SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for Episode 9 of “Dave,” now streaming on Hulu.
Christine Ko’s Emma, the unaffected cool chick in Lil Dicky’s friend group in “Dave,” has been filming a documentary throughout the third season of the FX comedy, which follows Dave Burd’s autofictional title character as he embarks on a “Looking for Love” tour across America.
But the finished product isn’t quite what Dave expects, as Emma includes hidden camera footage of their editing sessions — which paints Dave as obsessive and controlling — in the final cut of the documentary.
After a family and friends screening, Dave tells Emma he was impressed by the movie, but felt “manipulated” by her, arguing that he never gave her permission to film the editing sessions. When he begins to offer feedback, Emma cuts him off: “This isn’t our thing. It’s mine. I’m not compromising my vision for anything… There will be no more notes.”
As his friendship with Emma begins to fray, so does his relationship with budding flame Robyn (Chloe Bennet), as Dave fails to so much as mention her in the film when discussing his search for romance. Meanwhile, he’s written a Drake-like ode to his dream girl, Rachel McAdams — yes, playing herself in a multi-episode arc — and fantasizes about asking her to star in the music video. By the end of the episode, the only woman Dave can turn to is his hyperrealistic $7,000 sex doll.
Sitting down with Variety, Ko discussed the penultimate episode of “Dave” Season 3, her own directorial aspirations and Lil Dicky’s process, which involves penning an entire album of songs before writing each season. And while Ko sympathizes with fans who are starving for more official Lil Dicky music, she said each season of “Dave” is like a visual album. “If the showrunner of ‘House of the Dragon’ had to do the music for the show before writing it, and then had to act in ‘House of the Dragon,’” she said, “our minds would be blown.”
The line between reality and fiction is very blurry in “Dave.” Is it true that your character is the only one not based on a real person in Dave’s life?
Yes, that’s true. I didn’t come into the show until Episode 2, so they had already shot the pilot. I think they wanted another female perspective on the show, and a character that would believably be hanging out with GaTa [playing himself] and Elz [Travis Bennett], and be friends with Ally [Taylor Misiak]. I’m so glad they created Emma, but I’m not gonna lie — when I auditioned for it, I didn’t think I was right for it, because they basically said she was the coolest person on Earth, and I was like, “Well I don’t feel that way.”
Did you have more freedom in finding who Emma was because she isn’t based on a real person?
Yeah, she was a blank slate. I’ve always found it hard to describe Emma, because to say that she’s the sarcastic, deadpan best friend feels so one-noted. There’s something so much more to her friendship with Dave. There’s a loyalty there, and she really believes in him. There’s this respect where she’s like, “Oh my God, you’re so insane and neurotic, but you made your dreams come true and I can’t believe it.” That’s all she wants for herself. She wants to be a director, but there’s something holding her back. She doesn’t think she’s good enough or has enough opportunities, so this season she’s finally taking it for herself, which is really satisfying.
It seems like Dave has a mutual respect for Emma. There are scenes throughout the series where they fight each other for creative control, and Dave seems to always eventually put his trust in Emma.
He brings her along because she’s super smart and has good ideas. And, yes, Dave is an egomaniac as a character, but he knows greatness and he likes that around him. I wouldn’t say he uses her, but he definitely benefits from Emma’s ideas. But at the end of the day, the attention is going to be on him. He’s unable to see how much she feels like she’s in the shadow. Every time he relinquishes control, it becomes exactly what he wants. He’s just unable to do that from the get-go; he needs convincing. And that’s why he kind of has a meltdown when he sees the documentary, because he doesn’t have control of that.
Do you view the documentary as a betrayal?
From an initial perspective you may feel that way. There’s a part of him that’s like, “Wow, I feel betrayed that you recorded our editing sessions behind my back. But at the same time, that’s such a cool move.” He’s always someone who will take the right choice over the morally correct choice. Their relationship is a friendship, but it’s also incredibly transactional.
At the end, there’s that scene where Emma and Dave are arguing about whether she works with him or for him.
