The TBS series Search Party, available On Demand, is a dark comedy that centers on Dory (Alia Shawkat), a frustrated 20-something who is not particularly proud of or happy about her place in the world. Stuck in a stale and disconnected relationship with her boyfriend, and removed from her closest friends, who seem more self-absorbed than concerned about what’s best for her well-being, Dory finds herself entangled in an ominous mystery when a former college acquaintance named Chantal suddenly disappears.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) talked about her hopes for this series, why she wanted to play this character, Dory’s journey of self-discovery, whether Dory’s really any good at trying to solve this mystery, the surprising way the characters end up, and the very different places they’d be in for a possible Season 2.
Collider: This is such a quirky, different series. Did you get a sense of that, when you read this?
ALIA SHAWKAT: I had a hope that it would be different, but so much of any project is the script, the director, the cast, the crew, the setting and the climate. There are some many things that go into the tone. You do all of this work and, when it comes out, you hope that’s transferred, and I was beyond pleasantly surprised at how strong the tone came out. We had an idea of how we wanted it to be, but it was in the making of it that we discovered that.
So, if you weren’t sure whether those pieces will fall into place the way you hope they will, what ultimately sold you on this show and character?
SHAWKAT: Those ideas were suggested, and I really did like the script and the concept. The idea of it being a mystery show, I hadn’t really seen before. It was a very different character for me, to play someone that doesn’t have shit figured out. A lot of the characters I’ve played are too smart for their own good, and judging everybody because of it. This one was very different. She questions herself a lot, fumbles through things and is apologetic for nothing, and I just thought that was interesting. Even in the pilot, she changes, but it was also about where the character could go. She’s finding herself while finding this girl. Especially during the first season, she really grew in a beautiful way. I like how the character changed so much, instead of just being a one-note character. She doesn’t know who she is and she’s changing rapidly, in every episode. I really liked the opportunity to do that. And I like Michael Showalter. I knew he was involved, so I was like, “Fuck, yeah, I want to do this!”
This is a character who’s unhappy with where she is in life. Is that something that you think has been building for awhile, or is it this missing girl that makes Dory take another look at herself?
SHAWKAT: I think it’s a combination of both. I’ve definitely gone through phases where I’m not happy with my life, and you notice in little ways until they start adding up. You swallow them by saying, “It’s fine!,” but then something will happen, whether it’s extreme or not. For her, it’s this girl she didn’t even know, but there’s something about her disappearance. Her first question to herself is, “What if I disappeared? Would anything really happen? Would people care?” That question is where it all fell. It’s like, “Fuck, what value is anything I’m doing, if I could just disappear and no one would care? I’m going to care about this girl because of the fear that nobody would care that I disappeared.” That sets her off, but those things definitely build for awhile. That’s how you get to that place, if you’re not asking the right questions, every day. Is this really what you want to do? Are you happy around this person? When you hang out with them and you leave, are you happy or do you feel worse about yourself? You have to adjust that.
So, what is it about this missing girl then?
SHAWKAT: A lot of the show is about the value of putting purpose into something, and whether it’s actually valuable or whether it’s because you decide it is. It’s about her being like, “Oh, my god, this straw is green! Her straw was green!” She puts things together where you’re like, “No, that’s so stupid.” But then, you’re like, “Well, that actually is weird,” because you convince yourself of things. If we give something value, it becomes valuable. When a celebrity dies, everybody’s like, “I bumped into Robin Williams once on the street and he smiled at me and walked by, and I’ll just never forget that moment.” It’s like, “Really?!” It’s said that he died, but everybody dies. The millennial generation wants to express every feeling to feel like you’re connected to it, and there’s something very dark about tragedy that people are drawn to. They’re like, “I’m valued, as a person, based on how I react to this tragedy. Let me be a part of it.” It’s still very selfish. It’s not like there’s any way to deal with tragedy correctly, but you have to realize it and allow yourself to really process what it means. If Dory had her shit figured out, she’d be like, “This is a time for me to really check on my life and make sure I’m happy about what I’m doing. I should be appreciative that I’m here.” Instead, she’s not able to see that, and that definitely takes her down a certain hole.
Dory is surrounded by people who don’t seem too concerned about what’s in her best interest. Will she get any sense of what it is that she actually wants?
SHAWKAT: I think that’s part of the journey of the season, and I think she does. She changes a lot, through the first season. All of them do. Her change is not just about her handling it composed. It’s more like acting out on something to make a point, instead of actually handling it honestly, which is a natural human thing to do. We’re like, “I know I need this, but maybe I’ll just perform some kind of weird thing to get what I want, instead of just handling it honestly, so that I don’t have to face my own issues.” She avoids it. She’s finding herself, but almost with this false energy. She gets really, truly obsessed with this girl, and it affects her relationships because she drags her friends into it. I think it’s a really interesting human study.
Is she actually any good at trying to solve this mystery?
SHAWKAT: That’s another thing. You don’t know. At some moments, she feels like she’s following a red herring that’s nothing. At other times, she’s like, “That wasn’t serendipitous. There’s a real reason that happened.” And then, things have value again.
By the end of Season 1, will we get a sense of where Season 2 could go?
SHAWKAT: It ends in a surprising way. Things fall apart, and they get back together. She ends in a quarry and really has to question a lot of things, by the end of it. Things aren’t what they seem, like any good mystery. But the characters are all in very different places, by the end of the season, than they were at the beginning. There’s things that have happened that change things. It’s not as much about, “Now I’ve gotta find something new to obsess over.” It’s like, with what’s happened this season, what is she going to do now with what’s happened? The characters are very different, so if we get to do a second season, the characters would be in very different places. It’s a Walter White kind of thing, where he became a different person, every season, as he got deeper into this world that wasn’t him, at the beginning. It’s the evolution of a person. Your whole life is different now because you see it through a different lens.
The entire season of the TBS series Search Party is available On Demand.