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Dirk Gently

Wingman Wednesday

Amitai Marmorstein

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Photo By: Kristine Cofsky

When not being forced to compare dad apples to Schwarzenegger oranges, Amitai Marmorstein is slipping into the beautifully unusual world of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” as Lieutenant Assistent, right-hand man to Hugo Friedkin at Project Blackwing. The Jerusalem-born actor is relishing in the opportunity of playing the straight man surrounded by so many zany, imaginative characters and thinks the show’s unique flavor is part of the reason it has resonated with so many viewers.

We recently sat down with Marmorstein to discuss his early performance choices for Lieutenant Assistent, how he doubled down on going meta in the “Supernatural” universe, and why his dad is often mistaken for the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

TrunkSpace: “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” is such a unique show both in premise and tone. What does that uniqueness offer an actor from a performance standpoint?
Marmorstein: That’s a great question actually. I remember talking to someone about getting a part on the show, and she was like, “Congrats, man. That’s great! It’s a tough show to get on because it’s such a unique…” exactly that word, “unique sensibility.”

It’s hard to know what they want. It’s hard to know what the casting director wants. I think the thing that I, when I read it anyways, latched onto was that I thought it was funny. There were a few different choices I remember I could make in the audition, and I was like, “I’m gonna pick the one that I find funniest just because I don’t really understand what they are going to want.” It is just so weird, that it could go a million different ways. So, I was like, I’m gonna just go with what I would love to see if I were watching the show, and luckily it turned out to be the same thing that Max (Landis) and the rest of the gang wanted.

TrunkSpace: And were those early choices that you made in the audition maintained in the final product we see in the series?
Marmorstein: Yeah, totally. It was funny, too, because I got cast off tape. And I did three different versions in the audition as well. So, when I showed up on my first day, I even had to talk to Arvind (Ethan David), one of the producers, and I was like, “Hey, which one did you guys see?” I had a feeling Tiffany Mak, the casting director, sent in only one of the choices, and I was like, “I have no idea which one they saw, and which one they’re expecting me to do today on set.” (Laughter)

So, yeah it all worked out. It was the same one. It was funny too, because the choice kind of came from a place of… the dynamic between the two characters. I couldn’t get this idea out of my head of what it might be like to be, say, an aide or an assistant to some prominent political figure that is in the zeitgeist today, and dealing with the gross incompetence, to put it as delicately as I can, without being able to really put him in his place or anything like that. So, that’s where the tension of the character always seems to fall for me.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned auditioning via tape. Is that kind of a daunting prospect knowing that you can’t really adjust on the fly if they want to see something different?
Marmorstein: It’s funny, if I do my first audition well, if I’m happy with what I do, then I’m just like, “Oh please God, be off tape. Please, I don’t wanna go back and screw up my callback. Just take that take that was a good one. Please let them see that one and let them make their decision off of that.” So, I think there’s ups and downs to it, because sometimes you can get thrown by redirects in the room. I’d say it’s kind of a mixed bag.

TrunkSpace: It must be easy to get thrown off by somebody’s energy in a room too, if they’re sort of checked out or just not giving anything back?
Marmorstein: Oh, totally. Some auditions, I swear I’ve gotten booked and not booked based on the way that the director or producer just said “Hello” when I walked in. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: For those who haven’t caught up on season 2 of Dirk Gently yet, can you give us an overview of your character and what drew you to him from the page?
Marmorstein: Sure. To give you a little idea of the character, the character’s name is Lieutenant Assistent.

TrunkSpace: Which is a great name. (Laughter)
Marmorstein: (Laughter) I don’t think I’m allowed to spoil the joke with the name right now, but keep your eyes peeled.

So, he works at Blackwing, which is of course is the nefarious government agency that seems to be working in the shadows trying to hunt Dirk Gently and Bart and the rest of the holistic super people. One of the things that I love about the character is that, of course, there’s an incredible dynamic with Friedkin. And Dustin Milligan is one of the best actors I’ve worked with – it’s my second time working with him. I love him to death. He’s super great and so funny.

But, then I think the other side of it that I love is that it’s this crazy world where you’ve got Friedkin chasing after something that he doesn’t even really know what it is, and you’ve got all these wild characters. Dirk is such a creative, imaginative character and I feel like I get to be, in a way, the straight man where I get to walk around like, “Is everybody seeing how crazy this is?” I don’t have a huge role in this season or anything, so it’s hard to compare it to Todd in the first season, where he was very much the wide-eyed “what is going on?” guy, but it feels sort of in that same realm, and that’s a lot of fun.

TrunkSpace: There’s such a crazy buzz surrounding the show. You mention it to somebody, and if they watch it, you’re kind of accepted into this secret club. When you’re working on a show that has that kind of fanboy pedigree, does it expose you to a more passionate fan base or more passionate viewers than it would if you were doing a network procedural?
Marmorstein: That’s a good question. Last year I worked on “Wayward Pines” and that was great too. That has a really passionate fan base as well. That one was a cool show that a lot of people, sci-fi nerds, really liked, but this one does feel like this little cult thing. You go on Twitter and you see some of these fan accounts and you see all the cosplayers and stuff – it feels like it really touched a group of people that might not have otherwise responded. I don’t know, it feels like some people really got swept up in the imagination of it and that’s great. It’s really cool when you can find a really cool niche thing like that.

