Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
- An article written for the fabulous Starburst Magazine.
“We’re the guardians of Britishness on the show,” explains Sam Barnett – the actor bringing Dirk Gently to life in the latest adaptation of Douglas Adams’ eccentric holistic detective.
We are sitting with him and Executive Producer Arvind Ethan David on a brisk December afternoon. The pair are key parts of the team bringing the latest adaptation to screen. The show sees Dirk embark on a new adventure across the pond, struggling with a typically impossible murder mystery.
“I think Dirk is such a strong character that he brings his own veery British perspective to things. Even when something is very American you always have Dirk’s view on it,” adds Arvind.
“Yes,” interjects Sam. “Dirk is very quintessentially a Brit. A very quirky Brit.”
The show is also populated with British influences, from a British star and producer through to British cinematographer John Pardue. A collaboration between BBC America and Netflix the new eight-part series will be hitting screens in the UK on December 11th. The series is written by popular screenwriter Max Landis (Victor Frankenstein, Chronicle, Mr Right, and DC comic book series Superman: American Alien). And is set in Seattle with a very recognisable cast including Hannah Marks (The Amazing Spider-Man), Richard Schiff (West Wing,House of Lies) and Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings, Wilfred).
In the first episode, we find Dirk busy on a case (fans of the books will know that in Douglas Adams’ unfinished novel – The Salmon of Doubt – Dirk receives a call from a wealthy client in the States) working alongside the luckless Todd (Elijah Wood) on a weird and paranormal mystery which fans of Douglas Adams will be hooked by. His client is typically (for Dirk) dead.
“We’re not exactly doing a new spin on Dirk Gently,” explains Sam sipping an espresso having graciously offered us his peppermint tea.
“If you’re going to do Dirk Gently’s holistic detective agency, even if you’re going to set it in America and not follow the plotlines of the original books, you have to keep Dirk because he’s such a uniquely brilliant character.”
While the story is new and the pop culture references are Millennial-friendly, Sam’s expressive acting overcomes any physical differences he may have from the pudgy Dirk from Adams’ pages.
“I wanted to be true to the character in the book. I know physically I am very different” explains Sam while Arvind assures him that pizza will be on the menu a lot before they start filming Season Two. “I know the way that Dirk thinks, the way that Dirk speaks, even his own description of how holistic detection works – that’s all in Max’s script somewhere pretty much word-for-word because it is perfect. Max has really kept the spirit of the character true to the book.”
“He’s a strong enough character and in the great British tradition of the amateur eccentric that you can have different actors play him, different takes on him,” says Arvind. “I mean Sherlock is always Sherlock, Bond is always Bond. I think you can have different actors embody him differently physically but all be true to the essence.”
Arvind and Sam are clearly fans of the books. The series is made with love and the sort of attention to detail that can only come from true fans. Arvind has also previously adapted Dirk for the stage and was credited by Adams himself with ‘fixing the plot’.
“The thing we said from the start as that we were not going to try and adapt the plots from the books. Douglas (Adams) genius is about his ideas, it’s about his characters, his words, and his language. It is not necessarily about his plots. His plots, he would freely admit, would occur to him about 150 words into writing,” Arvind tells us.
“I got hold of everything I could to prepare for this role,” explains Sam. “I got hold of the play, I listened to both seasons of the Radio 4 serial, I watched the Stephen Mangen version, I read the books, I read the comics. I got hold of everything I could to see what they all had in common. If there was a common thread I wanted to pick up the thread in the tradition of these versions. All of them work, that’s what is great about it.”
Pausing a moment to reflect Arvind explains that everything he and the team have done to adapt the series has involved respect and affection for Douglas Adams work. “The books are now 30 years old,” he adds “I feel if Douglas were the age he was when he wrote them today, he would write the Millennial Dirk. He was always ahead of his time. To literally adapt the books – let’s be clear the plot of the first book is impossible without physical answerphones. You need answer phones and answer tapes for the first book to work.”
“It feels to me very Douglas Adams, the world feels to me very Douglas Adams. If he were alive today I feel as though this would be the next set of adventures he would write. I feel as though Max has got his voice,” adds Sam. “There’s also plenty through the season for fans of the books. There are loads of Easter eggs.”
Fans, be prepared to go on a roller-coaster of the weird and wonderful.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is available on Netflix from Sunday, December 11th.