Photography by Becca Lemire
If life hands you a lemon you make lemonade, right? In Devery Jacobs case, you write a letter too.
This young actress (seen starring in the current season of CTV's Cardinal, the new season of America Gods and the new Netflix Original The Order) is the queen of doing the right thing, handling lemons with grace, and standing up for what she believes in.
Born and raised in Kahnawake Mohawk territory, Devery’s other passion lies in Indigenous rights activism. She was the original founder of the Kahnawà:ke Youth Forum where she led and organized protests and rallies. She was also an active participant in the Idle No More Movement.
Grab a cuppa, this is a juicy read.
Tell us about a time that life handed you lemons. Did you make lemonade?
After I moved to New York, I struggled financially and every acting job I’d had lined up fell through. I’d sat down with a director who asked me what my dream roles were, because she was interested in turning one of them into a short film. I’d never been asked that before, so I went on a soul-searching journey of figuring out what stories I wanted to tell and which characters resonated with me. When I finally responded, I sent her a heartfelt email exploring characters and she thought they were so inspiring — but she dealt me some lemons by explaining that she’d since quit the business, and wished me luck.
It was the wakeup call I needed. It dawned on me, that instead of waiting for someone else to tell the stories that I was incredibly passionate about, I had my own voice and perspective to share. I wrote my first short film in New York, I successfully raised the funds on Kickstarter and made lemonade my directorial debut.
Describe your ideal work environment to get sh*t done.
Growing up in a Mohawk family with nine people, I’ve gotten pretty skilled at tuning people out — but one thing that’s crazy-distracting is negative energy. My ideal environment to get sh*t done has to have coffee brewing, chill music playing and good vibes.
How have you grown since your start?
I’ve been working in this industry since I was thirteen, so it hasn’t exactly been an overnight success. But through the knowledge I’ve gained, I think the most helpful key to remember is that acting is a business. It can feel tremendously personal, especially when you’re exposing your innards through creative performances, but as soon as you step offset, you have to be a businesswoman.
You cannot only hope for jobs, and dream of being cast in life-changing roles. I now understand that you need to know your value, what you have to offer, and put in the work — casting directors can either take it or leave it.
It’s easier said than done but knowing that has given me immeasurable freedom in my work and has actually helped me achieve more success.
How much of your success as an entrepreneur has come from taking risks versus playing it safe?
My proudest achievements have come from trusting my gut and taking risks.
When American Gods was casting, and I’d auditioned for the role of Sam Black Crow, a role I’d been anticipating and pursuing for years, I landed the spot of their first choice. But when schedules didn’t work, and it came down to one day that conflicted, the production tried everything to make it work and just couldn’t. They’d decided to move on to their second choice and I was gutted.
This is something that is typically very unprofessional, but I wrote a letter to American Gods as a swan song and thanked them for casting me, and explained how much the character meant to me. That risk was exactly what was needed to tip the scales because they sent it across the entire production office, even Neil Gaiman read it, and all agreed that I was the character.
How do you measure success in your career?
In my career, if I can make a living doing what I love, can stand behind the work I’ve created and helped lift others coming up behind me, then I consider myself to be the most successful.
You're 30 minutes away from walking into an important meeting. What do you do to get yourself in the right headspace?
I make sure I’m ready, that I know my sh*t, and then I turn on some tunes to distract myself from over-thinking. My hype-songs are usually by Jessie Reyez, Princess Nokia or Lizzo.
What impact are you making through your work?
I hope that I’m making an impact! Growing up in Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory, my very existence is political, and that has shaped my passion for the stories I tell. I’m representing accurate depictions of contemporary Indigenous people, I’m sharing stories from my community and am working at opening doors for more Indigenous creatives in the industry.
If you could attend a dinner party with 3 women of your choice - past or present - who would they be?
Sacheen LittleFeather, Lena Waithe & Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Do you have a mentor? What role have they played in your success?
While I don’t have one specific mentor, I have countless womxn and people of color in my corner who help me in many ways and want to see me succeed. It’s been so monumental in my growth not only as an actor but especially as a creative behind the lens. I wouldn’t have an ounce of the success I do now if it weren’t for the people who’ve helped me achieve it.
“If I can make a living doing what I love, can stand behind the work I’ve created and helped lift others coming up behind me, then I consider myself to be the most successful.”
What is one book and/or podcast that you believe every woman should read or listen to?
It doesn’t matter if you’re an artist or not, The Artist Way by Julia Cameron will kick your ass in the best and most necessary way.
What is something on your bucket list?
To become perfectly fluent in my language, Kanien’kéha (Mohawk).
What's next for you? Can you tell us a little bit about something exciting you're working on?
I’m co-writing and will be starring in the feature film, This Place, that is set to shoot this June. Our creative team is entirely comprised of BIPOC womxn — we joke that we’re making the most intersectional film of all time. But really, we’re exploring a romance between two womxn, how their ancestry influences their present, and in a story that could only ever happen in Toronto.