TrunkSpace: Sticking with the idea of fandoms, you actually appeared in one of our favorite hours of television of all time, the “Supernatural” episode, “The French Mistake.”
Marmorstein: Oh my god, that’s so funny! I’ve done two episodes of “Supernatural.” I hate to mess up the continuity of it, but I guess with “The French Mistake” it can kind of evens it out. (Laughter)

The first one I did was at a Sam and Dean comic book convention. Somehow the only two episodes of “Supernatural” I’ve been in have been the ones where it’s so meta on so many levels. The first one I did I was like “Wow, this is hilariously meta. I’m cosplaying Sam and he’s cospsaying Dean.” Then of course the next time I got on I was like, “Oh my god, how is this… what are they gonna do next season?” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Jumping back to the present, you’re also set to appear alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the upcoming film “Killing Gunther.” What is the experience like, calling home and getting to share the news that you’re in an Arnold movie?
Marmorstein: (Laughter) That’s a great way to phrase it too because I grew up on Arnold. My dad is a huge Arnold fan, took us to all of his movies, even when we were probably too young that they might have been slightly traumatizing. (Laughter) He loved him so much. His favorite dad joke is this running thing that he would always do whenever “Arnie” would come up in conversation. He would stop the conversation and say, “You know, people mistake me for him all the time.” Which is a joke because he is a 5 foot 5, bearded, pot-bellied Rabbi. So yeah, it’s a sight gag. (Laughter)

I was so excited to tell him that I got the part and he was really psyched about it. And I even got to tell Arnie that my dad had that joke with him, which was pretty cool.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” airs Saturdays on BBC America.

Killing Gunther” is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital HD December 26.

Featured image by: Kristine Cofsky

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Wingman Wednesday

Mpho Koaho

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Photo By: Fitzroy Facey

With so many television shows airing and streaming, it seems like it’s getting increasingly more difficult to generate genuine fandom buzz for any new series set outside of a Marvel or DC universe. That’s why the continuing aura of excitement surrounding BBC America’s “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” is so, well, exciting.

With season 2 now underway, the series based on the Douglas Adams novel is growing more and more popular as fans of quirky storytelling embrace the uniqueness of the supernatural detective narrative. As Ken, series star Mpho Koaho brings his own singular on-screen presence that not only helps build out the world, but solidifies the Toronto native’s reputation as one of the industry’s best character actors.

We recently sat down with Koaho to discuss the diversity of Dirk Gently, why television was a scared cat for a very long time, and how the fans are just as unique and diverse as the show itself.

TrunkSpace: “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” is unlike most other shows on television, both in premise and tone. What does that uniqueness offer you as an actor, from a performance standpoint? Does it open doors in what you can do in your performance?
Koaho: 100 percent. I think the uniqueness of it starts from the diversity of everything. It’s uniquely diverse, and not just from a racial or a gender standpoint. Obviously now we’re introducing fantasy, and the Rowdy Three, and just all the diverse characters on the show like Bart Curlish. We’ve got a mix of players.

And then in terms of performance, it gives you great freedom because you’re not following any kind of conventional template. Max Landis’ writing style – I think why he’s so good writing this Douglas Adams fandom is because he’s similar. He understands the craziness of what Douglas Adam’s writing is, so then Max gives an actor just immense freedom from a performance standpoint. Because your character’s already unique – he’s written you in a very uniquely diverse way – and then the dialogue is just left of everything. I think it’s very à la Douglas Adams, in terms of the uniqueness and the craziness of it all.

I think that’s what’s appeased fans, as well. Outside of the Dirk character, in this adaptation, Max has created every other character, yet he still has appeased diehard Douglas Adams’ fans.

TrunkSpace: It feels like the kind of show that, in a season or two, other shows will try to emulate, but right now, it’s very much it’s own thing.
Koaho: That’s very well-articulated. These are things I think about every day as an actor, and have thought about for 20 years in Hollywood. And the thing is, specifically the person writing this, Max, grew up in Hollywood.

It’s interesting that I can articulate what I did from being around, and then exactly the same thing permeates within Max’s world, because he was raised by John Landis and very much grew up understanding the exact same thing you mentioned. I think that’s very prevalent in Max’s mind, in his world, and I think he attacks it that way, so I think those are things he’s aware of. I really, really do. I really think he’s aware of that and, while maybe not tries to get away from it, he just goes, “I’m not gonna do that.”

I think he’s just so unique that he doesn’t even have to try to not be something. It’s just so easy for him, and I think it’s because of growing up in Hollywood, and understanding the repetitive nature of things.