Absolutely. She says, “You didn’t pay me.” And in his mind, he’s like, “I housed you on this tour.” But she’s actually still working at the ad agency — that’s how she’s making her money. I’m very interested to see what happens because we definitely shot different versions of that scene where he’s not happy about the documentary. I liked the one they chose because it leaves it open-ended. We shot a version that was a lot more “stick it to the man.” Dave likes the flexibility of seeing where this friendship goes, because nothing ever really ends in his life.
In every season, Dave pushes the people closest to him away. First it was Ally, then GaTa…
Yes, we’ve seen it throughout the show. Dave respects Emma, but behind closed doors. He’s never outwardly been like, “Look at all that she’s done for me.” She’s going to be a director and people are going to hire her without Dave, and I think that’s going to be very hard for him to handle.
There’s a scene in the documentary footage where Dave turns the camera back around on Emma and basically says, “How does that feel? You’re so closed off.” Is that an accurate assessment?
Yeah, there’s a reason we haven’t seen her romantic relationships. And she doesn’t talk about her family, her upbringing, anything that makes her vulnerable. She doesn’t realize that part of what makes Dave so great is that he’s so comfortable. He can talk about anything, and that’s why people love him. He can talk about his flaws, his physical flaws, and admit when he’s done something wrong, and she can’t — and that’s her Achilles heel. In the storm episode, she alludes to growing up in a very Christian home and really knowing the Bible. I think that kind of colors it, like, “What the hell happened to you?”
On the show, Dave is completely obsessive and controlling when it comes to his creative vision. What is it like working with the real-life Dave Burd as a co-star and co-creator of the show?
I mean, the show is loosely based on his life. There’s a lot of authenticity. The real Dave is a perfectionist. But I can’t help but give him credit, because he is the first person on set and the last person on set, whether he shoots or not. He writes a full album before he writes an entire season of television. He touches every piece of the show, which is what makes it so great. You can’t help but love him, because he puts in the work, and he’s so kind about it. He really does come up to you after a long day and tell you why you’re so good for the show and how thankful he is. Usually, people who are neurotic don’t have as many feelings, but he has all the feelings.
Wait, he writes all the music for each season before writing the scripts?
Yes! His music is such an integral part of the show. Like “Mr. McAdams,” that was written before Rachel McAdams even came on our show. This is years of work — not only does he have to write the rap, he has to perform and record the rap. All that documentary footage you see of him onstage performing at these venues, we shot that for real! Those are real performances. I always see that Dave’s fans are angry about him not releasing music. And I saw one comment the other day that was like, “I used to be angry about him not releasing an album until I realized that every year he released a visual album with scenes in it.” That’s what makes our show so special. If the showrunner of “House of the Dragon” had to do the music for the show before writing it, and then had to act in “House of the Dragon” — our minds would be blown.
Do you, Christine, have any interest in directing?
I do! I actually filmed a lot of the documentary footage that you see in “Dave.” They would basically hand me the camera in between scenes and be like, “Christine, go shoot people! Go talk to GaTa, go talk to Taco.” We were just messing around. It’s not hard to get the cast to chat. So that fulfilled this desire to create — I really enjoyed it. There’s a scene of GaTa making out with two women, and I was like, “Why am I recording this? I’m in full makeup and wardrobe, and you don’t even see me! Get someone else to do it.”
You were born in Chicago and raised in Atlanta — two major rap hubs. Who are your favorite artists?
Oh my God. Outkast. I’m so ATL. There’s so much Usher on my playlist, because R&B is my favorite. When he came on set, I died. If you were to describe my taste, it’s Outkast, Usher, Lil Wayne and Celine Dion. But I gotta add Lil Dicky in there. Before I got cast in the show, I didn’t know any of his songs. This season, his music feels like Drake. There are so many cool freestyle moments and melodic performances. I just want the MP3 to “Mr. McAdams” so I can run to it.
Is there anything else you want to mention?
There was a scene between Taylor [Misiak] and me that didn’t make it into this episode. But it’s really exciting, because you see the dynamic between the two women on the show, and where it turns. I hope that it makes it in the future, because Taylor and I went in on that scene. I think it didn’t make it because it was so juicy, and we would have to explain so much. It’s only a 30-minute show. But I have a feeling you will get to see it at some point.
This interview has been edited and condensed.