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“You guys are doing it right! You are very smart over there in the UK.”
Cobie Smulders is envious of the traditional British TV format of doing TV dramas in six- or eight-episode runs. As a star of the smash hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Smulders spent nine years playing Robin Scherbatsky - that’s nine seasons and 208 episodes.
It’s understandable why Smulders steered clear of signing up for a mammoth US network TV series after HIMYM. Instead, she’s popped up in TV cameos and the recurring role of Maria Hill in the Marvel movies.
But in 2019, she was tempted back to a leading TV role as private investigator Dex Parios in comic book adaptation Stumptown.
Stumptown launched in the UK in April and it’s addictive, thrilling and funny. Her character Dex is a bisexual army veteran with gambling debts, a chaotic love life and PTSD. Although the series follows a classic, mystery-of-the-week format, the series steers clear of procedural clichés and predictable love triangles.
BT TV called up Cobie in lockdown (“It’s always nice to speak to an adult human right now”) to find out what it was about Stumptown that got her back on the TV wagon.
1. What was it you first loved about Stumptown?
I didn’t really expect to return to a long-form television show for a while. What happened was that I read the pilot script, which is based on a comic. I then read the comic series and I just fell in love with this woman.
I thought it was really fascinating, really layered and super interesting and unlike any character I’ve got to play before. It just felt like I had to do it. It was something I needed to pursue.
It’s been such an adventure. We shot 18 episodes and it’s been a wild ride. It’s really fun to play the different elements, it’s got so many tones. It’s an action drama, it’s very comedic, it twists and turns and takes you in different directions.
2. Were you worried about doing TV again after How I Met Your Mother?
I wasn’t worried, but I knew it was a lot of work. We shot the show over eight months. That is a significant chunk of time to be working on a continuous project. It’s a marathon.
For a show like this with stunts involved it’s a day-to-day grind. The hours you’re working on set, it’s a huge physical challenge.
As actors, it’s so rare to be give the opportunity to play a wonderful character like this, to shoot it in a city where I live with my family and have some sort of semblance of a life. When this great cast came together, it was just a joy.
I didn’t need convincing on the project, I just knew it was something that would require a lot of me. And I did it. I survived. I’m quite proud.
3. It’s got some impressive action sequences – is that all you?
I do have a stunt double, Marie, she’s the one who gets bruised. She gets tapped in and smashed through a window pane, while I stand by and sip a cappuccino or whatever I’m doing that morning.
4. The Neil Diamond-soundtracked car fight in episode 1 is wonderful. How hard was that to film?
That one was actually tricky. We were in a confined space, the back of a car. I thought, "Oh we can’t do too much, it won’t be hard". But actually it was tricky because it was so restrictive in the movement. It took about two days.
When you’re shooting a pilot, you have so much more time. We had 16 days for the episode, rather than nine. We took our time with it because it’s such a great fight scene.
5. Where did you film the series?
We shot the pilot in Portland. The rest we filmed in LA. Hopefully if we do a second season, we’ll do lots more in Portland, Oregon.
You guys probably don’t know much about Portland, but this is an introduction to this wonderful city on the West Coast of the United States that everyone should visit. The food is delicious and it’s the Pacific North-West, so it’s beautifully green and gorgeous.
Maybe don’t print that part right now! Put it’s a great place to visit in 2021. It’s a great place to visit when you’re not self-isolating. It’s a beautiful, wonderful place.
6. It’s great to see a Down’s syndrome character on the show. How was Cole Sibus to work with?
Cole is the greatest. I’ve never worked with someone as positive as him and he’s a joy to be around on set. He’s so good and so wonderful. And he’s the life of my life on set.
The character in the comic books is based on the writer Greg Rucka having a sister with Down’s syndrome. So he is the creative mind behind having a sibling for Dex that has Down’s, so we carried that onto the show and were lucky enough to find Cole.
I think that one of things that I love playing on this show is the dynamic between these two. They are brother and sister but she is also a parent to him. We see it play out across the season, Ansel is a 21-year-old man now and wants to do manly things. So he leans on Grey more because he admires him so much and looks up to him.
It’s a really fun dynamic and something I haven’t seen before on television, so I was excited to be part of it.
7. We all love Jake Johnson from New Girl. Is he as fun to work with as we'd expect?
He’s an a**hole! Do you think even if he was an a**hole, do you think anyone would actually say that?
First of all, nobody would ever give you that honest answer. Second, Jake and I have the type of relationship where I hope you print that I think he’s an a-hole because he’ll read it and laugh.
The honest answer is that I am so happy he is part of the cast. He makes me laugh every day. He brings such a grounded version of this guy. We’re finding our feet in the first season of this show, finding our voices and Jake was able to find a wonderful and grounded version of this character.
To have my chaotic Dex, constantly spinning out, we needed someone to keep her grounded. Part of that is the relationship with her brother. Part of that is her relationship with Grey.
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