It’s hard not to notice Fiona Dourif in BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Among a cast of outlandish characters, hers is perhaps the most otherworldly. Dourif plays Bart Curlish, a so-called holistic assassin who kills on instinct and trusts that the universe will aptly guide her murderous hand.
Dubbed the “delete key of the universe,” Bart is often predatory and always purposeful. But underneath all that is what many would describe as a vulnerable and almost childlike character who longs for all the same things us non-assassins do. And Dourif is excellent at coalescing all those elements to make Bart as real and human as she can possibly be.
I recently spoke with Dourif to get some insight into Bart and how she came to embody one of the most interesting characters currently on television:
TARA MARTINEZ: How’d you get involved with the show?
FIONA DOURIF: You know, you just get an email that’s an audition. And they’re like, ‘Do you think you can pull this off?’ And I’m like, ‘Absolutely not!’ And then I took a long time trying to figure it out after—it took me like a couple, you know—it took me a long time, actually. And I kept on being like, ‘I can’t do it,’ And then finally I sent a tape in.
TM: Bart is kind of a complex character. What’s the most challenging thing about playing her?
FD: You know, to figure out how to ground it. It was figuring out how to make it a real person, make her a real person. She’s a person like me and you, but also happens to be the delete key of the universe. But it was figuring out what her experience of her life is when she’s not on screen, which I have to figure that stuff out because if I don’t then I don’t know what I’m doing [laughs]. So, it was—I would say, I don’t know if was hard because it’s the part of acting that I really, really, really like, but it was like I had to do more of that for Bart than I have ever done of like, trying to figure out exactly where I come from and what it’s like to not know what a restaurant is. You know what I mean? Like, how did I eat? I had to develop real definitive answers to all that over the course of the season and I did, ultimately.
TM: Bart is a very memorable character just from the moment she steps on screen because of her voice, and her physicality, and her reasoning. How did you come to that or find that balance?
FD: It took me a long time [laughs]. I knew that they wanted a different voice The original character description was like, ‘a character on the spectrum of Jack Sparrow and Beetlejuice.’ And they said to like find a particular—you know, voices are welcome. And I played with the character with my own voice for a few days and it didn’t work. And so, I guess like [laughs] a voice I have in my repertoire which I never even knew is like this weird Jersey thing [laughs]. I don’t even know what or where that’s from, but I started doing that a little bit, and then it got a little gravelly, and then it became this like dirty, kind of masculine thing which I felt like worked and so I stuck with it. You know, what happened is I found the voice and then I was doing it and then I made my friends look at it and be like, ‘Am I totally humiliating myself? I cannot tell.’ [laughs] And some of them were like, ‘Yes!’ And then some of them were like, ‘No, no, it’s good.’ And then I tried it a couple more times and got it to a place where I really liked it, actually.
TM: One of the things I really like about Bart is that she doesn’t, in any way, meet society’s expectation of what a woman should be. How is playing her different than some of the other characters you’ve played or been asked to audition for?
FD: Oh my God! It’s so refreshing, right? It’s like, I just felt like I won the lottery. I mean, when Hillary—regardless of politics—but when Hillary got the nomination, I was watching it on the news and I was thinking about what it is to be a woman and my life and all that, and then I was thinking about how much, you know, being like a pretty girl in a feminine setting—how much I have to think about that being an actress because you really do. I mean, when you audition, it’s like, ‘Cool, I need 50 minutes to make my hair look perfect so that some producer thinks I’m fuckable enough to be in this role’ because that truly does really matter. I mean, it’s not the majority of it at all, but it really is a huge part of it.
And Bart, it is the opposite. When I got cast as Bart, I was like, ‘Well, cool. At least I can let myself go.’ [laughs] You know? It’s like, I couldn’t shave any of my body hair or anything; I let my eyebrows grow in and they put dreadlocks and dirt and orange teeth, and I just like became this—not like a strong woman; it wasn’t even that bullshit stereotype. It was a person; even though people would argue that Bart is the delete key of the universe and not a person, I don’t think of her like that. She’s like a vulnerable person who also happens to be the delete key of the universe. But yeah, man, it was like really nice. Sexuality never came into it. And i think men get to do that all the time, and I’ve never ever been cast—I’ve never even read anything that had that, you know? And if the character was unsexualized, it was a plot point. It was like, ‘Oh because she’s fat’ or whatever.
TM: Speaking of Bart’s vulnerability, I think we really get to see that through her relationship with Ken. How would you describe that relationship and how that’s helping her develop in new ways?
