Diné teen in 1971. Her doctor wants her to deliver her baby at the tribal clinic, but to hear her nurse Emma Leaphorn tell it, that's only so he can sterilize her afterward, as a doctor did to her years earlier. Her mother Ada (Amelia Rico) is quite possibly a witch, and Frank Nakai — definitely a radical, possibly her father, and possibly the father of her child — is hiding out in the barn with a shotgun.

Elva Guerra, on the other hand, seems to be doing just fine. The Oklahoma-born actor got their start after learning about the casting call for FX's "Reservation Dogs" from an Instagram story in 2020. After getting cast on that show as Jackie, the mean girl leader of a rival rez gang, Guerra's co-star Zahn McClarnon recommended them for "Dark Winds." In between those two, they appeared in the other Native-led television hit of the last year, "Rutherford Falls." This may be the first time you've heard of Guerra, but it will not be the last.

Kiowa Gordon

The "Skinwalkers" PBS films of the early 2000s presented a somewhat different vision of Leaphorn and Chee than we see on "Dark Winds." There, it was Leaphorn who was the suit-wearing, cynical urbanite cop; Chee, though younger, was more in touch with the land they patrolled and the traditions of their people. Here, though, we have a more nuanced take. It's Chee who shows up at the police station in a blue polyester suit, having spent years away from the reservation. He serves two masters, working for the FBI and tribal police at the same time, and though he may not believe in the old ways like his fellow deputy Bernadette does (at least not yet), he understands enough to keep himself alive.

Actor Kiowa Gordon made his film debut as shape-shifter Embry Call in "Twilight: New Moon" and its sequels. Gordon, born in Germany but raised on the Hualapai Reservation in Arizona, followed up that franchise with a role on the two-season Jason Momoa-led Sundance drama "The Red Road" and the Canadian horror film "Blood Quantum," starring Michael Greyeyes. Like Gordon's co-star Elva Guerra, Gordon would also guest star on an episode of "Rutherford Falls" alongside Greyeyes, as well as an episode of "Reservation Dogs." He was also seen on the CW reboot "Roswell, New Mexico," and can be seen (in a way) in the 2022 rotoscope animated sci-fi western "Quantum Cowboys."

Jessica Matten

First Nations actress Jessica Matten plays Bernadette Manuelito, Joe Leaphorn's deputy in the tribal police. Unlike her new partner (and possible love interest) Jim Chee, she is steeped in the spiritual practices of the reservation. "Out here," she tells Chee after a particularly harrowing patrol, "sometimes your best protection isn't your .38, but your medicine [pouch]." She is a true believer, perhaps to a fault, as when she is bewitched by Sally Growing Thunder's mother and subject to bizarre and frightening visions.

"Dark Winds" is Matten's first major project in the United States, but she is well-known in her native Canada for the indigenous cop drama "Tribal," the Jason Momoa-led historical action series "Frontier," and the CBC legal drama series "Burden of Truth" starring Kristin Kreuk. In 2011, Matten became known for her starring role in the feminist revenge short film "A Red Girl's Reasoning," which took its title and themes from the famous 1913 short story of the same name. In addition to acting, Matten runs a professional development and wellness company for First Nations citizens called 7 Forward Entertainment.

Zahn McClarnon

Joe Leaphorn is in many ways an archetypal western hero: soft-spoken, straight-backed, and quick-witted. He's a man of the earth and a man of his people, but at the same time, he's a cop, a government agent in a community that is rightfully distrustful of the government. His contentious relationship with Agent Whitiver shows that he isn't entirely welcome on the law and order side of things, either. Like his young protégé Jim Chee and many a Western hero of years past, Joe is caught between worlds with only his own moral code to guide him.

Zahn McClarnon has been waiting for a role of this size and complexity for a long time. The Lakota actor got his start on screen in the early 1990s, notching bit parts on shows like "Baywatch" and "In Living Color." His breakthrough role came in the 2005 TNT miniseries "Into the West," produced by Steven Spielberg, and since then he has made his name as an ace supporting actor on series like Season 2 of "Fargo," "Longmire," and "Westworld." On FX's comedy "Reservation Dogs," he plays a very different kind of tribal police officer, a bit more hapless and overall less concerned with stopping crime. In 2020, he starred in the National Geographic miniseries adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's "Barkskins" and appeared in the Stephen King sequel "Doctor Sleep" opposite Ewan McGregor in 2018.

Rob Tepper

Pete Samuels is the white man with "a moustache like Catfish Hunter" who gets all bent out of shape when Luther sells that cactus painting to a Mormon family. He's also the white man we saw in the first episode dressed as a cop while abetting the Buffalo Society's brazen armored car robbery. Pete rushes to his car to warn Frank Nakai that the painting with thousands of dollars of laundered cash is in the wind, leading to Nakai's kidnapping of the Mormon family. All of this has something to do with Hoski Tso, who may or may not be who he says he is, but right now we're still playing catch-up, just like Chee and Bernadette, who remain three or so steps behind their targets.

When not appearing as an actor on "Dark Winds" or in films like Ben Affleck's 2012 Oscar winner "Argo," Rob Tepper works as a cinematic one-man band, writing, producing, directing, and starring in his own short film projects. Starting out in independent films in the early 2000s, Tepper appeared in the 2010 Korean mob parody "The Last Godfather" and that same year played folk music legend Woody Guthrie in two different short films. In 2020, he made the rural sitcom "Duke and Dammit" for YouTube, and prior to that appeared in the festival-favorite indie thriller "Cicada Song."

Rainn Wilson

Devoted Dan, the pious used car salesman played by Rainn Wilson, is still something of a mystery to viewers. Seen only in his obnoxious television ads in the first episodes, Episode 3 shines a little bit more light on him. For one thing, he does not exactly practice what he preaches, as the episode introduces him emerging from the back of a van, leaving behind a rather unsatisfied young woman, as Ike and Tina's version of "Proud Mary" kicks up on the soundtrack. Dan is involved in what appears to be a money-laundering scheme involving the Buffalo Society and the tacky cactus paintings that are selling like hotcakes at Lester's trading post, though the exact details of where the money is coming from and where it's going remain unknown.

Wilson has been a unique and memorable screen presence for over two decades, from his small parts in "Almost Famous" and "House of 1000 Corpses" to leading roles in films like "The Rocker" and "Super." Wilson's offbeat sensibility and authoritative voice have led to a lucrative voiceover career in which he's played Superman's arch-nemesis Lex Luthor in a number of DC Comics animated films. He livened up the last few seasons of the CBS sitcom "Mom" as the therapist of Allison Janney's titular parent, and will soon be seen playing novelty song maestro Dr. Demento in "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" starring Daniel Radcliffe. Wilson superfans might also remember that he appeared as paper salesman Dwight K. Schrute on the little-seen, barely remembered U.S. remake of "The Office."