March is Women’s History Month, when many commemorate and celebrate women who have played a vital role in history and are often overlooked. The Cherokee Nation Film Office is celebrating by highlighting Native American women that work in the film and television industries who are paving the way for proper representation of Native Americans.
Jennifer Rader is doing just that! Rader has appeared as principal roles in the films “Southland” opposite Bella Thorne, “Sleeping in Plastic” and the horror western “The Pale Door.” In early 2019, she starred in the innovative 360-degree VR action film “All Terrain” presented by Oscar-winning producer Grey Frederickson. Along with acting, Rader has also taken up casting and stunt work. She’s a jack of all trades, as her passion for the industry began when she started dancing at just 3 years old.
Rader is a Sokaogan Chippewa from Wisconsin and was raised in Oklahoma City. Growing up, she studied every dance technique imaginable, performing all across the nation, and graduated with a degree in modern dance performance from the University of Oklahoma. She went on to perform internationally, dancing on a cruise ship, until she got curious about acting and decided to jump in head first.
The CNFO chatted with Jennifer Rader on how she went from a cruise ship to the big screen and her vision for Indigenous people in the film industry. Read our Q&A below:
CNFO: How did you get started in the film industry?
Jennifer: Interestingly enough, I came home from my cruise ship contract in 2017 and googled “Acting in Oklahoma” and came upon Chris Freihofer’s Actor Factory. A week later I was signed up for classes and have been pursuing acting ever since. I was lucky enough to get to intern for Chris and then began working for Freihofer Casting in 2018.
What are your roles in the film industry?
I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of working in different areas in the film industry. I am an actor first and foremost. That is my passion and most captivating art. I am also a casting associate at Freihofer Casting. I’ve been fortunate enough to view a side of production and gain respect for the audition process, casting and extras casting department on many feature films. I fell into stunt work when I met Jon Beilich and have had some amazing work in stunts. I’ve been a complete prosthetic character all the way to stunt doubling Vanessa Hudgens. Every facet of this industry helped me gain an understanding and respect for all the working gears that go into creating a movie.
What advice would you give to those looking to get into the film industry?
My best advice to those looking to get into the film industry would be to just jump in and get started. We all start from the ground up, but if you never start you’ll never realize your true potential or where exactly you want to fit into this industry. There are so many opportunities available to get people started in the industry: internships, workshop applications, or applying to be on a film set. If you don’t apply, then the answer will always be no. There are always excuses and ways to put it off until you think you’re ready, but don’t let that noise stand in your way. You need the experience and the networking under your belt if you want to keep climbing the ladder and succeeding in your own career.
I dove head first into this industry, and it’s taken me places I had only hoped for before. I’ve learned from each experience what to take away and use to make me a better and more well-rounded individual. I now see familiar faces on set and feel like a part of the fabric that sews these movies together.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your career?
The most important thing I’ve learned as an actor is to “book the room, not the role.” I used to put so much pressure on booking the role and needing the part, that I let the stress and pressure take away my personality and who I really am in the short amount of time I have to audition. After I was given this advice, I flipped my thinking upside down. Now I focus on being me first and acing the character and the audition that I have prepped second. That’s what I can control, and that’s what I know this industry is looking for.
I am always learning. I never stop learning. I take class upon class and workshop. I apply for everything I can like it’s my job — because that is my job. An actor is never a master in my opinion, there are always emotions to explore and techniques to keep connected to, so I am always ready for an audition and acting opportunity.
What’s your favorite thing about being in the film industry?
My favorite thing about being in this film industry is that I am surrounded by some of the most creative people. In a very short time I’ve adapted to living in this industry and have truly lived as an artist through every facet I find myself in this film community. We’re all storytellers, and we’re all working to tell one story at a time, but there’s millions of stories we want to tell and be a part of. Every day I get to do something different in this industry.
What is your highest career goal?
I have quite a few goals I’ve set for myself. With all of the live-action reboots happening of classic Disney animation, being able to portray Esmerelda from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” would be a dream of mine. Most importantly, however, I would strive to be able to combine my two greatest passions, which are dance and acting. Growing up dancing, I learned and heard stories of Maria Tallchief through my studies. I think being able to portray someone as groundbreaking and of her caliber would be the ultimate achievement.
What is your vision for Indigenous people in the film industry?
I gained a passion for acting on my own, and I was able to form a connection with certain characters at different points in my life. However, there was always a thought running through my mind: “But I don’t look like her.”
I was fortunate enough to seek out and find the work of the more successful and recognizable actors in the Native community. Yet, I personally cannot wait for the day that young Native people growing up won’t have to seek out those actors from their own community. Instead, they will already see the representation in their favorite shows or films. This goes beyond just acting: it should parallel every side in the industry — actors, filmmakers, writers, etc.
I am grateful to see this movement happening and getting to know more Indigenous filmmakers, actors and creatives. We have so much to say and to give in this industry!
Thank you for tuning into this month’s industry spotlight! We hope you’ve learned as much as we have. For more about Jennifer Rader, you can visit her website at www.jennrader.com.
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