Playing a Complicated Mage: Amanda Walsh Discusses Her Role in Dirk Gently

There is so much to love about Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency! One of the best aspects of the first season was the emphasis on complex, three-dimensional female characters, as Amanda Brotzman (Hannah Marks) and Farah Black (Jade Eshete) both fought evil while also wrestling with a chronic illness and terrible anxiety, respectively, and Bart Curlish (Fiona Dourif) defied every societal norm in her life as a holistic assassin. Season 2 has not only maintained that commitment to Amanda and Farah, but has now added two new, equally amazing women: Izzie Steele’s Tina Tevetino, the perpetually high police officer of Bergsberg who’s just trying her best, y’know, and Amanda’s Walsh’s chameleon-like (and Napoleonic) Suzie Boreton.

When we meet Suzie she’s the downtrodden mother to an angry teen and wife to a boorish husband, who trudged off to work each day to handle files for emotionally abusive boss. But then a strange, glamorous man walks into her life, and her life becomes considerably more interesting. I got to talk to actress Amanda Walsh about the experience of playing Suzie. There are some spoilers through the most recent episode (“This Is Not Miami”), so only read on if you’re caught up on the show!

Initially, Suzie is a collection of every cliché of the put-upon small town mom: she was disabled in an accident; her son is a jerk; her husband openly prefers the dog’s company to hers. So when she ends up with a magic wand it seems like an occasion to cheer! She defends herself from holistic assassin Bart Curlish, heals her old injury, and generally spiffs herself up. But we gradually learn that there’s a complicated undercurrent to her new ambition. She was the popular, beautiful prom queen of her high school, and the “accident” was probably her own fault; with the wand, she turns her husband into a mindless thrall, and then… she kills the dog. (For those of you looking for Easter eggs, the dog’s name is Agrajag.) And that’s all before she transforms into the literal evil queen who’s been lurking inside of her all along.

Asked what drew her to the project, Walsh said the Season One scripts, particularly the pilot, attracted her with their creativity: “I thought it was so good, so I bookmarked to look out for that show, so when the audition for Suzie came up I was so excited, There’s nothing else like it on TV, and I’ve been so impressed with the work of the writers, and of Max [Landis]—I think it somehow manages to be funny and complicated and original. It’s got everything. I was excited to be invited to the party.”

Walsh’s inspiration for the transformation sequence drew on her understanding of Suzie—rather than being simply power hungry, she sees herself as a “a fairy tale-style Maleficent-style queen, coming from almost a teenage, romanticized point of view.”

Suzie’s physical transformations—as she moves from harried mom, to blood-soaked magical assassin, to dark magetook hours to create behind-the-scenes in makeup and wardrobe. Particularly in the latest episode, “This is Not Miami,” as she had to go from being covered in blood and riddled with bullets to looking regal in gothy makeup and crown over the course of a single scene. Luckily, Walsh says, “I’m very good at sitting in chairs—I’ve always been very good at that.” Suzie’s evolving look also helped Walsh get into character on set: “I love getting to do so many different looks, it’s so much fun to transform so much, and it helps you as an actor—it’s like, ‘OK, here’s where I am today, glass in the face, let’s go!’” Walsh further explained that she shot some of Suzie’s arc soon after having a baby, making it easier to convey sheer exhaustion: “I’m coming in on 2 hours of sleep like, Look! I did all the work for you guys!”

Walsh mentioned that Suzie’s wardrobe journey was helpful as well; she goes from wearing a parade of motivational sweatshirts to an elaborate gown on her journey to power. When it came time to pack up and leave Vancouver, Walsh only took one memento from her life as Suzie, and it was this fantastic sweatshirt:

Walsh was prepared for her character’s arc from the outset thanks to an unusual audition process. Rather than reading any of the scenes from the script, or having chemistry tests with castmates, Max Landis wrote an extra monologue for Suzie that contained the character’s entire rollercoaster journey. “You start with Suzie how you first meet her, and then by the end of the monologue, she’s full evil-queen cackling. So the audition was to see if I could go to all the different places Suzie was going to have to go.” But even with that introduction, it was still startling to see Suzie become a focal point of the show: “I knew that the character would be going through that transformation—but I still, when I started getting the scripts, I remember saying to my husband ‘I am like, in this show!’ I don’t know how that was lost on me! So I knew where Suzie was going, but I never could have imagined all the amazing things I was going to get the opportunity to do.”

The writers’ willingness to embrace weirdness and fantasy tropes has also been helpful to Walsh’s creation of the character. “You feel like the show has your back. There’s so much thought and care put into each detail that you know you can just come in and do your best, play your characters, and you know that it’s going to work out.”

Finally, Walsh taps into the empathy she feels for a character who has left any desire to be “nice” far behind:

Once she has that power it reveals her darkness, there’s no turning back once she’s had a taste. It’s like, yeah, this is better than what I was living before. I do think with Suzie, she seemed like—she’s got a missing piece. Even though she was the prom queen and all those things, life never felt full. It never felt complete to her. She’s constantly trying to fill some sort of void. And now she’s in quite a position to do it. She sees herself as a victim. Poor Suzie! It just hasn’t been fair! I think it’s tapping into that sort of childlike sense, where we all have those moments where we say “This isn’t how I thought it was gonna be!” and we want to stomp our feet. But instead of stomping her feet, Suzie has a wand, and she can kill people! She gets to go a little further.”

I can’t wait to see where Suzie goes next! You can see Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency Saturdays at 9:00pm on BBC America!

Leah Schnelbach always wants to hear the dark mage-queen’s side of the story. Come, cast spells with her on Twitter!

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