Lily Gladstone says 'the desire for justice' is at the heart of crime drama 'Under the Bridge': 'The bravest thing is to feel, to feel the tragedy'

Riley Keough, who co-stars and serves as an executive producer, told Yahoo Entertainment that "Lily was a must-have" for the cast.

Lily Gladstone stars as an Indigenous police officer in the Hulu crime drama "Under the Bridge." (Bettina Strauss/Hulu)
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Lily Gladstone is no stranger to the dark world of true crime, although she tends to bristle at the term.

The Blackfeet and Nimíipuu actress, who just capped off her historic awards-season run with a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, once again portrays an Indigenous character caught up in a town of secrets and murder — only this time it’s in the Hulu limited series Under the Bridge.

The eight-episode series, premiering April 17 and adapted from the book of the same name by the late Rebecca Godfrey, tells the real-life story of 14-year-old Indian Canadian girl Reena Virk (Vritika Gupta), who goes missing in 1997 after going to a party.

Delving into everything from troubled teenage girlhood and bullying to racial discord, culture clashes and the effects of foster care, the series sets its magnifying glass on emotionally charged themes that resonate beyond its late ’90s British Columbia setting.

While the details of the case, which are told through the eyes of novelist turned investigative writer Godfrey (Riley Keough) and local police officer Cam Bentland (Gladstone), are disturbing, Gladstone told Yahoo Entertainment that it’s the “desire for justice” — rather than any sensationalized specifics typical of true-crime fare — that reverberates with her.

“The bravest thing is to feel, to feel the tragedy, to feel the anger, to feel the desire for justice even though that can be a really scary and personal thing,” she told Yahoo Entertainment.

Gladstone would know something about “personal” after portraying a real-life Native American survivor of the murderous “Reign of Terror” against the Osage in Killers of the Flower Moon.

“Having come off of a true-crime-genre piece, it sounds so diminishing to reduce these very human, very necessary stories that stirred necessary conversations about systemic inequities [and] the culture of violence,” Gladstone said on a panel at the show’s premiere in Los Angeles on Monday, referring to how real-life victims can often be seen as mere characters in a story.

“The reason true crime gets sensationalized, the reasons that the victims oftentimes get further dehumanized by process of the fascination with their case, can kind of indict all of us,” she added.

While her character in Under the Bridge is fictionalized and represents an amalgam of the police force of the town where the crime takes place, Gladstone appreciates that the show’s creator, Quinn Shephard, showrunner, Samir Mehta, and co-star Keough, who also served as an executive producer, wanted the series to have an Indigenous lead.

In her role, Gladstone plays an Indigenous woman who was adopted as a child into a white family. That backstory connects her both to the victim and — perhaps surprisingly — to her victimizers, some of whom lived in foster care.

“Before [Cam] became a part of this [adopted white] family, she was a child that was put in foster care and went into the system, so I think she has an empathy that she’s unable to shake even though she’s conditioned to shelve that,” Gladstone told Yahoo Entertainment.

Her storyline reflects issues that are still playing out today. It was only last year that the U.S. Supreme Court decided to uphold the Indian Child Welfare Act, which centered on whether Native children could be adopted or placed into foster care with non-Native families if they already had an Indigenous family of their own.

“I really was grateful that there was an Indigenous voice placed in this,” Gladstone said on the panel.

‘Lily was a must-have’

For Keough, casting Gladstone was a no-brainer.

“Lily was a must-have,” she told Yahoo Entertainment. “Everybody wanted Lily.”

Keough said that it was crucial to have an Indigenous lead in the series.

“It was important to me knowing that whoever [Gladstone] was going to collaborate with would give her the room to explore this character in the way that she wanted to,” she explained.

For Gladstone, telling these stories through the lens of those who often don’t have a voice is critical.

“I think the bravest thing is to be an empathetic person,” she said.

Under the Bridge streams on Hulu April 17.