‘Stumptown’ Interview: Cobie Smulders on Tackling a Complicated Character

Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother, Friends from College) takes on the lead role in ABC’s upcoming series, Stumptown, debuting this fall. The series is based on the comic books by Greg Rucka and follows Smulders as Dex Parios, a character described as “strong, assertive and sharp-witted army veteran with a complicated love life, gambling debt and a brother to take care of in Portland, Oregon. Her military intelligence skills make her a great PI, but her unapologetic style puts her in the firing line of hardcore criminals and not quite in alliance with the police.”

Smulders joined the Stumptown cast and Greg Rucka at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con to promote the show’s September 25, 2019 premiere. In our roundtable interview, Smulders explained why she was attracted to playing Dex and what viewers can expect from the first season.

Greg Rucka says you nailed every aspect of Dex. What was your entry point into the character? What did you fall in love with?

Cobie Smulders: “First of all, thank you, Greg! You know, I read the script first – the pilot script – and then I went, ‘This is based on a graphic novel. What’s the novel?’ And then I read the four that he wrote and it really sold me on the project because I could get from the graphic novel so clearly what was this world was, how this character moves in that world, and the other characters that are involved.

It’s just really cool. I mean, I’ve been very lucky. As an actor you don’t very often get the opportunity to say a joke, punch a guy in the face, and then do a crazy, dramatic scene about loss. You don’t get to do that often. It’s a very rare thing to be involved with something where you’re playing all of these different notes. It very rarely comes along, so I’m really excited about exploring it.

We’re at the very beginning, beginning stages that are building on what we established in our pilot which is this group of misfits living in Portland all sort of trying to get along.”

It seems there was a sort of possible “will they or won’t they” romance teased. Can you talk about that?

Cobie Smulders: “When I hear ‘will they or won’t they,’ I just like don’t… This place where we are with this character, Dex, I think she’s completely incapable of a relationship. So, obviously that complicates the situation when people are talking about the triangle between Detective Hoffman (played by Michael Ealy), myself, and Grey (played by Jake Johnson).

The relationship with Grey is that we came up together. We grew up together. He is amazingly helpful with raising my brother which I’ve been sort of saddled with. And, that has a weird emotional history. But the current one with Hoffman, I just feel like she’s not able to commit to anything. She’s not able to commit to anything in her life. We’re just starting her on this path of being a private investigator and it’s the first thing that she’s probably ever tried to commit to since she went into the military.”

Producer David Bernad: “I think it’s important to say the character isn’t defined by those male relationships and it’s definitely not something she’s seeking out. I think it’s an aspect of her life but it’s a really a show that explores her character going through an existential crisis and trying to reconcile her PTSD and kind of figuring out what she wants her life to be. These two guys are an element of that but like Cobie’s stated, she’s not ready. She has to fix herself first.”

Stumptown Star Cobie Smulders
‘Stumptown’ stars Camryn Manheim, Michael Ealy, Cobie Smulders, Tantoo Cardinal, Cole Sibus, Adrian Martinez, and Jake Johnson (ABC/Image Group LA)

What’s your favorite part of her personality?

Cobie Smulders: “I really enjoy playing…there’s something really interesting, and we did it a few times in the pilot, where she’s on the edge and she doesn’t know when she’s dealing with her PTSD, she’s very unhinged. I love playing somebody who’s in that place and playing out how they come back and ground themselves again, and who they need to do that. That was really fun to play.

(Laughing) I also really like pretending to be drunk. I really enjoy it. I’m not a big drinker anymore. In my youth – I’m definitely pulling from experiences. But there’s just something that’s just such a fun thing to play somebody who’s like always going out, who’s kind of roaming from one thing to the next. Who’s just kind of…she’s untethered. But one thing that she’s holding onto is this relationship that she has with her brother. If that wasn’t in her life, who knows where this woman would be. Who knows where she would be? She’d be roaming around somewhere but because she has this boy in her life to take care of and have him take care of her, it grounds her back. It brings her back from the edge.”

How much of the backstory do we actually get to see?

Cobie Smulders: “We’ll certainly over the first season get to know more about all the characters. In the pilot we learn this character is somebody who’s suffering from PTSD and that that derives from experiences in the military. We get to see that in flashbacks. That’s really all. We don’t see any of the background of the other characters so much.”

David Bernad: “Not yet. That’s really what this show over the first season will unspool, some of these backstories. Why are Dex and Ansel living in this house? Where are the parents? We’ll get a little deeper into the loss that she suffers. We’ll see it in the pilot in terms of her ex-boyfriend.

Each of the other characters’ backstories…every character in the show has a secret. And as we go on, everyone’s lying to somebody – whether it’s themselves or another character. That’s really what the first season unspools, those relationships.”

On a series that has a lot of deep stuff being dealt with, how good is it to find a fun aspect to the character to lighten things up a little?

Cobie Smulders: “Well, it’s wonderful because like in life it can be falling apart around you, but you don’t act like it, you know? I think it’s very true to life. You might be a mess but you’re not going to tell anyone that you are. You’re not going to admit to that. So, I think that plays into it.

That is the joy of pretending to shoot this based in Portland that we get to bring in all these characters that are unlike characters you’d normally see on TV. Bad guys aren’t going to look like your average bad guy. If you saw them walking down the street, that’s not how you would peg them. So, there’s definitely comedic moments with guest stars but also within it we’re all just trying to survive. You’ve got to laugh.”

More with the Stumptown Cast and Creator Greg Rucka: