14 Saints and Strangers Scenes That Aim to Tell the Real Thanksgiving Story (PHOTOS)

Kate Hahn
Saints and Strangers

National Geographic Channel

A Brave New World

Nat Geo’s upcoming four-hour movie event Saints and Strangers, shot in Cape Town, South Africa, promises to set Americans straight about the first Thanksgiving. It tells the tale of the conflicts between the Mayflower passengers—the “saints” (Pilgrims seeking religious freedom) and “strangers” (colonists looking for economic opportunity)—and the Native Americans who greeted them with both caution and kindness when they arrived in the New World. Here’s a sneak peak of scenes from the show, featuring stars of Mad Men, True Blood, Band of Brothers and more.

Saints & Strangers

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Pilgrim William Bradford (Vincent Kartheiser) comforts his wife Dorothy (Anna Camp) below deck during the Mayflower voyage.

“Dorothy is devastated by the journey. People are dying. She depends on the wisdom of her husband and her faith in God,” says Camp who played a very different woman of faith on True Blood, evil Christian televangelist and cult leader Sarah Newlin. “Sarah was the most selfish woman I've ever played. Dorothy’s incredibly saintly, giving, thoughtful and selfless. It was wonderful to play someone genuinely kind.”

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

Elite Native American warrior Hobbamock (Tatanka Means, Banshee), his son Wematin (Nahum Hughes) and the sachem or leader of their Pokanoket tribe, Massasoit (Raoul Trujillo, Apocalypto), are wary of the English.

The actors speak in the Abenaki language that would have been used by the tribes in the area where the Pilgrims settled. “The language helps tremendously. It is the first building block of creating the worldview of these characters. It’s important for me to let people know these languages are still alive and well and are spoken,” says Trujillo.

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

Native American Squanto (Kalani Queypo, The New World), a former captive and slave of English explorers, serves as a translator for the Native Americans and the colonists who are lead by pious and trusting William Bradford (Kartheiser).

“Squanto and Bradford begin this friendship,” says Kartheiser, who gained fame as distinctly untrusting ad man Pete Campbell on Mad Men. “ Squanto becomes the voice in Bradford’s ear, the Rasputin.”

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

“I’m charged with leading this connection between the native people and the Pilgrims, and the chief paints a strip of war paint right down the middle of my face,” says Queypo of his character, Squanto.

Squanto can live in both worlds but doesn’t feel completely at home in either. “It’s that idea that I am split down the middle," the actor says.

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

All eyes are on troublemaker John Billington (Brian F. O’Byrne, far left) as Plymouth Colony leaders meet in the Common House to confront a crisis.

Pictured L-R: William Bradford (Kartheiser), the Pilgrims’ moral compass; Myles Standish (Jibson) the colony’s hired military advisor; Edward Winslow (Barry Sloane, Longmire), a Plymouth leader and diplomat; Stephen Hopkins (Ray Stevenson, Dexter), a “stranger” with a checkered past; and John Howland (Vere Tindale), a Mayflower crew member who joined the colony.

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

Massasoit (Trujillo) and warrior Hobbamock (Means) do not always see eye-to-eye, but the actors have an ease with each other.

“Tatanka and I go back to Into the West,” Trujillo says of the 2005 miniseries in which he played Red Cloud and Means played Crazy Horse. “We know each other's histories. I knew Tatanka's father (actor and activist Russell Means) and worked with him a lot. When we get to set, we feel like a family already.”

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

"Strangers" Stephen Hopkins (Ray Stevenson, Dexter) and his wife, Elizabeth (Natascha McElhone, Californication), were not Pilgrims but fortune-seekers traveling aboard the Mayflower.

“Hopkins has a young family which he's trying to hold together,” Stevenson says. “He doesn't have to agree with everything the Pilgrims say, but he knows if their ranks fall apart, they'll be lost. He knows they have to work in harmony.”

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

Myles Standish (Jibson, Hatfields & McCoys) and Stephen Hopkins (Stevenson) realize they are being watched as they explore the land around their new settlement.

“When Hopkins first comes to the New World, he sees the natives as lesser human beings,” Stevenson says.

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

Squanto (Queypo) teaches the Pilgrims how to farm in the New World.

“They were forced to reach out to the Native Americans and say, ‘We don’t know what we’re doing. We’re going to die.’ Their trust in people may have been their saving grace, what got them through their first two winters,” says Kartheiser.

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

One of the few single women in the Plymouth Colony, Priscilla Mullins (Meganne Young, left) turns the spit to help prepare the first Thanksgiving feast in the Pilgrim village.

“The actors are really talented,” says Kartheiser of the ensemble. “It’s great when I get to watch scenes, like [ones] between Meganne and Chris Fisher, who plays [her future husband] John Alden. It’s a romantic story and it’s wonderful to watch the subtleties of the performances.”

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

Aboard the Mayflower, John Carver (Ron Livingston, Band of Brothers), the governor of Plymouth Colony, keeps his cool during a heated, fate-changing argument among the passengers.

“Carver is a placater,” Livingston says. “There's a fundamental divide amongst the passengers: the religious Pilgrims and the Plymouth colonists who weren't really that religious but seeking their fortune. He was trying to hold the groups together.”

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

Edward Winslow (Barry Sloane, Longmire) advises and comforts William Bradford (Kartheiser) after a loss.

“One reason Bradford becomes a leader is he knows how to listen,” Kartheiser says.

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

Pokanoket leader Massasoit (Trujillo) plays the long game to save his tribe.

“You don't want to romanticize a character like Massasoit. He was a strategist and went into situations knowing he had to make decisions for his people to survive,” Trujillo says.

Saints & Strangers

David Bloomer/National Geographic Channels

Saints & Strangers producers located a ship that had been used in previous productions to stand in for the Mayflower.

The original Mayflower was designed to carry cargo not passengers but it transported 102 souls to the New World in 1620. As the ship’s captain says in the series, “’Tis a filthy, stinkin’ kennel.”

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Saints and Strangers, premieres Sunday, November 22, 9/8c, National Geographic Channel