FD: I think that my relationship with Ken was something that I was yearning for and it was really scary. You know, I’ll walk into a biker gang and there’ll be machetes and knives and bullets flying at me, and I’ve never been scared of that. But, you know, rejection is something that I think hurts and this was me being paired with somebody by the universe. He was supposed to be there and, you know, maybe he won’t like me and that hurts. If anybody’s ever been ostracized in middle school, which I have, it was like, you know, it’s really painful. Really is. And I think that Ken also was a lonely guy, a lonely figure and the two of us sort of found each other and I prove to him that there’s still magic left in the world. And he showed me that there’s new frontiers left for me in human relationships and how good that can feel, and also that I’m not always—the arc of this season is truly terrifying and my version of reality gets shattered and it’s Ken who saves me.
TM: Another thing that really interests me about Bart is that she’s led by instinct and intuition. What is that like to explore? How do you relate to that or can you?
FD: Yeah, I can. Well, I had to make it a physical thing during the scenes because how would I know to walk one direction and not another direction? So, it ended up being this, like, heat thing that I played with that I could then manifest or play with or know that it’s inside me and I’m supposed to walk this way or kill this person and not that person. So, that came from my imagination, but it ended up being playable in the scenes.
And, you know, my mother did something called Remote Viewing as her career in her life which [laughs] is basically like—I have very mixed feelings about it—but it’s basically like you can tell the future based on instinct from the collective unconscious and everybody is psychic basically. But some people, you can learn how to get information from the collective unconscious through instinct. So, I was raised as a teenager with my mother who very much believed in this and taught it, and so there was elements of Bart’s world that—I’ve had exposure to people who really believed that the world worked that way. I’m super ambivalent about it. But I was raised by a woman who really, really, really believed in it and devoted her life to it.
TM: Where do you see Bart going in the future? Or what kinds of things do you hope she gets to explore?
FD: Oh man. That’s hard. This is going to be the worst thing in the world to say but I’d be interested in, like, it’s just [laughs]—I really love that Bart is unsexualized, but if we took an unsexualized woman and then made her [laughs] like experiment with sexuality, I’d be interested in that. It would be so funny.
TM: Yeah, I think there are different ways to explore that without fully immersing her in that, so I think that would be kind of interesting, actually.
FD: Yeah. I mean, I had to answer the question for myself if I’ve ever had sex and I’m not going to tell you the answer. [laughs] But I was really curious. I was like, ‘Has Bart ever gotten laid?’ And I know what it is. I know the answer. [laughs]
TM: What’s it like seeing the show as a finished product and and the fan reaction to it?
FD: Yeah, I mean, I just can’t—I’m so close to it I feel like a lot of it I can’t see. Like, I can’t see my work in it. I can’t tell if it works or not, honestly. But everybody else’s—especially because the core case, we all really liked each other. I didn’t get to work with a lot of people, but we had dinners and stuff in Canada and I really liked them as people. I just feel like a cheerleader. I mean, everybody says that in all of these. Every God damn actor says it in all of these interviews, but it’s really exciting because you know what went into and then it comes across and it’s good. Yeah, it’s just exciting.
The fan reaction has been crazy and really fun and it feels kind of surreal. Chucky has a lot of fans and I had that experience three years ago which was equally surreal. This is like a different group. So, it’s like comic book kids—or I don’t even know if they’re kids—but it seems like the comic book community a little bit more and the enthusiasm, man. Oh God, I don’t know. I feel writing and drawing pictures of them and sending it to them. I feel grateful, I guess.
TM: I actually saw this really cool work of fan art of Bart on Twitter and it was super interesting. What’s it like to see that kind of stuff?
FD: Weird! It feels like I won the lottery or something. I feel like I should pay somebody. It feels so frickin’ cool. I mean, you know, it’s also because it doesn’t feel like me. It feels like I collaborated with people to make this character and people really like the character, you know. And I fucking love Bart. I just love her. I just love the innocence and the vulnerability, and the badass bravery. It’s my favorite character I’ve ever played by leaps and bounds. And if people also like it, I just feel like hugging them or something. [laughs]
TM: Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
FD: Oh yeah, I have a really great one I’m really proud of. So, I’m one of the young leads in a Gus Van Sant/Dustin Lance Black miniseries on gay civil rights that is premiering in February on ABC and it’s called When We Rise. And I play an AIDS hospice nurse and a feminist. I play a real life woman who I met and know who was one of the founding members of the Women’s Building of the second-wave feminist movement in the 70’s and then was on the ground floor of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco when it broke out in San Francisco General. I’ve seen a little bit of it and it’s frickin’ excellent. Me and Rachel Griffiths play the same character. I play it in the first three episodes and she plays it the last three.
Be sure to check out Fiona Dourif in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and follow her on Twitter at @FionaDourif.