1923 Star Aminah Nieves Breaks Down Teonna’s Latest Harrowing Trial

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the seventh episode of 1923. Read at your own risk!]

We should have known that life wasn’t going to stay comfortable for Teonna (Aminah Nieves) for long 1923. After escaping the Boarding House of Horrors and murdering the nuns who had abused her, Teonna had quickly found a friend in the form of Hank (Michael Greyeyes). He wanted to take her home to her family, and he helped her dress up as a boy and get rid of all the state school evidence. It seemed like there was a chance she could get to safety, but then two of Father Renaud’s (Sebastian Roché) priests started wreaking havoc all over the prairie. They attacked Hank’s son and tried to drag him back to school, and then they caught up with Teonna and Hank. A massive, ugly fight ensued, and while it appeared Hank had taken care of the priests, one was still alive and able to shoot him square in the back. This undead priest then went after Teonna, but she caught him in the head with a rock.

Meanwhile, Teonna’s father (Michael Spears) had entered the picture unbeknownst to her. He found Teonna’s grandmother dead and saved Hank’s son from the priests, but he hasn’t caught up with his daughter yet, and she has no idea it’s even possible. What is a girl supposed to do now? That’s the question, says star Aminah Nieves. “What is she doing? I think that’s when you see how she really feels a little bit lost. Then you see her revert back to that childish behavior, like oh, this is really happening,” Nieves tells TV Guide. “Their words are echoing in my head like oh now they’re going to come and kill me too. And now she doesn’t have her protector – not that she needed one, because she definitely didn’t have one. But I think we all have to give her hope.”

1923Aminah Nieves


That hope could come in the form of Teonna’s father, who essentially represents whatever she wants. “I think in the end it’s not all she wants, but it’s what she deeply desires. She wants to feel a human hug that’s not out to get it, and she wants to feel that connection with someone,” says Nieves. She points out that she left her cousin Baapuxti (Leenah Robinson) at boarding school because she knew they would never see each other again. “When Hank says we’re going to find your dad it changed her world and turned her upside down because she always thought she would make it home but there was no guarantee her family was still anywhere.”

There were very few happy moments for Teonna, which is even more harrowing because her story is based on a devastating real-life story where native people were forced onto reservations while children were forcibly placed in religious boarding schools. Nieves says she has spoken to as many people as possible, both within her own family and in other communities, to learn more about her experiences. She also found stories of girls like Teonna rebelling against these authorities. “I give them my heart because it’s so scary to do,” she says. “But then you only have two choices, right? You either rebel and try to get out, or you don’t and live in complete turmoil every day.”

How does Nieves, a young actress from an indigenous community, deal with the pressure and stress that comes with a role like this? The response involves a surprising amount of joy, laughter, and friendship with the actors who play their abusers. Below, Nieves shares her experiences from the set of the Paramount+ hit, refusing to address the fact that her character’s last name is Rainwater or offer any specific teasing for what’s coming in next week’s finale. However, she warns. “I think it’s going to ruin a lot of people. It’s sure to keep everyone busy. Cliffhangers are cliffs.” Read on for more from the set of 1923.

What the 1923 premiere tells us about the Dutton family tree and the future of the family

My first question to you after watching this week’s episode is, are you okay?
Nieves: First of all I want to thank you for asking if I’m okay. am i ok No, just kidding. I’m doing well. The process yes it’s stressful but I think being in the entertainment industry in general is a little bit stressful but stressful and also such a deep blessing to share our stories.

The last few weeks when Teonna was with Hank it was so comfortable but also so stressful because something bad was obviously about to happen. What’s it like playing her in those moments when everything might be okay? Does she ever feel that?
Nieves: All of the scenes with Michael Greyeyes were very special to me because she’s still so scared and still in fight-or-flight mode, but I think there’s a fleeting glimpse, the faintest, quickest smile from Teonna. Then she’s immediately on the edge again, but even that brief moment was like a sip of waterfall. It’s like a breath of fresh air. It was a cathartic experience and it just hurt. It still hurts because she still doesn’t know if she can trust anyone. I pray every time I read something new that she gets another one of those moments where she’s just a kid, just a kid once.

