With her new series keeping stream-hungry audiences entertained on Netflix, Irene Choi is holding tight as the roller coaster ride that is her “Insatiable” journey prepares to leave the station for a second season. Playing the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Dixie Sinclair in the quirky revenge dramedy, the scene stealer is enjoying the path her on-screen alter ego is traveling, which is not exactly new territory for the Harvard graduate who also played Annie Kim on the fan-favorite series “Community.”
We recently sat down with Choi to discuss why Dixie is more than your average mean girl, how the naysayers learned to love the show once they gave it a chance, and the reason she would have liked to see where Annie Kim’s fictional future led.
TrunkSpace: “Insatiable” is inspired by a true story. Does that mean that there is a real Dixie in the world? Because for those of us here with daughters who may meet a Dixie in their life one day, that’s kind of terrifying.
Choi: There absolutely is not. She is 100 percent made up, which is a relief. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: When the material you’re working on is based on something that actually came from someone’s own experiences, does it have a different feel on set? Do people approach the material in a different way?
Choi: I would say in this case, no, just because it was really just sort of the premise, which was inspired by Bill Alverson, who is the real guy. But otherwise, the storylines were just completely in a very heightened fantasy world where people kind of go relatively unpunished for a lot of bad deeds that they do. We’re just these made-up characters in this universe, so at least for me, there was no obligation to mirror true life.
TrunkSpace: There’s been so many “mean girls” portrayed in film and TV over the years. Did you want to bring something different to the portrayal of Dixie and did the tone of the show allow for that?
Choi: Yeah, absolutely. It was also sort of written into the script as well. Even though the character of Dixie doesn’t really seem that complicated – she’s a villain, she’s a mean girl – it’s a pretty traditional trope in high school stories, but I think that’s one thing that’s a little bit different about her, is her background gives her a lot of layers. I think one thing, for example, is she is an Asian adoptee who’s living in Georgia. She has a single parent who happens to not really be a great parental figure. She has a line in the show, which is supposed to be funny, where she says, “I’m not Asian, I’m adopted.” It’s supposed to be funny because she’s stupid, but also it’s a little true, because she hasn’t really been exposed to her sort of ethnic and cultural identity. She doesn’t identify with it at all. So I think she has a sense of identity that she hasn’t quite formed yet, and as a result, she is also sort of misunderstood a lot by her peers. She actually doesn’t really have a lot of friends, which – and usually I feel like the mean girl in these stories usually happens to also be the popular girl – that’s not what she is.
TrunkSpace: There was a part, in the way you portrayed Dixie, that suggested her behavior was a bit of a defense mechanism.
Choi: Exactly, yeah. And I think in real life, as much as this show is such a caricature of reality and is kind of in this sort of revenge fantasy world, it does sort of relate to real life. Because I think in real life the bullies in high school, but also just in general, they’re not usually the people that are sort of at the top of the social totem pole. A lot of times, they are people who are misunderstood, and don’t really quite have friends, and are really sort of trying to figure themselves out as well.
TrunkSpace: Was there something kind of freeing about getting to play her and how nasty she is?
Choi: Yeah, absolutely. And I got a lot of freedom with playing Dixie as well. The directors were always very much like, “Just go balls to the wall with her.” There were absolutely some times where they would say, “Let’s try to keep this one a little bit more grounded or sincere,” but they were all incredibly generous with just sort of letting me play, and really explore that character as well.
TrunkSpace: We already mentioned the tone of the show, which feels fresh and unique, but at the same time, it’s that specific type of comedy that probably allows for a character like Dixie to work.
Choi: Yeah. Yes, as an actor, I think that’s definitely kind of a dream come true. It’s been really, really, really fun. And also, for me personally, it’s my first time as a series regular on a show, being able to play this character for a whole season, as opposed to doing these sort of one-off guest star episodes or just recurring. You don’t really get the time, nor do you get the material, to sort of really explore a character to its full extent, so that’s also been very exciting for me.
TrunkSpace: What’s sort of been the most surreal moment for you thus far since you wrapped Season 1 and it started streaming?
Choi: Oh, I guess there’s a lot of things. Basically for a really long time, almost about a year, I would tell people that I’m on this show, and no one had heard of it. “It’s a new show, it’s called ‘Insatiable.’” And they’d be like, “Uh, okay.” And then our trailer dropped, which got really sort of scathing reviews from a lot of people, and then it was kind of crazy. No one had heard of our show, no one had any opinions tied to it, and then all of a sudden everyone had heard of it and hated it. And I think that was sort of really alarming. And then when the show came out, the fans and the audience actually really, really loved it after actually having seen the whole thing, and then it was just… it was really sort of a roller coaster of emotions, honestly. It’s like one minute no one knows who you are, the second minute everyone knows who you are, and not in a good way, and then another minute it’s like everyone totally likes you. So that’s just just been a little bit… it’s definitely been kind of overwhelming. Not overwhelming, but it’s just been so unpredictable. But, that’s pretty much how this industry is. As much as I sort of have been trained to be always be prepared for the unexpected, it’s always just going to be surprising.
TrunkSpace: Whatever you plan for, it goes in the opposite direction.
Choi: Exactly. Just when you think you’ve planned for every sort of potential scenario in your head… like, no.
TrunkSpace: What’s really great is that you already have a Season 2, which in the world of television, is a rarity to have so early.
Choi: Yeah, which again, sort of ties into that sort of roller coaster of emotions because it was like, “Oh my gosh, everyone hates us, we’re definitely not getting a Season 2.” But then we did. So, yeah, it’s crazy.
TrunkSpace: You mentioned how much you have enjoyed getting to know Dixie over the course of an entire season. You’ve appeared on a bunch of great shows over the years. Is there a character that you wished you had been given more time with?
Choi: I got three episodes to explore this character on “Community,” which was great. I definitely would have loved an opportunity to explore that character further. That was also a villain. I guess I am personally drawn to villain roles. (Laughter) It’s kind of funny that people see me that way too.
But that was definitely a really fun one. She basically played the evil version of an existing character, who was Alison Brie’s character on the show. And because she was obviously a series regular and had a very deep woven story, I would have loved an opportunity to explore this other character that sort of played her evil version/nemesis kind of thing. I think she could have also, over time, developed almost an equally complicated story as well. So, that one was definitely really a fun one. I’m really thankful that I got to do the three episodes that I did, but it definitely would have been a lot of fun to do more.
Season 1 of “Insatiable” is available now on Netflix.