Samuel Barnett interview - Dirk Gently

Samuel Barnett: “This is 20/10 on the weirdness scale” 

Words: Andrew Swann
Photo: Bettina Strauss/BBCA/2016 AMC & BBC America

The Red Bulletin caught up with British actor Samuel Barnett to talk about life as Dirk Gently, destiny and some very strange events

Samuel Barnett stars in the hit new show Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which is set for its Netflix international release later this year off the back of some rave reviews.

The show is the weirdest and wackiest ride you’ll experience this year. Here we talk to the actor to find out about working with Elijah Wood, dealing with strange events on set and whether it was destiny for him to get this role. 

© YouTube // Series Trailer MP

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THE RED BULLETIN: Dirk is quite a bizarre character. Tell us a little bit about what attracted you to the role? 

SAMUEL BARNETT: Well it was the script really. I received about 11 pages of material for the audition, and it was the best thing I had read in ages. It was also totally different to anything I’d ever read before and I had never played a role like it. One of the things that I found really interesting was that I couldn’t pin down exactly who Dirk is. He’s clever, funny, witty and kind of crazy but also I could see that he was a very lonely, troubled character underneath all of that. So I immediately wanted to do the role [laughs.]

Would you call Dirk a hero?

Yes, he’s a hero in his own way. But I always see heroes as people who actually choose to be heroes – people who go out of their way to help others. I don’t think Dirk actually chose this. He’s a reluctant hero. He has a good heart, but he can be selfish and unaware at times. 

What’s the most heroic thing you’ve ever done in your life?

Hmm, I don’t know if I’ve done anything heroic in my life to be honest! I’d love to think I have at some point, but I definitely haven’t saved anyone’s life. 

Elijah Wood plays Dirk’s reluctant assistant

© 2016 AMC & BBC America

Dirk’s a holistic detective and sees the fundamental interconnectedness of things; do you believe in fate yourself?

Not necessarily. I don’t think life is pre-destined in that way, but the older I get, the more I kind of do actually believe in Dirk’s outlook about everything being connected. I have had too many strange and wonderful things happen in my life for it to be just coincidence. So yeah, I do kind of carry that philosophy that everything is connected in some way.  

Did you feel like getting this role was destiny?

To me, a lot of life feels like 90 percent hard work and 10 percent luck. I really didn’t think I was going to get the role. It was just another audition, and an American one where I was auditioning as a Brit. I didn’t even think I’d get past the first round of auditions. But there was a feeling as the process went on and the momentum grew, where I had this little voice inside going: ‘I think you’re gonna get this.’ Which is a really dangerous thing for an actor to have because most of the time you don’t get the job. But I did have a strange feeling about this one all the way through that I couldn’t really explain so I suppose, yes, in a way this was one of those things where it just felt like it was going to happen. 

“A lot of life feels like 90% hard work and 10% luck”
Samuel Barnett on destiny

Elijah Wood plays your reluctant assistant in the show. What was the best thing about having a Hollywood heavyweight to boss around? 

[Laughs.] Well, he’s such a nice human being and talented actor. We became a double-act very quickly. We did our screen test together to see if we had the right chemistry and I really felt like we clicked. It’s very daunting working with someone who’s so talented and so famous. I’ve grown up watching his films and I’m a massive Lord Of The Rings fan, so I had to pinch myself every time I went on set with him to be honest. I was like ‘Oh my God there’s Elijah Wood!’ But he’s very down to earth and real active actor. He’s not just a celebrity, he really cares about the work. 

And did you unleash your LOTR fanboy on him?

[Laughs.] I did have to check myself on a number of occasions. It took me about two months of knowing him to pluck up the courage to even ask about LOTR. I thought he’d be sick of talking about it, but he’s very open and told me everything I wanted to know, which was fascinating. It’s not often that you get to meet people that you really admire. 

Samuel Barnett interview - Dirk Gently

© Katie Yu/BBCA/ 2016 AMC & BBC America

The creator of the show, Max Landis, went full-out weird with this. On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird would you say it actually is?

On a scale of one to ten? Twenty! It’s without doubt the weirdest thing I’ve ever been involved in. But because of that it genuinely feels unique, and that’s something I’m very proud of. TV at the minute is experiencing a golden age, we’re saturated with so much good stuff and it can be difficult to stand out in the crowd. I think we do because it’s unique. It’s so nice to be part of something where I genuinely feel like we haven’t seen this on TV before. 

BBC America has renewed the show for a second season even before it’s international debut on Netflix. Why do you think the show has gone down so well? 

The combination of uniqueness in its storylines and the uniqueness it its characters make the real difference I think. It’s got detectives, assassins, time travel, soul swapping. What more do you need? I also think the pairings and the chemistry between the actors – Dirk and Todd, Todd and Amanda, Bart and Ken – is something we haven’t seen in a long time. 

There’s quite a bit of violence in the show intermingled with the humour, especially from Bart. How important do you think this was for the tone of the story? It can be quite dark at times.

I think the violence helps to bring the show back down to earth. This isn’t just a story about crazy, weird things; it’s actually a story about human beings. It’s a very grounded world in which extraordinary things happen, and I think the violence does remind you how frail and human all of these characters are. A lot of the violence still has a comical element to it, but it’s good to remember that these characters are in jeopardy and that the stakes are very high. 

Is that what makes it different to similar shows like Dr Who and Sherlock?

I think so. It has inevitably drawn comparisons with those shows, but this show has a much darker side than they do. 

What was the weirdest thing that happened on set while filming?

The weirdest thing actually happened at the wrap party at the end of the shoot. I don’t know how this happened, but we were at the party when suddenly a man with one tooth and two parrots turned up. And he just stood there at the entrance to the party. No one had invited him; no one had paid him to be there. He just turned up with parrots on his shoulders, kind of dressed like a tramp with one tooth. It was very bizarre, but it felt quite apt for Dirk Gently.  

You also injured yourself while filming. 

Yes I did! I got injured really badly! I dislocated my shoulder during a very dark, foggy and slippery night shoot. We were only two weeks into a 15-week shoot, so it was really bad timing. I had to have an acting double and two stunt doubles because of the physicality of the role. My injury meant that I couldn’t do a lot of that stuff myself, so it was a bit frustrating. I think we got away with it, though. I don’t think you can tell unless you really look, but you may see my arm dangling in a couple of the early episodes. [Laughs.]

You do plenty of detecting in the show. Could you imagine being a detective in real life? 

I’ve always been interested in mysteries, and I’m a big fan of detective shows. If I didn’t act, I think I’d like to do something really interesting like that. A member of my family is a detective and I don’t really know a lot about her work, but I’m fascinated by the idea. 

Would you be the holistic kind or all about the facts?

I’d be much more holistic. I really do love Dirk’s take on detecting. When he’s given a case, he just believes that every single thing that happens to him, no matter how pointless, will lead him to solving the mystery. I doubt real detectives work like that, but it would definitely be my style!  

What’s next in the pipeline for you? 

At the moment I’m recovering from shoulder surgery, so I’m four weeks into physiotherapy. I’m just trying to get fit and well again for season two, because it’s a very physical role. 

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12 2016 The Red Bulletin 

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