It’s so sad that we haven’t really gotten to know Teonna as a person yet, because up until now it’s all been fear and anger. How do you live in such a character, which mostly consists only of fear? Did you find out what she would be like if she were actually a kid?
Nieves: I think that’s what I started with first. And what also helped navigate Teonna was that we were still playing. Although Leenah and I are grown, and even Sebastian Roché. We’re all adults, but the school we shot at had a playground. We always made sure to go on the swings together and take turns, and many of the children who were background actors also played with us. Our cameramen played with us. It’s those moments that really give you comfort and security in what you’re doing because it hurt and it was hard.

Did having those off-screen moments with Sebastian help? Because he’s scary.
Nieves: He’s terrifying, and you know what? He’s the biggest cheeseball ever and he’s one of my best friends. Because he is so nice and has such a sweet soul. He’s so goofy and he’d just love to go wild with everyone on set and it really helped nurture those deeper relationships.

SebastianRoche, 1923


Previously, you couldn’t share the screen with any of the Duttons, but you could spend time or work with them Harrison Ford And Helen Mirren at all?
Nieves: Yes, I have. I went to the set almost every day when I wasn’t working.

I would too with this cast.
Nieves: Yes, I’m best friends with almost everyone in the cast. I’m currently living with Julia Schlaepfer and Michelle Randolph. And every time I was on set, I made sure to talk to everyone and have those connections, but it was also that easy. Everyone is so loving and authentic. It was just random. Sometimes Helen would just come up behind me and give me a hug and I would say, “Hey!” It’s incredible.

Is there anything you’d like to share about what you’ve learned on this journey, particularly as it relates to the real-life story you’re portraying?
Nieves: I think what I’ve learned from more human experience is that really nobody could ever try to dismantle or cause genocide on us ever again. We’re so resilient as humans and this show has taught me that because I’ve met so much incredible Indigenous talent and I see them and I’ve seen them feel so much pride and see the gleam in their eyes because they know for being here , we are here to stay and we will do everything in our power to speak out and be heard and seen. That, in particular, changed me a lot, because you don’t see that very often. I’m from a really small town and I just went back to talk to some actors at my old high school and everyone’s like, ‘How did you get out? How did you manage it? We don’t think we can ever get out of this place.” I think you can, as long as you imagine being in the places you want to be. You can do anything you put your mind to To see all the backers from the reservations, to see them so excited to work and be seen and to see their parents there and say so proud and thank you, that was the special sauce for me, it really got my heart back put together because I no longer felt like I was fighting to see my people.

As you come to these conclusions about how resilient your people are and that genocide can never happen again, how are the conversations with the people playing the villains? I would imagine that as an actor you have to find a way to relate to your characters in order to play them.
Nieves: They were sometimes for hours. We just sat and talked and debated a bit but they were always treated with respect and to be honest I think it was really hard for them to follow in those footsteps and I witnessed it. They were always apologizing and I was like, you know what, you’re not as a person. I know Jennfier Ehle doesn’t do that. I know Sebastian Roche doesn’t do that and I had to feel sorry for that. Can things get a bit tricky when you’re filming? Sometimes yes. Because you’re being transported whether you know it or not. You’re being transported into another human being, but it’s always been safe and we’ve always made sure to talk about it. I know it myself, and I don’t want to speak for Leenah, but we didn’t want a savior, like a white male savior complex. So being able to confide in each other was important and I’m so glad they were kind enough to want that. Not many people would want to do that. Some people would shy away from having the tough conversations we had together, but they were 100% there for it and I am so grateful to them.

Well, it sounds like you had an oddly beautiful experience, despite having to deal with some dark things.
Nieves: Yes it was. I’ve made lifelong bonds here. I found soul mates in so many of these people on set and Leenah is my sister for life. Julia and Michelle are my sisters and my best friends. Sebastian Roche is like my crazy uncle. Jennifer Ehle? This is my aunt. Michael Spears is literally me, but in the male version. It’s crazy!

Elsewhere in 1923, there were two major events this week. Whitfield (Timothy Dalton), the evil business tycoon, forced two prostitutes to beat each other up for fun after Creighton (Jerome Flynn) was carted off to jail for attempted murder, just in case you weren’t already convinced that Whitfield was a villain is . And in Italy, Spencer (Brandon Sklenar) and Alex’s (Schlaepfer) stopover in Sicily was cut short when her ex-fiancé showed up with his entire family. Yellowstone couldn’t even dream of the soapy levels this show achieves.

1923 airs Sundays on Paramount+.


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