This edition of Talking With focuses on Kate Bergeron, who lends her motherly instincts to her portrayal of Karen Smith in AMC’s original series, "Dark Winds," based on the iconic book series by Tony Hillerman.
The show follows Joe Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon) and Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon), two Navajo Nation police officers in the 1970s Southwest that are forced to challenge their own spiritual beliefs when they search for clues in a double murder case. Kate’s character, Karen Smith, enters the story when she and her children find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, resulting in unimaginable peril.
No stranger to the camera, audiences will recognize Kate from her recurring role as the English teacher on the ABC comedy, "Speechless," as well as from her very own one-woman variety show, "Katie-Do." Kate also garnered attention when her comedy-horror short, "Meditations By Shadow," was a finalist at the L.A. Funny Women Festival and for her short, "Easter Fools," which was featured on the comedy platform WhoHaHa. Currently, Kate is developing an original half-hour comedy pilot set in a small-town children’s theater.
Kate was excited to be cast in "Dark Winds" due to the story’s source material and its dynamic characters. The significance of contributing to a rare series centered on Natives is a game-changer for Kate, and she hopes that the show is a step toward more authentic, Native-driven storytelling.
To learn more, we are Talking With Kate Bergeron.
Why did you want to be part of Dark Winds?
Kate Bergeron: I’m excited to be a part of this show because of its outstanding cast and source material. Tony Hillerman was so prolific and the characters he created have been brought to the screen in a beautiful, nuanced way by Graham Roland and the staff writers. I play a small role in a Native-driven story, one of the few ever seen on TV, and that just feels really special.
As an actor, what helped you the most in bringing this character to life?
KB: Without giving too much away, my character Karen Smith is a mother protecting her children. That’s an easy in for me. I have two small children of my own and can easily draw on that mama bear instinct. It’s not a fun way in, but it does come easily.
Where do you start when preparing for a role? And does that change depending on the genre or other factors?
KB: Yes, it absolutely depends on the genre as well as the character. I ask myself how close I am to this character, then I build from there. As an actor, I’m a believer in having a wide variety of tools in my tool belt to draw from so I can approach characters from different angles. I also lean a lot on my intuition to lead me the right way.
You’re in danger for much of the show, so how did you shake that off between takes or at the end of the day?
KB: I’m so glad you asked this question. When I coach child actors on dramatic scenes, this is something we work on and one of the tools I want to make sure they have before going on set. For me, it’s all about bringing my nervous system back down to normal which can be through self-talk assuring that I’m safe, breathing exercises, or even belting out a song. For Dark Winds, I actually think it helped that I was working with kids, and the adults and I all made it a point to be a bit silly between takes. And of course, I hugged my own family tight when I got home.
What was your favorite moment from working on the show?
KB: I think my favorite moment was shooting the scene where you initially meet the Smith family. We’re driving in the car, so happy, and then danger sneaks up on us. It’s a longer scene as far as television goes and we all really got to have this amazing emotional arc thanks to Graham. As an actor, I live for that sort of thing. Also, the way they shot it was so fascinating. There were multiple cars, stunt people, and a crane camera car. It was such a great learning experience about filmmaking.
Had you read the book it’s based on before landing the role?
KB: I must admit, I hadn’t. However, as soon as I landed the role I dove in and immersed myself in Hillerman’s work, and I passed it on to my family as well. I recommend it.
Why do you think fans are liking this show so much?
KB: I think it has to do with the incredible storytelling going on from all angles: writing, directing, acting. Even the gorgeous New Mexico scenery makes it hard to look away. I also hope it’s about seeing into a world, into a culture that isn’t represented much on television. It feels fresh and beautiful and riveting.
You also create your own projects. Got anything in the works?
KB: I do. I am writing a number of scripts, including one based in a small-town children’s theater. That’s where I got my own start, and it has such a vibrant and distinctive culture that I’m excited to use as a backdrop. I can’t speak yet about the upcoming acting work but I look forward to sharing that when I can. Your readers can feel free to follow me on social or on my blog for those updates when I’m allowed.
What inspires you the most creatively?
KB: Gosh, this is a hard one. It’s hard because my initial thought is “what doesn’t?” Television and film and theater of course. Books, and some kinds of music. But also nature, my own kids, bantering with my husband or friends. Inspiration is all around us. The tricky part for me is slowing down and paying attention to it.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
KB: Just thank you for inviting me to do this with you. It’s a pleasure speaking about "Dark Winds," inspiration, and acting.