Roseanne Supernault was born in Grand Prairie, Alberta. She grew up in a rural area without a lot of money, a life experience she sees as helping to shape her into the person she is today, someone who is “a bit rough around the edges, a bit of a scrapper and a fighter.” Supernault has always felt like her life and accomplishments have been earned through hard work and struggle. She might be onto something — Supernault didn’t find out until she was in her 20s, but she almost died on the day she was born. Her first 30 minutes of life were spent fighting to stay alive, as her doctor and her father struggled to help her breathe. Survival has always been a defining part of her.
She attended Victoria School of Performing Arts in Edmonton, Alberta, an experience she considers formative in her growth and depth as an actress. There was definitely culture shock going from a predominantly Indigenous elementary school to a big-city arts school. Supernault was bullied during her middle school years, but found her strength in reading and academics — she was an honour-roll student. In addition to theatre, she played basketball and spent time learning computer coding. A social ‘floater,’ she remembers hanging out with everyone but not having a clique she belonged to.
Supernault has been passionate about performance from a young age, whether it was singing, dancing or athletics, but professionally acting was not something that was on her radar. She always thought she might end up pursuing science or law. That changed when she was 13, and someone convinced her to respond to an open casting call for a movie. She made such a good impression on the casting director that acting became a real option for her, and she spent the next few years developing a resumé.
Her early struggles in life are something she carried with her into her career, and that resourcefulness and ability to carve her own path greatly benefited her as an aspiring actress. Supernault’s first screen role came in 2005 in the Steven Spielberg–produced TV miniseries Into the West. Her breakout role came in 2013 in the historical romantic drama Maïna(which can be viewed as part of the REEL CANADA programme): She won an American Indian Film Festival Award for best actress. When she was filming Maïna in the wilds of Quebec, she recalled her childhood when her father taught her skills like hunting and trapping, navigating by the stars, and surviving in the bush. Those life experiences made filming Maïna feel like familiar territory.
In addition to stage roles in the theatre, Supernault has had recurring roles on the television series The Drive, Blackstone and Jamestown, and has appeared recently in films such as Juliana & the Medicine Fish, Neither Wolf Nor Dog and the post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick The Northlander. She will reunite next with her Maïna costars Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal in Don McKellar’s film Through Black Spruce.
Supernault went through a time when she gave up most of her belongings and travelled for a year, living on friends’ couches and at hotels, hostels and AirBnBs. She made it to the Cannes Film Festival on a shoestring. That year was an experience that freed her from a workaholic lifestyle and allowed her to experience the world in a different way. She emphasises not getting caught up in the hectic, destructive lifestyle of working oneself too hard, and lives by the old proverb that you can’t take money, fame and material goods with you when you die. Supernault no longer lives to meet other people’s expectations, but is content to be happy and confident in who she is and in her efforts to improve the world.
And improving the world is something she is passionate about, especially for women and Indigenous people. She recently appeared on a panel at the Women in the World Summit, with Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, CBC’s Wendy Mesley and others to speak on the topic of women in advertising and maintaining confidence as a woman. Supernault credits her Cree and Métis culture in giving her confidence in life: It’s the kind of confidence, she says, that comes from soul, not ego, the kind that children have naturally and that you begin to lose as you get older, if you’re not careful. She works with Indigenous youth to help mentor them in achieving their goals and maintaining a solid grasp on that spiritual side of life.
Supernault wants to elevate and inspire Indigenous people. She has hosted the American Indian Film Awards for the past two years in a row. Supernault has said she aims to foster reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people through her work. She has supported Indigenous activist movements like Idle No More, and provides workshops for Indigenous youths on subjects like acting and mental health. Receiving mentorship has been important for her, so she is passing it on to others. Supernault has been mentored by actress Tantoo Cardinal, with whom she has worked multiple times over the past decade, and whom she affectionately calls “auntie.” And she has recently been mentoring under actress Irene Bedard.
Since getting her start in acting, Supernault has branched out into other pursuits. She is a budding social media influencer, public speaker and filmmaker. In 2014, she produced, wrote and directed her first short film, the comedy The Nod, and she has a second short, titled The Wretched One, set to be released this year.
Supernault thinks film is an important way to recalibrate our ideas of what it means to be Canadian. Through film we can see a broad range of stories about Canadians and our history, including stories that acknowledge the messiness and the grit of our history. More and better stories make for better viewers, so Supernault thinks it’s important that we continue to see films by and about Canadians.
It’s clear Roseanne Supernault is only getting started. REEL CANADA is excited to watch where her career goes next, and proud to have her as one of our RBC Emerging Artists!
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