Throughout the third season of FX comedy Dave, Lil Dicky’s friend and aspiring director Emma has been shooting a documentary about the rapper’s search for romance. In the latest episode, which aired May 24, it’s finally finished.
After Dave (played by Dave Burd, known as Lil Dicky) tries to micromanage the editing of the Lil Dicky Looking For Love documentary, Emma incorporates that into the doc and it catches him by surprise during a family and friends screening. Afterward, Dave tells Emma he feels manipulated — “but in the most artistic way possible” — and says he has some notes before it’s released. Emma isn’t having it, and calmly tells him that it’s her documentary not his and “there will be no more notes.”
It’s a big moment for Emma, showing a kind of boldness Christine Ko says she’s excited to see for her character.
“Dave [Burd] loves perfection and he really won’t let you go until he finds it,” Ko tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The thing that’s nice about that is, as an actor, I feel very protected in my scenes. So I feel this looseness with my creativity and the way I can deliver the line. I’m going to go for it. It’s really going to be extreme and out there, but if it doesn’t work for the scene he’s not going to use it. If it does work, it’s going to make it so much more colorful and interesting. I think that kind of freedom is so rare and that’s what I love about our show.”
In episode nine, titled “Dream Girl”, in addition to the documentary release, there’s also another Rachel McAdams cameo (more Dave-like and less rom-com than the first) and the arrival of a $7,000 sex doll. Intertwining conflicts arising from those events result in a tense, emotional seen between Dave and Robyn (Chloe Bennet), a photographer he met on tour who’d become his almost-girlfriend.
“This show always surprises me. Always,” says Ko. “It’s the smartest, dumb, silly show you’ve ever watched.”
During the course of her work on Dave, Ko has also appeared in Only Murders in the Building and The Handmaid’s Tale. While the sets and projects have had distinctly different vibes, Ko says working with brilliant artists like Burd, Steve Martin, Martin Short and Elisabeth Moss on each has pushed her as an actor. She says, “As someone who’s been on three Hulu shows in one year, I genuinely love the fact that they’re such different genres and it makes me exercise my brain a bit more.”
Earlier this week, Ko talked with The Hollywood Reporter about Emma’s growth, how the Spice Girls influenced her audition for the role and developing a film about her own family’s story that was too unbelievable to use as a plot line in Dave.
What was your favorite scene in this episode?
As an actor, I’m going to say the scene with Dave after the documentary, because that’s something I have been waiting for as an actor for my character for three seasons. If you look back to season two on “Ad Man,” they go back in the past with them working at the ad agency and Emma is directing Dave and giving him all these creative ideas and really propping him up to have the confidence to tell everyone that he’s a rapper. [After] him taking all that attention and that sunshine for himself, it was really nice to then be able to do a scene where she kind of sticks it to him. She says, “Look, I know you don’t like it and I know you have a lot of notes, but there will be no notes.”
That’s probably the one thing that kills Dave the most because he’s a man that has never-ending notes for people. It’s funny because life kind of imitates art sometimes and that’s who he is as a creator too. He wants perfection. Watching a documentary that shows him in a different light and not as the perfect person, he wants to take control of that. For the first time in this show, Emma has control. So it was incredibly satisfying.
We shot a lot of versions of that scene. We shot one that Emma was a lot more hardcore and she was, I wouldn’t say “bitter” is the word, but a lot less friendly. I really like that they chose the performance that is a little bit more nuanced. It feels like she’s so in her power that she doesn’t need to raise her voice or get angry, or even be passive aggressive. She’s just like: I’m sorry, there’s nothing you can say to me that will make me change. Then she meets with someone from A24 right after and she walks away. She just leaves the conversation. That is one of the few scenes that we did not improvise. We stuck to the script from our writer Vanessa McGee. Usually, I would say our scenes are 90 percent improvised.
As a viewer, would you pick the same scene or a different one?
As a viewer, seeing the documentary was so satisfying. You really got to see the behind the scenes of the tour. We shot that while we were shooting the series. It was really insane to be shooting a documentary while you’re shooting 10 episodes of television. So many of those moments are real. Me just like holding the camcorder and talking to GaTa and having GaTa talk to camera. I think as a viewer you really see the curtain unveiled and what it’s like to be his friend, and be stuck on a tour bus with him for weeks on end.
Also, I will say the Rachel McAdams dream sequence was fascinating. Like, I knew what was happening, but watching it I was like “What?!” I forgot that she was listening to the song at the top of that scene and when I saw Chloe at the end of it, I was just like, “Oh my gosh. Our show is wild.”
I was not ready for this episode to be so emotional.
The ending totally made me cry. That’s the brilliance, honestly, of Vanessa McGee. She’s been with us since season one. We always say she is like the voice of reason to Dave. There’s a line that Chloe says where she’s like, “I’m not upset that you don’t love me. You just can’t commit and that’s not on me.” Every woman has wanted to say that in a breakup. It’s that line that months later you go, “God, I wish I said that to him.” You think it, and your girlfriends tell it to you, but you don’t ever have that moment. And it’s like: Boom, there it is. I just give a lot of credit to Vanessa, to our writers, but also to Dave for recognizing that that scene needs to be shown.
Then right after that you see a whole scene with him and a sex doll. It’s the smartest, silliest, dumb show ever. It gives everyone a little bit of something. Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, it’s definitely something that makes you think, “This is what art should be.” It should be something that is different and fun and entertaining all at the same time.
Tell me about how you got first got involved with Dave. What did you know about the series coming in?
