Landis: No Damsels in the New ‘Dirk Gently’

Paul V. Rea

Screenwriter Max Landis (Chronicle, American Ultra, Mr. Right) is currently overseeing filming on BBC America’s new take on Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently character. The show will debut this fall and, while the new Dirk (Samuel Barnett) is, as he was originally written, a male Brit, Landis has populated his new TV world with a group of female characters best described as unusual by Hollywood standards.

“None of them are sexy bad-asses,” Landis explained via Twitter, “none of them are damsels in distress, none of them are quippy clever ‘Cool Chicks,’ and none of them are ‘Powerful Female Women in Charge.’ They’re all sort of screwballs, black sheep and outcasts, just like the rest of the characters on the show.”

Showrunner Max Landis behind the scenes at Dirk Gently

Adams’ Gently novels trafficked heavily in the “screwball” with the eponymous character routinely dealing with alien ghosts, ancient gods, time-traveling professors and heavily-armed kangaroos. Landis says he’s not doing a straight adaptation of Adams’ work. Instead, he’s worked to channel the author’s tone while telling entirely new stories. To that end, Landis says the women on the show won’t be falling into the common trope traps seen in most television and movies.

“None of the female leads of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency have a particularly romantic storyline in Season 1,” he says. “They’re too busy dealing with a shitstorm of chaos in their personal, professional and, in Bart’s case, spiritual lives. They’re each eccentric in their own ways, and their primary concerns are, respectively, revenge, survival of a debilitating disease, and perpetrating a series of incredibly violent murders.”

Dirk Gently book cover nameplate

Going against the grain in Hollywood made casting his show difficult. “People were so used to being cast into ‘types’ rather than specific characters, they tailored their performances to fit the ‘type’ rather than the material,” Landis writes. “We saw hundreds of auditions of a psychotic, homicidal hobo played like she was a ‘Sexy Female Assassin,’ a neurotic, insecure bodyguard played like a ‘Sassy Tough talking Femme Fatale,’ and a depressed housebound former riot grrl punk drummer played like a new addition to the cast of Gilmore Girls.”

Landis admits it was a frustrating process to watch because he saw some very good actresses who didn’t get what he was going for with the project. “It was ultimately a high risk, high reward situation wherein the actresses who took the biggest risks and dove headfirst into my characters and added their own weird spin got the parts.”

Dirk Gently stars Fiona Dourif, Jade Eshete, and Hannah Marks

The actresses Landis ultimately picked are Fiona Dourif, Jade Eshete, and Hannah Marks. Dourif recently praised the writer’s vision. “A big thank you to Max Landis for writing a strong and complex female character with zero relationship to sexuality, the first I’ve read.” Dourif plays Bart Curlish on the show. The character is described as terrifying, deranged, fearless and nearly invincible.

“I’m delighted with our cast,” says Landis. “Honestly, the show is pretty f**king cool so far.” Dirk Gently is currently filming in Vancouver and is set to debut on BBC America in October.

Paul V. Rea
A monster science created but could not destroy; Paul V. Rea is a radio, TV and web journalist based in Clarkesville, Georgia. Paul is addicted to television of all genres and can often be found mouthing off about things he sees @paulvrea on Twitter.
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