Reservation Dogs: There’s Never Been a TV Star Like D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai

Woon-A-Tai, now 20, instantly connected to Bear, the conflicted not-quite leader of the gang. “I feel like Sterlin was spying on me,” he says. “After I read the pilot, I knew straight up: This is me. No one else could play the role.”“D’Pharaoh is Bear, honestly,” Harjo confirmed.We’re at a restaurant Woon-A-Tai suggested that serves Indigenous cuisine outside of Tulsa, not far from where he’s currently filming season two of the show, which premieres on August 3rd. “This is fancy Native food,” he jokes, gesturing at a menu that includes bison sliders and sunchoke gnocchi. “This is like bougie shit.”His outfit today is pure ‘90s—baggy burgundy cords, a psychedelic thrifted sweater that channels Biggie, and Oakleys-esque reflective sunglasses—but don’t let the exceedingly chill exterior fool you. “I’ve never met somebody with more energy than him,” his Reservation Dogs co-star Devery Jacobs, who plays the group’s actual leader, Elora Danon, told me.A conversation with Woon-A-Tai is a bit like riding shotgun on a joyride through a maze. Ask him how he enjoys living in Oklahoma and, before you know it, you’ll emerge with an understanding of the entire history of the state. Or the occupation of Alcatraz by the American Indian Movement in the 1960s, or the origin of residential schools. He’s also prone to philosophizing, but instead of puffing from a professor’s pipe he takes drags from a vape. “If I wasn’t an actor, I’d probably be a history teacher,” he tells me. “Fucking love history.”Oji-Cree on his father’s side and Guyanese on his mother’s, Woon-A-Tai was raised in Toronto by parents who had him in their teens. He’s the second-oldest, beat to earth a few minutes by his twin brother, D’King. His grandfather, Frank, is a tenth-degree black belt who owns his own karate school. “After we could walk, we started doing karate,” Woon-A-Tai says.