Alia Shawkat is a cult classic
If there is one TV show that has managed to harness the energy of the Trump era – the mania and chaos, absurdity and delusion, rampant nihilism and the suspicion that things might get out of hand – and channel it into something special, without ever making explicit reference to politics, it’s “Search Party”. For five seasons, Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ satirical thriller followed a group of friends in their twenties who set out to find a missing peer in order to validate their own lives. The show crosses tones and genres with abandon, leaning on its own madness and the misunderstandings of its characters.
When “Search Party” first aired on TBS in 2016, it was billed as a nod to millennials, but it quickly abandoned that premise, going from a mystery to Nancy Drew. to crazy court proceedings to a psychosexual thriller. The show’s fifth and final season, which debuted last week, tackles themes of cult worship and eccentric entrepreneurship (think Elon Musk and Elizabeth Holmes) before unfolding a zombie apocalypse plot. (It also stars Jeff Goldblum.) At the center of the show’s mess is Alia Shawkat, the actress who plays her protagonist and alluring villain, Dory Sief. We’ve seen Dory evolve from a millennial aimless Brooklyn to a murderer to a popular online hero to a mentally ill to a cult leader. She’s the most difficult type of character to play – someone so disconnected from herself that she constantly becomes a new person.
For Shawkat, “Search Party” was also a career rebirth. The thirty-two-year-old is no stranger to television notoriety: at fourteen, she took her hiatus playing the role of Maeby in “Arrested Development”, a show that first went unnoticed before it was released. ‘acquire a dedicated fan base. Maeby, a cranky teenager with a renegade sense of humor, has become iconic enough to define Shawkat’s work for a long time. Now, “Search Party” and Dory have become cult favorites in their own right. Shawkat is, in many ways, the accomplished modern artist, keeping his hands in many pots. She helped produce “Search Party” and wrote the 2018 experimental independent film “Duck Butter”. She’s an avid painter and she’s working on a new TV show based on her father’s life.
Shawkat was in New York City in December to attend the premiere of “Being the Ricardos,” an Aaron Sorkin project that chronicles the behind-the-scenes crises of “I Love Lucy”. (Shawkat plays one of the show’s writers.) With his freckles and mop of curls, Shawkat is a staple in person, and also disarmingly straightforward. We talked over breakfast about the end of Search Party, her friend Brad Pitt, and about being half Iraqi.
“Search Party” has always been about chaos and a change of tone, but this season is really going off the rails. Do you like the note it ends on?
We’re blowing the world up this time around, and it seems like the fitting ending.
It’s funny. When the show first aired, it was characterized as this millennial critic. But now nobody even cares about millennials.
I think even at the start the show didn’t care about caring about millennial things. Dory is a character who is so obsessed with finding out who she is, to the point of mistakenly killing someone. Showrunners have always done a good job of being aware of the culture we live in and making the show a satirical thing. And never take it too seriously. That’s what’s funny about my character: she takes everything very seriously, and the rest of the world has gone mad.
Do you spend time with Zoomers?
I have a small group of Zoomer friends. There are a lot of things they don’t know, but they don’t want to know.
The references. Even just movie references – actors, etc. They just don’t need to impress. And you say to yourself, “But I spent so much time learning this! I feel like when I was younger it was about making it look like I knew a lot. From something as benign as movie references to. . . bad sex. My whole 20s was bad sex! But Zoomers are like, “No, we only have great connected sexual experiences.” Well, good for you.
Plus, people of my generation struggle with their relationship with Instagram and social media. They are there, but they hate each other for being there. The younger generation doesn’t even question it. They’re like, “Everything I do is publicly shared, and what’s wrong with that?” I really like taking long breaks with my phone.
In this season, Dory becomes something of a wellness guru with a cult side. Did you meet any cult figures during the preparation for this season?
Dory sort of has the vibe of Theranos, but I was more into Ram Dass, which I love and listen to at the time.
There is an intrigue about an enlightenment pill, which is prematurely thrown at the audience. Was there a connection to the vaccine there, or was he worried it might be seen as a vaccine comment?
I think it’s more about commenting on the idea of packaged wellness. Don’t do the job, take a pill! It’s easier. Not to judge drugs that save a lot of lives, but it’s about this concept of “How to be happy as fast as possible?” “
Are you sensitive to the dogma of well-being?
A little, but not really. I always try to quit smoking. I am not as balanced as I would like. I do yoga. I get depressed and yoga is the only thing that really gets me out of it.
Did anything about the “Research Part” change change when you migrated from TBS to HBO Max? A bigger budget?
I was hoping for an increase in the budget. [Laughs.] But there was none. The only thing I would say is that the writers didn’t have to write during commercial breaks. It’s better for the writers, we’re free to let it flow. And now I feel like people can actually see the show. When we were filming in Brooklyn, especially Brooklyn, you could tell the viewership had increased. People would see us out and on the streets and say to themselves, “This is a fucking ‘Search Party’! “
You are credited as a “creative producer” in the series. What does it mean?
I have always been involved in a creative way, from the start. At first we weren’t sure if that would be something – it was this pilot presentation idea. We did the pilot as an independent film, in a way, before it got hooked up to a network. I think that’s also why I was able to be the leader, because if “Search Party” was already attached to a network, it would have been more difficult for me to be the star of a TV show at the time.
Why would it have been difficult to choose you for the lead role?
If it’s on a certain network, you need to do a drug test. We were able to do “Search Party” exactly as we wanted and hire the actors we wanted to hire. It was super grungy and lo-fi – stealing photos on the subway, wearing some of our own clothes. The whole crew was super young. There was no one to tell us how to do it and what the tone was. When you try to explain a show to suits, it’s like, “Believe me, this is going to be funny!” ” They do not understand.
Have you ever tried to sell your own show?