‘Dirk Gently': Max Landis and Robert Cooper on Adapting Douglas Adams
BBC America stopped by San Diego Comic-Con 2016 to promote their newest show Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Based on the novels by Douglas Adams, writer Max Landis and showrunner Robert Cooper set out to pay homage to the books but create a whole new world for it.
After the strange murder of a millionaire, Todd (Elijah Wood) is thrown into the bizarre world of hyper-smart detective Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett). The eccentric detective enlists Todd to join him on his crime solving adventures which leads them to face dangerous foes in weird circumstances.
At SDCC 2016 Max Landis, Robert Cooper, stars Elijah Wood and Samuel Barnett sat down to share their experience in bringing Dirk Gently’s universe to life.
What struck you about adapting Dirk Gently as a series? What was your method to without getting lost in it’s mythology?
MAX LANDIS: Dirk Gently is unadaptable. Trying to adapt it is a fool’s errand. To try to do a direct plot adaptation of either of the books will inevitably lead to failure. It’s like a land invasion of Russia of the west. You can’t do it there’s too many details and you lose something important.
ROBERT COOPER: It’s about capturing the spirit of it.
MAX LANDIS: I just wanted to write something in that style using that character. Even that character is impenetrable so I wanted to make him penetrable.
Can you talk about some of the challenges to bring something that difficult?
ROBERT COOPER: I think the biggest thing for us was just the tone of the show. There’s a real balance. It’s not a comedy show but it’s very funny–the timing of it is such that the actors have to be capable of it. The comedy. There’s also thriller aspects and you want the jeopardy to be real like the stakes are real. You have to walk that line between being funny but not being so funny that it takes you out of the show. We wanted to create this grounded world in which these characters are real and identifiable. These slightly more odd characters and things intrude on that word. Finding actors who can pull that off was the biggest challenge.
MAX LANDIS: Because you have to care. You have to follow the story religiously. You have to be invested in these people once the crossbows and guns come out and they do come out quite often. We lose people on the show pretty regularly.
ROBERT COOPER: One of the things that people don’t often give actors the credit for are reactions. When you react to something that is unbelievable that you’ve never seen before there’s a way to do it to make you feel like that thing is still really happening.
MAX LANDIS: We are toeing the line of Fantasy/SciFi during the whole thing. I fully committed to doing Douglas Adams but you can’t do Douglas Adams but doing Douglas Adams cause only Douglas Adams can do Douglas Adams. So you could do the next best thing which is a mix of Terry Gilliam, Shane Black, The Coen Bros., the list of influences on this show–from Monty Python to Faulty Towers to Sherlock Holmes to friggin’ Inspector Clouseau. You go in and out. This show pulls from everything because to do Douglas Adams you need the mise en scène of a genius. We don’t have that but we do have me. And I’m not a genius but I am very loud.
What inspired you to join the cast of Dirk Gently?
ELIJAH WOOD: We both came to this in the sense that it was the material. It was reading the material, the script. I had never read anything like it. I know Max personally a little bit, I had never read anything that he had written. I was completely blown away. I’d never read anything like it and I had certainly never seen anything on TV like it. Yes, it’s a mystery at the core. I wouldn’t call it at all a traditional detective story by any stretch of the imagination. That was terribly exciting, the idea of something that powered these crazy divergent storylines with these really well drawn, bizarre, intersecting characters was just a really exciting world to jump into.
SAMUEL BARNETT: This script was just amazing. I mean for me it’s all still a bit of a dream. I auditioned and did a self tape. I read the three scenes and the writing was so strong. It had a rhythm to it so when I spoke it I just sort of got it. It just made sense to me the way Dirk’s mind changes. I would do that myself.
What are some of the challenges to taking on characters from such an iconic writer?
SAMUEL BARNETT: I had to make it my own and actually Max has made him his own. I literally turn up and say the words. They’re strongly written. Having read the books I know that what Max has done is taken the essence of Dirk. He’s also taken the plot points so people who read the books will be able to watch the show and say, ‘Oh! That’s this thing from the book that’s changed slightly.’ It’s gonna please people who know nothing about the books and people who love the books. It is irreverent but incredibly respectful. I just had to do my own version. I look nothing like the Dirk from the books. He’s older than me. He’s more portly. In the end they’ve written it slightly differently.
ELIJAH WOOD: Todd is very brave. He’s kind of a mess. He’s made some poor decisions in his life largely out of selfishness that has backfired for him So what I love about him is that he’s finally having to face the demons of his own making and that those choices have led him to where he is now. They have led him to Dirk and he’s going to be the force in his life that helps him see the error of his own ways and realize that he’s far more capable than he ever thought he could be. He’s a man in transition and a lot more braver than he’s given himself credit for. He throws himself into an adventure that I don’t think he ever would have imagined and he’s quite capable.
Watch the first trailer for Dirk Gently below:
When the bizarre murder of a millionaire thrusts loner Todd (Wood), into the orbit of Dirk Gently (Barnett), an eccentric detective who believes they’re destined to solve the murder-mystery together, his life will never be the same. They’ll cross unlikely paths with a bevy of wild and dangerous characters, each episode landing them a few random steps closer to uncovering the truth.
The series also stars Mpho Koaho, Fiona Dourif, Michael Eklund, Miquel Sandoval, Dustin Mulligan, Aaron Douglas, Neil Brown Jr. and Richard Schiff.