“Every time I think about Hollywood, I think about New York, and all the grand stuff I’ve done. It’s glamorous and glitzy and it’s fame and opulent,” Sivan Alyra Rose explains to MTV News over a recent breakfast. She wears a tourist tee shirt over her dress; today is the last day of her press run for Chambers, and she’s tired but happy. “And then, whenever I sit down and it’s quiet, I think about my grandma, my mom. I can see my house on the Rez, I can see the hill I live at, I can see the road it takes to drive up there, and I’m like, that’s my reality.”
“I saw my face on a bus yesterday,” she adds. “It was very surreal.”
The actor has reason to be contemplative. On April 26, Netflix premiered Chambers, a 10-episode horror with Rose in the center of the intrigue. She stars as Sasha, a teenager navigating how to live with her uncle, get through high school, and balance her relationship and friends, when her heart suddenly stops and she’s rushed into transplant surgery. The ensuing story is not about her recovery in the traditional sense; instead, she is thrust into the whiter, more affluent world of the girl whose death allowed for her organ donation, and simultaneously realizes that, at some point between her cardiac arrest and her recovery, a demon has planted itself inside her body. (Rose, however, is adamant about the fact that while many people are inherently scared of major surgery, the point of the show is not to exploit the experience of getting an organ transplant, or prey on people’s feelings about such heavy procedures.)
Chambers is a slow burn, which Rose likens more to a 10-hour movie you can watch in installments than a true TV format. As a Native actor anchoring a show, Rose knows she’s a groundbreaker. She does not want to be seen as a role model — “I’m 19. I say fuck a lot. I like dark, scary things,” she notes — but she hopes that other people see her as an inspiration “to pursue whatever the fuck they want. Whatever it is they wanna be.”
Rose grew up on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, near Phoenix, Arizona; in high school, the Apache-Latinx teen trained to be a medical assistant. “I had dreams of being a doctor before I had dreams of anything in the creative field because creativity scares parents,” she says. Her first brush with acting came at 16, when an agent saw her modeling at the Santa Fe Indian Market, an annual Indigenous fashion show. But after taping a few auditions that ultimately went nowhere, she put acting on hold. “It was just like, the shit outside don’t feel real. The shit on the Rez feels real,” she remembers now.
She moved to Santa Fe to attend college at the Institute of American Indian Arts, but couldn’t afford to stay; it was at that point that she and her boyfriend decided to move to Los Angeles in search of an adventure. There, she reconnected with the casting agent from the fashion show, who led her to first a student film called Running Shadow and then to Chambers. (“I was like, ‘What? You’re gonna give me a Netflix audition? Do you believe in me that much?’” she remembers.) Working on the show alongside Tony Goldwyn and Rose’s longtime idol Uma Thurman felt like “actor bootcamp,” she adds, but in the best way. “It was just like, yo, you are up here with us getting your work done, we’re gonna help you get your work done. And we did.”
That Chambers is framed as a horror feels fitting to her, not least of all because the show touches on the generational traumas of displacement, appropriation, and more. (“If we’re gonna bring such a scary topic to the table, we might as well make sure everyone’s scared anyway,” she points out.) It aims to be a story about possession, which helped Rose feel right at home. “I’ve always been a big horror fan,” she explains. “That world brought me into the reality of my own dark traumas and embracing that dark side of me.” To achieve that, the show uses forced perspective shots and a long tension-build, a creative process Rose calls “hell” and “emotionally demanding,” but ultimately worth the effort to avoid using CGI in place of IRL fear.
One thing the show definitely didn’t want to mess with, however, was making sure its Native representation was supportive, not exploitive. In addition to casting Marcus Lavoi, a citizen of the White Earth Nation, and Griffin Powell-Arcand, who is Cree, as Sasha’s uncle and boyfriend, respectively, Rose remembers that the show hired Native peoples to work on every level, from production assistants and grips to the writer’s room. Though Sasha doesn’t have many ties to her Diné heritage, she learns from her uncle, Big Frank, and her boyfriend, TJ; that it was not up to Rose to educate non-Native people throughout filming was a relief.
“I didn’t have to be the one to save grace, there were protections all the way from the beginning. It took a lot off me,” she says. “Because all I had to worry about was Sasha being the best she could be.” She also hired other Native peoples as members of her team, and wants it to be clear that she’s not down to be anyone’s diversity quota. “I’m not anyone’s token Native. I don’t want to be here alone,” she stresses.
If Hollywood listens, she won’t be. In January, the actor Yalitza Aparicio Martínez made history as the first Indigenous Mexican woman to be nominated for an Oscar after starring in Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and landing on the cover of Vogue México, among other milestones. And while Netflix hasn’t indicated whether Chambers will nab a second season, Rose hopes her presence on the service will help move the needle in an even more inclusive direction and hopefully open doors for her to play an even wider swath of characters in the future.
“I want to be a chameleon. Like, the girl next door, Elle Woods, an alien from another planet,” she begins. Sasha, she notes, felt special to her because the character broke free from stereotypes placed upon Native peoples that often work to keep them down.
In other words, Sasha served as a reflection point for Rose, too. “You don’t see yourself until you see yourself,” she adds simply. And now that Hollywood has noticed, she’s not letting go of their attention anytime soon.