Jonathan Joss plays the character Denali in the remake of “The Magnificent Seven” | Image source: Columbia Pictures
Actor, musician, spice-rub impresario … Jonathan Joss (Comanche/Apache) is all these things and more. He was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1965, where he attended McCollum High School. And it was there that he was bitten by the acting bug. In 1994 he began his career in Hollywood with a string of roles in such high-profile projects as the film 8 Seconds and on the TV miniseries Dead Man’s Walk and again in Comanche Moon.
In 1997 he landed the role that would be his most famous. He became the voice of John Redcorn, the holistic healer/children’s musician/neighborhood lothario in Mike Judge’s long-running animated series King of the Hill.Another recurring role in which he achieved a great deal of acclaim was on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, as tribal chief Ken Hotate.
Joss recently took time away from his busy schedule to speak to us about his acting career and about his upcoming stint in director Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the classic Western The Magnificent Seven, which opens nationwide Sept. 23. Joss plays a villain named Denali.
Native Peoples: Your breakout role was your part on King of the Hill as John Redcorn. What did you enjoy most about being part of such a landmark show?
Jonathan Joss: The greatest part of King of the Hill is being a part of American pop culture. I have some of the greatest fans a cartoon could have and … being a part of their life they remember as being funny is awesome.
NP: Another of your roles that has proven to be very popular was your role on Parks and Recreation. That show had an amazing cast and turned into a cult hit. Do you have a favorite story from the set?
JJ: I remember one of the first days I was on the set and had a scene with Amy Poehler. My palms were sweaty, I was shaking, and she looked over at me and said, ‘You got the job, now just be funny.’ When an actor has the go-ahead from one of the funniest people in the world, how can one not be funny?
NP: Let’s talk about your latest project, The Magnificent Seven. The original is one of the most beloved Westerns of all time. Is that what attracted you to the project?
JJ: They had me at [the words] “The Magnificent Seven.” It is one of my dad’s favorite Westerns. It is a dream come true to be part of this cast.
NP: What was the experience overall like for you? I have to imagine it was incredible to be part of such an illustrious cast.
JJ: It was an amazing experience. Antoine Fuqua, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard and Martin Sensmeier [Koyukon-Athabascan/Tlingit]; we have what seems like a United Nations list of people! All possible types of diversity. It was a dream cast. The Magnificent Seven was like a movie set within a movie. When shooting a Western, it’s like an out-of-body experience. You’re harkening back to what made Hollywood, Hollywood—this time with some modern cast changes.
NP: What can you tell us about your character and your role in the film?
JJ: My character’s name is Denali. I play opposite Peter Sarsgaard’s Mr. Bogue, who is the ruthless villain. I am one of his evil henchmen. My character, with the expression of his actions, proves that he is a troubled man, a man with a dark past, a man with many ghosts—ghosts that he wishes to silence.
NP: That sounds incredible. Before I let you go, are there any other projects in the pipeline you can talk about?
JJ: I am currently working on the video game The Walking Dead: Michonne, and I also just finished shooting a pilot for a talk show called NA Now—it stands for Native Awareness Now. It’s a show that brings Native awareness … now.
I’m also busy promoting my “King of the Grill” meat rub and spice line.
I have learned in this business that there is nothing more important than the horse you are riding at the moment. At this moment in my life and career, I am having a “magnificent” ride, and I can’t wait to entertain my fans with this performance.