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Raised in Glenpool, Sten Joddi makes acting debut in next episode of 'Reservation Dogs'
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Raised in Glenpool, Sten Joddi makes acting debut in next episode of 'Reservation Dogs'

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Sten Joddi’s performance in “Reservation Dogs” seems so natural that you might not guess he is a newcomer to acting.

Maybe that’s because the script rang familiar.

Joddi, who grew up in Glenpool, will make his acting and “Reservation Dogs” debut when he plays rapper Punkin Lusty, absentee father of one of the Rez Dogs kids, in an episode that will be unleashed Monday, Aug. 23 on FX on Hulu.

Shot primarily in Okmulgee, “Reservation Dogs” is a groundbreaking series with an all-Indigenous cast and creative team. It’s a comedy, but the next episode (“What About Your Dad”) delves into serious territory by exploring the relationship between a son and a dad who has priorities other than being there for his son.

Joddi pulled from his childhood experiences in bringing Punkin Lusty to life. During a recent phone interview, he talked about being the kid whose father wasn’t always where you hoped he would be.

“I love my dad, you know? And he was a Superman at one time just like all kids see their fathers,” Joddi said.

“He had his own trials and tribulations and he had to do his own thing and he kind of dipped out on the family obligations after a while. He had to find his own way and we had to deal with those consequences of some of those choices he made. Ultimately, it affected me in a good way. I went through my bad times and, as I am a grown man now, I see I needed to go through those things to be who I am and be the father and the husband I am today.”

Joddi indicated he and his father moved forward and now have a relationship.

Moving on from the dad topic, how did a rookie actor land a role in “Reservation Dogs?”

Joddi didn’t initiate contact. He was pursued.

Joddi said he was sitting on the couch when he got an out-of-the-blue email with a subject line that mentioned a “Reservation Dogs” audition.

“I almost swiped it, like deleted it, because I just thought maybe it was one of those spam things or something,” he said.

Instead, he opened the email and was pleasantly surprised to learn he was being offered an opportunity to audition. The show needed someone to play the role of an Indigenous hip-hop music artist. Joddi is an award-winning Muscogee Nation hip-hop artist.

A catchy Punkin Lusty song (“Greasy Fry Bread”) will usher viewers into Monday’s “Reservation Dogs” episode. One of Joddi’s songs — “RezdReamZ” — can be heard in a previous episode of “Reservation Dogs.” It’s an autobiographical song he wrote and recorded before joining the cast. He said he submitted the song to series co-creator Sterlin Harjo and the show’s music department and it was green-lighted for use. Joddi is appreciative the song was even considered.

Joddi resides in Mason City, Iowa, but the video for “RezdReamZ” was shot in Oklahoma. He stopped at his old neighborhood while on the way back from the “Reservation Dogs” set, and his tech-savvy 10-year-old daughter shot the music video with his iPhone.

“It was cool to go back home and kind of show my family where I grew up,” he said.

Joddi, asked what led him to Iowa, rewound all the way to a time in his life when he was close to the same age as the “Reservation Dogs” kids.

Joddi, 38, said he got into “stupid things” when he was 15 or 16. An impactful week during that time period included the death of a friend and a visit from an aunt.

“I don’t want you to die out here,” mom told young Sten. She thought a change of scenery would benefit him. When his aunt’s visit was over, he went with her to Seattle.

It was a temporary fix. Joddi was drawn back to Oklahoma and caused enough aggravation that mom didn’t want him staying at home. He did the Job Corps thing and earned a culinary arts degree. The plan was to rejoin his mother (who relocated to Tennessee) once he got his life together.

“I messed up, man,” he said. “I got into a lot more crap and that’s when I did some time in jail.”

There aren’t many positives to incarceration, but one of them is you have time to evaluate your life. Going forward, Joddi decided to major in things that gave him joy — ink (tattoos) and music.

Joddi said he was still kind of homeless and wandering after being released from jail. He was working at a McDonald’s in Roland when he met a guy from Iowa who was “doing music.” Want to go?

“And, again, I’m just kind of a nomad, dude,” Joddi said. “I was like, whatever, let’s go. So I took my last little check and I came up here about 15½ or 16 years ago.”

Joddi was determined to turn a page and live a different life in Iowa. He said he was embraced by people there. Among them: his wife of 15 years. Don Murl of Body Graphix, a tattoo shop, gave Joddi a chance to be a professional tattoo artist and he said he’ll forever be grateful.

The name of Joddi’s online site (tattoomuzik.com) is reflective of his passions. He said the universe kept throwing tattoos and music in his face. Might as well go with it.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to listen to your heart and do what you need to be doing,” he said. “I’m not saying that everybody is going to be an entrepreneur or anything and I’m not saying everybody’s going to be successful in their ventures. All I am saying is that you’ll never know if you don’t try, you know? ... Do something that makes you happy from your heart and then see if you can make money at it. That’s a bonus.”

So, too, is an unexpected acting gig.

Joddi, in a bio on his online site, provided insight into what he overcame to reach this feel-good period of his life. He said he survived domestic violence, an abusive childhood, life in the streets, a suicide attempt and addiction to drugs and alcohol. He credited four factors for the turnaround: family (he said his wife and kids are his anchors), healthy lifestyle, reconnection to the creator and earth — and creating through tattoos/music.

Now he’s in position to uplift and be an example.

“And that’s the thing, you know? That’s what I want people to know and take from (my story) is you can overcome it. You can overcome all those obstacles, even the ones you put on yourself.”

“Reservation Dogs” will introduce Joddi and his music to a mass audience. The exposure, and resulting opportunities, may ensure that we haven’t seen the last of him. But will we be seeing more of Punkin Lusty?

Episode four will be Punkin Lusty’s only appearance in season one, according to Joddi, who said, “I’m hoping we go to season two and they write me in there somewhere.”

Regardless, Joddi said he feels like people are witnessing history when they watch “Reservation Dogs.” This kind of portrayal of Indigenous youths has never before been the focal point of a television series.

“I’m just grateful to be a piece of it,” he said. “It’s an awesome feeling, you know?”

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Scene Writer

I cover pop culture and work as a feature writer at the Tulsa World. A former Oklahoma sports writer of the year, I have written books about former OU coach Barry Switzer and former OSU coach Pat Jones. Phone: 918-581-8389

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