‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ Season 2: Elijah Wood and Samuel Barnett Interview

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency episode 5 stars Samuel Barnett and Elijah Wood
Samuel Barnett and Elijah Wood in ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ season 1 (Photo by Katie Yu/BBCA)

BBC America’s quirky and captivating original series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, returns this fall for a 10-episode second season. The series, which is based on Douglas Adams’ novels, comes from writer Max Landis and stars Samuel Barnett as Dirk Gently and Elijah Wood as his reluctant partner/best friend, Todd Brotzman. Barnett and Wood were teamed up for roundtable interviews at the 2017 San Diego Comic Con where they provided details on what Dirk and Todd will be up to in the upcoming second season.

Were you blown away by the scripts for season two?

Elijah Wood: “Yes.”

Samuel Barnett: “Actually more so even than season one, because season one was all so new and taking everything in. But season two, the characters are deeper and richer, the storylines are crazier, but easier to follow. It’s where we all go, who we all become, the journeys we all get to go on because it’s slightly longer with 10 episodes. It’s even deeper. They’re great.”

How would you describe working with Max Landis?

Samuel Barnett: “Well, he’s original.”

Elijah Wood: “And he’s brilliant. He’s really brilliant. I’ve never met anyone like him. I don’t know anyone who has a mind that works the way his works. And for us as actors, I mean we could talk about this on so many levels, but simply on a character level, he’s written really rich characters with extraordinary dialogue. That makes it very easy for us. It does so much of our work in a way.”

Samuel Barnett: “It’s all on the page.”

Elijah Wood: “It’s there. There’s a rhythm to the way that he writes dialogue that I’ve never encountered that I find really challenging and fun. That if you follow that rhythm, it feels like the voice of the character.”

Samuel Barnett: “He writes … this is going to sound weird … but he writes Dirk as a British man. It’s really distinctly different than the rhythm and the words he uses to the American characters. It really is. It’s like a British writer’s written it.”

Elijah Wood: “Tyler Labine plays Hobbs and Hobbs’ text sounds like Tyler’s version of Hobbs. My text sounds like Todd. It’s very, very specific. So that’s one aspect of working with Max.”

Samuel Barnett: “That’s one aspect. And, he has original thought. He has original ideas which is so hard these days. And not only does he take things and subvert them and put a twist on them, but he actually has original things which have never been seen before. And quite a few of those in this new season.”

Elijah Wood: “But it feels like the show, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, is – and it felt like this the first season but even more so now that we get to go back and continue exploring these characters in new scenarios – it’s a f*cking sandbox for him. It’s a creative sandbox where BBC America have given him license to explore his imagination and we get to articulate that. That’s really what we’re doing and it’s wonderful. It fills him with no end of enthusiasm, but also inspires everyone else working on the show from the art department to the costumes to us as actors fulfilling these things. We’re all working in this wild, ridiculous, fun sandbox that is of Max’s mind.”

Samuel Barnett: “Max’s mind is sandbox. (Laughing) Don’t put that – but it’s true.”

Both Todd and Dirk exist in emotional isolation. What is it in each other that your characters need? What is it that Dirk needs from Todd and what does Todd need from Dirk?

Samuel Barnett: “It’s interesting because with Dirk…”

Elijah Wood: “You need friends and validation.”

Samuel Barnett: “I need a friend but the thing is to say that Dirk needs friends, it’s like, ‘Well, it could be anyone.’ And actually what leads Dirk to Todd originally is the mystery in season one. Dirk has met his future self and the future self says, ‘You need to go find Todd Brotzman.’ Why the universe has led him there, who knows? That’s a Dirk question. But I think they do need each other. It’s easy to look at Todd’s life and believe Dirk has transformed Todd’s life and opened it up. But what Todd gives Dirk is emotional grounding and reality and friendship. Without that, Dirk has no sense of himself. He’s been used his entire life for this skill. Todd’s the first person who’s actually sees a person behind that in Dirk.”

Elijah Wood: “Yeah, and a lot of what we establish in the first season in regard to Dirk’s methodology is the universe will just lead us there. This will mean something. I have no idea what, but it will turn out to mean something. And ultimately that leads to most of the answers, but there’s also problems there. Not everything is going to result in something positive. So, what you start to see a little bit in season one but definitely becomes a thing with Todd in season two is trying to get Dirk to not always just simply accept what’s happening in front of him, but take a little bit more action and control of his life and of the choices. Be more conscious of those choices, rather than just kind of letting the universe be a slipstream that could lead to dangerous things. So, that’s the help I think that Todd provides.

Dirk has opened Todd’s life up, but also the emotional truth of Todd which is he’s kind of shunted down his entire life, which are these horrendous choices, very selfish choices that he made as a young person that has put him in a terrible relationship with his sister, and has kind of put him sort of in the worst possible place of his life. He’s trying to atone for his own choices and be a better person. And (Dirk) has given him the opportunity for that and, to a certain degree, he’s the first person that has seen Todd as a vulnerable human and accepted him for that.”

