sabella Star LaBlanc keeps running into her 17-year-old self.

The 25-year-old actor was reminded of her on a recent visit home to Minneapolis, on a stop by her old high school. But she's been running into her in Iceland, too. There, LaBlanc is filming the next season of "True Detective," playing Leah, the 17-year-old stepdaughter of Jodie Foster's character, Det. Liz Danvers.

Like LaBlanc, her character is Native American. But unlike LaBlanc at that age, she's proud. Confident.

"I was very shy, nervous," said LaBlanc, who is Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota, over tea in January, during a break from shooting "True Detective: Night Country," which HBO recently revealed is "coming soon."

"She's different than I was, but I think she's maybe closer to what I wanted to be at that age," she said. "It's funny — I've been talking to a lot of friends and family through this process, and it feels like I'm taking care of a younger version of myself.

"I'm getting to revisit a young Isabella and maybe do it a little differently, maybe be a little kinder to her."

Born in St. Paul, LaBlanc grew up on Twin Cities stages, from SteppingStone Theatre to the Jungle Theater, where she starred in "The Wolves," "Little Women" and "Is Edward Snowden Single?" — a funny, raucous pandemic experiment. She loves being onstage, she said. But in recent years, the big, nuanced roles for Indigenous actors are onscreen.

"All of a sudden, Native stories are not only getting told but getting seen," she said, noting "Reservation Dogs" and "Rutherford Falls."

So she's been filming in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Montreal.

But Minnesota remains her home. With this new project — what could be her big break — she not only brings herself, she said, "I bring Minnesota and I bring my people and my stories with me."

A little like the small squares of cotton fabric she tucks away in her suitcase for her traditional tobacco tying practice. When she needs a bit of grounding, she fills one bundle after another, tying them tight.

'The only Native kid'

"American History class felt like reliving a thousand of my old lives," LaBlanc recited, her voice charged but steady.

I was 17 but I felt 500 years older.
I already knew I was history incarnated, treaties and massacres made flesh.
I knew that being Indigenous in America means carrying history no one else wants to hold.

In "Proposed Adjustments to the American History Curriculum," which she wrote and recorded for Penumbra Theatre in 2018, LaBlanc recalled being "the only Native kid" at St. Paul Academy, a private school.

"I felt like the only Native kid in my general vicinity," she said recently. Her two worlds — her powwow family and her academic life — rarely met.

The most overlap occurred onstage. As a kid, LaBlanc often found herself sitting in a circle, listening to and telling stories. So acting always made sense.

She was 8 when she auditioned for a SteppingStone Theatre play about Jane Gibbs, a pre-Laura Ingalls Wilder settler befriended by Dakota people. LaBlanc's father, a poet and activist, had worked on the Gibbs farm. So she knew that story, knew that Dakota people were part of that story.

"I never would have auditioned for 'Seussical' or some other play," she said. "I was shy ... but when I heard there was a story that was part of my own story, then it felt like something I might do."

At some point, she and her mom emailed theaters in town with her resume, which consisted of two SteppingStone credits, she said, laughing. The now-retired artistic director of the History Theatre, Ron Peluso, replied, saying he'd keep her on file.

Over the years, she auditioned for the few Native parts that arose, including in Larissa FastHorse's first play at the Children's Theatre Company. But mostly, she got called in for non-Native roles. Which, in a way, she turned into Native roles.

Take, for example, the goaltender in "The Wolves" at the Jungle Theater, a part that earned her praise.

"A Native soccer player? That would be a role I don't think would get written," she said. "But I was really excited to tell that story."

In 2016, LaBlanc was one of 12 actors picked from 10,000 applications and 450 callbacks for the CBS Drama Diversity Casting Initiative. That's how she met her Los Angeles-based agent, Kay Liberman, whose sister was a senior vice president at CBS and told her: "I think you should meet this actress."

"She didn't have anything to show me," Liberman said. "She just had this very unique vibe to her."

In recent years, LaBlanc has filmed the series "Long Slow Exhale" on Spectrum and the "Pet Cemetery" prequel on Paramount Plus. She narrated the audiobook version of "Firekeeper's Daughter," a young adult thriller. Then, late last fall, she got the call for HBO's "True Detective," set in Alaska and directed by Issa López.

"It's Jodie Foster doing HBO," Liberman said. "It's major."

LaBlanc auditioned the next day. She flew to Iceland the next week.

'The bravery and the tenderness'

On a January afternoon, the high schoolers sat onstage in a circle.

LaBlanc introduced herself to the St. Paul Academy class on world religions by talking about places: this high school, her family's reservation in South Dakota, her ancestral homeland here, in what is now the Twin Cities.

When she shared a wise insight or turned a pretty phrase — which was often — the students would, almost in unison, look down and scribble her words in their notebooks, nodding.

"I felt like maybe I was too Native to be in the city and too city to be on the reservation."

"I think a lot of the way we're taught about Indigenous history in America very much leads us to believe that we are of the past."

"I've gotten less fearful of how different the culture I come from is ... and more excited about what that means that I can offer to the spaces I'm in."

LaBlanc is no longer afraid to shape those spaces. With an adaptation of Peter Pan in Washington, D.C., titled "Peter Pan and Wendy," she worked with the playwright to transform the role of Tiger Lily into "a spirited and fearless Native rights activist," as a critic there put it.

For "Edward Snowden," director Christina Baldwin thought of LaBlanc immediately, partly because of her "wicked" sense of humor. But the role was written with a Black actor in mind. So together, and with the playwright's OK, they remade it for LaBlanc. That's a tricky task, especially at a predominantly white organization, said Baldwin, the Jungle's artistic director.

"It can be hard with new work to reside in confidence," said Baldwin, who officiated at LaBlanc's recent wedding. "Lesser folks can be overtaken by fear. That's just not in Isabella.

"She understands the bravery and the tenderness that has to work together to make something."

Creating her "True Detective" character, LaBlanc has found herself relying less on studied back stories and more on instincts. That's partly because she was working at a clip, reading the script on the plane.

But she discovered another, deeper reason onstage with the high schoolers. One question led to another, to another, and suddenly LaBlanc was the one nodding.

"I think I've realized something," she began.

The culture in which she grew up was comfortable with mystery. But for many years, her acting had aligned with a more Western, empirical way of thinking. She was ready to prove any choice she'd made.

But with "True Detective," she's turned that switch off.

"Instead, I'm making more space to surprise myself and make choices in a scene that I didn't expect but come naturally," she said, leaning forward. "I'm trying to unlearn a bit of schooling and return more to a way of being that is unknown and mysterious and sometimes clunky. ... "

She smiled and added: "But is a little more interesting."