TrunkSpace: With that unique feel of the show, do you think the show has a cap in terms of the people it can reach? Like for example, while we love the show, we’re not sure our moms would be able to get invested. (Laughter)
Koaho: I totally agree with you, and obviously in a perfect world you want to think your show can reach anybody, but not any show is necessarily either appropriate for everyone, or someone’s cup of tea. I would speak to Dirk not being everyone’s cup of tea, specifically because there are many refined people in the world, a little more reserved, conservative, sheltered who would say, “We don’t really do much.” To put Dirk Gently in front of them, to put what we do on that show, will be a lot for some people, no doubt. No doubt.

You’re absolutely right. My mother can’t watch this show. No. No. No. I know my mother. She’s a very refined… I wouldn’t say she’s conservative, but this is a little too far for her, on the borderline of loco.

TrunkSpace: But at the same time, that’s the beauty of television in today’s world. It can be geared towards certain likes and dislikes because there’s so much content available now.
Koaho: Well, in terms of television, television was a scared cat for as long as it’s existed. Literally, television was a scared cat, network television, and then HBO and Showtime, they grew a pair and gave us adult television. I’ve never been against network TV, but I understand their reasoning. You’re in people’s homes. A six-year-old or a seven-year-old could turn on the TV and see “The Sopranos” if that was network TV.

I get the shackles of network TV, but it wasn’t until I came to an HBO, a Showtime, where I really started to enjoy television again, and I’m talking about the kid that grew up on sitcoms. It took getting to this point. I think it was “Dexter” before I really could say I loved television again. “Dexter” got me back.

TrunkSpace: So purely from an acting standpoint, is TV more interesting now just because everything is so character-drive and performance heavy?
Koaho: Well, I would say the actor that I am cares about the character-driven stuff, because I’m very ‘character actor’ and obviously if you know anything about my career you can see that, but there’s an 11-year-old in me who’s just not this uptight actor, and that’s a fan of stuff that just doesn’t look at it that way, that looks at it from a less serious place – the kid that was watching “Beauty and the Beast” on the plane going to San Diego Comic-Con.

Photo by Bettina Strauss/BBCA – © 2016 AMC & BBC America

Someone comes up to me like, “What are you watching?” I’m like, “I’m watching ‘Beauty and the Beast’, god dammit!” I had a fucking blast, man. That’s what I love about me. I’ve learned the business working 20 years, so the character-driven stuff matters – holy crap, it matters to me, especially as an actor, but then the kid that started acting appreciates the diversity of a Dirk Gently. Not even the actor, the black kid, the African that I am, appreciates the diversity in my show, and the direction, from a diversity standpoint, television is going in.

It’s two sided, it’s twofold, really three or four sides, even.

TrunkSpace: And there’s diversity in the characters from an emotional standpoint. There’s more broken characters now than ever before.
Koaho: See, there you go. That’s realistic. People are not perfectly emotionally in check, man. Holy crap. Look at Marvel with the flawed superheros. That’s realistic. Most of those heroes are probably gonna be loaners anyway, right? The idea for them to be affected emotionally that way, that’s very realistic, so it’s amazing how TV was almost selling you what movies were forever. And to be very honest, television, network TV… I don’t even want to just say network TV, but mostly network TV… is still a beauty contest. I don’t care what you say, it’s a beauty contest. It’s just, “Put a lot of really pretty people in roles, put a lot of really pretty people on TV and see what happens.”

I sift through so much… so many scripts, so many auditions, television… I’ve sifted through so much stuff to get to this point doing a Dirk. I’m not here reading for CW stuff every day. No disrespect to the CW, no disrespect to anybody working on the CW, but that’s not my shit. That’s not who I am. I don’t want to do a CW show, and real talk, honest to God honesty, outside of maybe like “Black Lightning,” I don’t know if you’d ever catch me on the CW because I don’t know if… especially coming off of having read for a lot of things, pretty much everything, you grow to a place where you realize, “This is not how I want to be represented. This is not how I want to be portrayed.” So you realize, “I wouldn’t audition for that show again,” or, “I would audition for this show every day of the week.” I can’t do certain things. They wouldn’t put me in certain things because I don’t fit that look… I don’t fit that mold, you dig? I’m the most unique character actor, so we have to always take our time and find the most unique thing for me.

TrunkSpace: You spent numerous years on “Falling Skies,” so you know about passionate fandoms. How does the Dirk Gently fandom compare in terms of the passion and commitment to the material?
Koaho: I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this, to be honest. “Falling Skies” was very supportive, very loyal, but Dirk Gently fans are locos, man. I have such respect for them. You know what I really love about the Dirk Gently fandom? Just how different everybody looks! Just the quirkiness of everybody, and just how unique and different everybody is! I look at so many of these beautiful faces, and I go, “You know, that is not who I expected to see.” That’s so pleasant, because I’m sure people say that about me sometimes, with certain projects they see me in. They would have seen me in something and say, “Wow, I never expected Mpho to do something like this. Wow, he was really good.” That’s a pleasant surprise.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” airs Saturdays on BBC America.

Featured image by: Fitzroy Facey

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