I went in so blind. It was wild because I had just shot this really dramatic art house film called Tigertail. It was an immigrant story and it just felt like really authentic culturally. And then I got an audition for Untitled Lil Dicky Show. I didn’t know who Lil Dicky was. I had heard his songs, but like genuinely didn’t know much other than that when I got the audition. I saw that Jeff Schaffer was the showrunner. I loved Curb Your Enthusiasm and I loved Seinfeld. So I was like, okay, there’s something interesting here. Though, when I saw the character, I am far from her. The breakdown about her was like, she’s the coolest person in the room. She’s brutally honest. She’s someone who’s not scared to subvert expectations.
I was like, “Babe, that’s not me.” It was a next day audition and I remember thinking, “God, I’m gonna have to make this character come out,” and I didn’t really have any other ideas other than, “Okay, what’s the coolest person to me? The Spice Girls.” That’s what I watched growing up. So that’s why I put my hair in buns. Looking at me like, I look nothing like Emma. I don’t dress like her. I don’t really think like her. So I just went into [casting director] Wendy O’Brien’s office and I was like, I’m not going to get this. I’m just gonna do these lines in the way that I think is funniest, and that is to be really dry and to not think that Lil Dicky is the coolest person in the world and to kind of call him out. That’s how I delivered the lines, and she thought it was really funny.
Then I did a chemistry read with Dave, and I remember us sitting across from each other and he’s like, “You are not who I thought this character was supposed to be, but somehow you’re perfect.” We were improvising and he couldn’t stop laughing because I was so against all of his ideas. Not in a mean way. Like he would tell me how cool his ideas were and how like smart he felt, and I would just look at him and I’d be like, “Everything you’re saying is is dumb and I think you’re an idiot.” And he’s like, “This is great. I love that you’re playing this opposite force against me.” Then he sent me a DM on Instagram and told me I got the job.
How would you describe Emma and her role in the group?
Emma is that friend that everybody wants to hang out with, but you don’t know what she’s going to say next. She’s snarky and she tells it how it is. So you’re always on your toes. That friend that has your back that will always support you and never leave you hanging, but, at the same time, she’s always going to be brutally honest. I would love a friend like Emma. There’s something so strong about someone being able to tell you the truth at all times and not being scared to hurt your feelings.
What have been your favorite parts of Emma’s arc over the three seasons and what have the been some of the biggest challenges?
We’re so lucky on the show that we have some strong writers. I said earlier that our show is heavily improvised and I absolutely mean it. What we see on the page versus what gets shot versus what makes it in the edit are night and day. But it’s because we have our writers on set with us and I think that’s very rare. I usually see one writer when I’m on other shows, but we have a ton of them. Like, we have like a village of them.
With Emma, she wasn’t brought in until episode two of season one. She was not one of the original cast members, and I think they watched the pilot and they were like: We just need one more person to fill out the circle of friends; we want another female perspective and we want it from someone who would believably be friends with GaTa and friends with Ally at the same time. This was a made up character and because of that, we all got to form her throughout the seasons. This wasn’t someone that came from Dave’s life that he drew inspiration from. He kind of was like, ‘Who do I want to hang out with and who do I want to help tell the story?’
What has been so satisfying about seeing Emma throughout the seasons is she has so much creativity. There’s so much talent there, but she really hasn’t had the balls to act on it. Finally this season she’s doing what she’s always dreamt of doing, which is directing. You get to see her direct the music video, then you get to see her direct the documentary. There very much is this huge future for her and she’s setting herself up for that.
The challenges are, at the end of the day, the show is called Dave. As much as everyone wants to develop this character, it is a 30-minute show. You have to slowly build out these characters and it takes time. So I think a lot of fans of Emma won’t really feel satisfied until this season, and potentially next season. We shall see.
What do you hope is in her future?
I really hope we get to understand her more as a person. What’s her motivation? There were talks about possibly seeing Emma’s family. We’ve never seen that before. We’ve dabbled into a little bit of the romance with her and Elz, but we haven’t seen her dating life. So I think it would be interesting to see her life outside of just her relationship with Dave, and really see her relationship with the other cast members. We got a little glimpse of Emma and Ally this season. We had our scene together where it was just the two of us and I’ll never forget after we shot the scene, Dave was like, “Wow, this is like hearing what women talk about.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s what a scene is like when it’s two women.”
I would love to do a scene with GaTa because they’re so similar. It’s like Emma thinks all the things GaTa thinks, she’s very encouraging and she very much shoots for the stars, but she doesn’t act on it. GaTa is the character that acts on it and puts himself first and isn’t scared to talk about himself in a room.
Is there anything else you have in the pipeline that you want to share?
I’m really excited because I’m working on a film about my family. When I had talked to the writers about potentially talking about Emma’s family, they like to pull from real life. I told Dave about my family and he was like, “It’s such an insane story that it actually might be too crazy for our show.” Basically, I was adopted and grew up in Georgia. I met my dad at 21 and he’s a rockstar. That’s why I went into entertainment. He kind of single-handedly changed my whole trajectory and what I wanted to do. When [Dave and I] were talking about it, I had told him that I was developing it into a film and he was like, “That is so incredible. I can’t wait to watch it.” So that is happening.
Then I’m working on a studio comedy that we’ll be shooting in the fall. It’s with a group of like six comedic women. It’s going to be really fun. It’s going to feel like Bridesmaids and I can’t wait for that.
Interview edited for length and clarity.