Taietsarón:sere Leclaire emerged from the pandemic with stellar achievements accomplishing things like marrying his partner Dominic Tetro, and working on the original Peacock series Rutherford Falls as both actor and writer. It was our recent privilege to chat with our friend, to gain insight into the quasi-established talent we know as Tai.
How to Appreciate a Good Story: An Interview with Tai Leclaire
We imagine the hustling streets of Los Angeles. A cool-yet-tolerable winter breeze tugs at the fronds of median-strip palms. Somewhere in Hollywood, Taietsarón:sere Leclaire takes time from memorising a script, or from writing one. In between wrap parties and stand-up shows, he opens his inbox to respond to Silk Laundry. From Australia, we melt. What’s it like in modern LA? Writing for Rutherford Falls. How does one draw inspiration while simultaneously enabling it? The challenges, aspirations, of a Kanien’kehá:ka comedian. We want to learn as much as we can. Tell us about yourself, we write. Waiting, we picture confident fingers meeting a keyboard in the crisp daylight of California. And Tai responds.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Taietsarón:sere Leclaire, but everyone calls me Tai! I’m Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) and Mi’kmaq from a reservation called Kahnawá:ke. I’m a writer, a comedian, an actor, and on the hunt for the best nachos of all time. I’m a recent Los Angeles transplant still finding my footing in the city. So far, I can say my favourite things to do are to play bass loudly at home or listen to music (also loudly) while driving around the city discovering new spots.
Tell us about your acting, and what you love doing most in that space? (stage, screen, etc?)
I grew up performing. When I was a kid, I was part of the “Turtle Island Theater Company” on my reservation. This is where I got the bug for live performance. After that I joined a video club called “Teioiaks.” This was the first time I got into film making.
Almost all my “films” were straight up parodies or mock game shows, naturally all comedies. But after graduating high school, I took a break from performing to study more visual mediums. I got a degree in Photography and then a BFA in Communications Design from Parsons in New York. Just about as soon as I graduated, I started falling in love with live performance again, this time full-on comedy. Stand up, character monologues, sketch comedy, you name it. I had my “9 to 5” job then my “5 to 9” job of going to stand up mics, rehearsals, or shows. Eventually I made my way to UCB Theater and became a house performer there doing monthly Character showcases. And now, as an actor and writer living in East Hollywood, California, I feel like I’ve finally arrived at the place I’m supposed to be. What I love to do most in the space of stage and screen is revel in the process. I don’t necessarily have a favourite between stage or screen performance, I just love the collaborative nature that each of them brings and the separate joys they bring as well.
“I come from a Native culture that traditionally didn’t use the written word, we understood the power and importance of oral history. It was being raised in that lens that always made me love and appreciate a good story.”
What are you most passionate about within the industry, and the art?
Storytelling. Storytelling is king. I come from a Native culture that traditionally didn’t use the written word, we understood the power and importance of oral history. It was being raised in that lens that always made me love and appreciate a good story. On top of this, as someone who has studied various visual mediums, there’s something so paramount to taking a beautifully shot image. There’s been so many movies and TV shows that I had to watch solo because I kept pausing tothem take a picture of the frame or write down a joke.
You recently worked on Peacock streaming service’s original show Rutherford Falls. What was your experience like working with the crew on that production?
Rutherford Falls was my gateway into the world of professional television. Back in 2019, my now showrunner (AKA my boss) Sierra Teller-Ornelas, saw me perform one of my very dumb characters live and DM’d me on Twitter the next day. She asked me if I happened to be a writer and was interested in submitting for this new TV show she was putting together with Ed Helms and Mike Schur. Two years later, I’ve moved up to Story Editor on the show and we just wrapped the second season of production! I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing, talented, and friendly group of humans to call my coworkers. I spent almost all my days just trying to absorb as much information as I could. From other talents at my level, to the executive producers I’m treating everyday as the best education I could get. But most especially I really enjoy watching Ed, Mike, and Sierra on what it is to make great television, to be a good writer and to be a stellar performer. I count myself lucky every single day to be a part of this show.
Is there anything that Rutherford Falls taught you as a person, and as an actor? And what do we, the audience, have to learn about productions like this?
The biggest take away I got from all of this was the importance of lifting up others. Sierra has always been so incredible on bringing in Native talent in all aspects. From writers, performers, directors, clothing designers, crew, consultants, on and on and on. There’s so much power that it brings to including voices that haven’t been heard before. It truly helps bring a more authentic, honest, and more importantly, a very funny story. This is just my opinion on television as a whole but when it comes to what an audience needs to learn, is that everything isn’t for everyone. Sometimes, if you don’t like something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad or good, it just might mean it’s not for you and that’s great! There’s so much TV now so I encourage people to find something that appeals to them, invest in a story you love, and know you can do all of that without bringing down others.
What are the biggest challenges you face with your work?
The biggest challenge for me has always been learning how to put away insecurities that I’ve carried with me for so long. I don’t know why, but for me, it always felt inherently selfish to want to do anything other than be a doctor. I was almost afraid to admit how badly I wanted to work in design, film and television. But now that I’m in it, I’m seeing there can be power to the medium, especially when it comes to cultural conversations. I can also see that sometimes it’s just fun to laugh at a dumb joke and, for thirty minutes in your day, not take the world too seriously.
What do you hope to achieve through your work?
I want to tell the stories fourteen-year-old me was starved for. Stories that are complicated, diverse, messy, funny, ugly. I know there’s other kids out there that were like me who could use it.
What do you love most about your ability to express yourself through your art/acting?
I love world building and creating narratives. It feels so meditative to lock myself to my computer screen and just imagine for a couple of hours. It’s extremely relaxing. With writing it’s just fun to ask myself “Okay if this thing exists? What else?” Exploring corners, walking down hallways. On, and on, and on, until you’ve built a whole house. The same meditative way I feel when I’m in the zone with writing is present when I’m on stage performing fully rehearsed. When you don’t even have to think about the words and just experience them.
Speaking of expression, how does fashion impact the way you express yourself?
Fashion is my bread and butter. As I mentioned, I’m a proud Parsons School of Design graduate and worked within fashion for close to 10 years after college. My job right before I became a Staff Writer on Rutherford Falls was being an Art Director for J.Crew and it was such a blast. I’ve always expressed myself through my clothing and take it almost too seriously. There are moments where I know I’m going to have to write a certain thing one day, or have a certain meeting, and I prepare my outfits like preparing armour. As corny as that sounds, I take so much comfort in it. When I know I look great, I can focus my mind on everything else. Also! I used to be super goth, SUPER goth. Clothes can just be fun for the sake of being fun and that’s okay.
- Fashionable baseball hat: hair isn’t always going to agree with you.
- Fitted light jacket: style with everything.
- Travel Slippers: cause hotel floors be hotel floors.
When you travel, what are your top three must-pack pieces of clothing?
I plan every single look, for every single day (even the travel days) for every trip like an absolute crazy person. My aesthetic is Sofia Coppola meets XYZ. Fashionable baseball hat, hair isn’t always going to agree with you; fitted light jacket, to style with everything; travel slippers, ‘cause hotel floors be hotel floors.
Follow Tai on Twitter and Instagram: @tai_leclaire
Or visit his website: https://www.taileclaire.com/