Samuel Barnett: “They really see each other, and they both feel heard and seen by each other for who they are. And in season two, it’s great because they have a kind of role reversal where Todd is utterly on board with Dirk’s way of thinking, and Dirk is having a total crisis about the way his life works because everyone keeps getting hurt. So, he’s like, ‘Well, this clearly doesn’t work so I’m not doing it anymore,’ and so they have to find their way through that. But ultimately their friendship has cemented and deepened.”

What would you say to people who haven’t found Dirk Gently yet? Why should they watch the show?

Samuel Barnett: “I’m using a fan of the show to answer that, who put a thing online which was entitled, ‘Every Character on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a Loser and It’s Awesome,’ because I watched that and it’s an 8-minute video, and he goes through really forensically the emotional life of every character. You do come away going that’s what Max has written. He’s written people who really struggle emotionally with themselves and are quite dysfunctional, and have shame and guilt and a backstory, and yet every day they’re struggling to get up and atone and make amends and make things better for themselves and for other people. And if that’s not a reflection of what people are doing every day in their lives quietly, really being human, then I don’t know what is. And you’ve got that set amidst a brilliantly intricate and purposefully convoluted crazy storyline involving time traveling and body swapping. What’s not to watch?!

And then season two goes into this high fantasy genre with magical worlds and magic and knights and magical creatures. But, again, what anchors it is the emotional lives of these characters and the struggles that they have. I just love that we’re allowed now to write characters and show that on TV. You know, diversity is about everything and it’s also about emotional diversity, people recognizing themselves in characters on TV and going, ‘They’re not perfect and I’m not perfect. Oh great, it’s okay to be me.’”

Elijah Wood: “Yeah, even the one who’s magically letting the universe guide him is imperfect.”

Samuel Barnett: “The show basically says listen and trust your gut.”

Elijah Wood: “It’s so true. And in the midst of all that, it’s really f*cking fun.”

Samuel Barnett: “And it’s funny, as well.”

You both come from fraternities – Samuel with The History Boys and Elijah with Lord of the Rings. As you pursue other roles, talk about those friendships which are so important and genuine and how they sustain you going forward.

Elijah Wood: “Well, look, I can only speak to my experience. Lord of the Rings, that experience was almost like going to university.”

Samuel Barnett: “That’s exactly what I would say.”

Elijah Wood: “It really was.”

Samuel Barnett: “That life experience that you don’t get as actors, unfortunately.”

Elijah Wood: “And it was a formative life experience, as a result of that. I was 18 when I went to New Zealand for the first time. I was 22 or 23 when we finished. So, it really was this very profound life experience, living away in another country with all of these people who became family and a foundation of my adulthood. Rather than the sort of film career aspect of what followed, it was a profound growth life experience as a human that kind of propelled me forward, that I learned from those experiences and grew from those friendships. I grew as a person in ways that I don’t know that I could have, even if I had gone to university. That’s what I took with me.”

Samuel Barnett: “It gave me a sense of grounding and safety within this industry that I knew for rest of my life … and I knew this at the time … I would have this extraordinary family who were not my blood family, who I love, but this industry family who have become my friends and my brothers. I mean, it sounds kind of (lweird) to say but we really are like this band of brothers.

I saw Dominic Cooper two days ago staying at the same hotel that I’m at and it was like, it’s so funny, you have a physical and emotional memory of people. You have a hug and you don’t need to say anything. It’s like, ‘I haven’t seen you for a year because you’re working and I’m working.’ Hug, ‘How are you?’ ‘I’m good.’ And it’s like that heart thing. You just go, ‘Awww.’ It’s amazing to have it. And you’ve got these people actually dotted in their careers and their lives around the world because they’re doing their thing. I feel so lucky to have had it, because this industry is quite nebulous, quite crazy, and I have this group of people that are this network.”

Which animal would it scare you to death to swap bodies with?

Samuel Barnett: “Spider!”

Elijah Wood: “Like a fly or something, because you’d die very quickly. I’d love to be a spider. Think about that.”

Samuel Barnett: “You should go be a maggot, so that you have a longer life span because you develop into a fly.”

Elijah Wood: “That’s true, but that would be awful. Like a fly or a mosquito, you’re effed.”

Samuel Barnett: “Do you have the consciousness that you have when you swap? You do have the consciousness. I don’t want to be a spider. I’d constantly be terrified of myself.”

Elijah Wood: “You’d look in the mirror and (scream).”

Samuel Barnett: “Just these legs…legs all around me and too many eyes. I can’t do it.”

More on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency Season 2:
Hannah Marks and Jade Eshete Interview
Fiona Dourif and Mpho Koaho Interview
Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine Interview
Max Landis and Robert Cooper Interview