Dan Byrd

Fill 1
Fill 1
October 07, 2020
Online Originals

Pieced Together

The search for the truth is never straightforward.

David M. Gutiérrez

Everyone secretly wants to know the ending, even if it means the end of everything.

Sometimes it's just a matter of locating the right clues. Utopia, adapted by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) from the British TV series, finds its characters looking for truth and prophecy in the pages of a dark comic book Dystopia. Written and drawn by a madman, Dystopia earned itself a devoted fandom, some of whom believe the comic series holds a key to a vast corporate end-of-the-world scenario.

When the comic series' sequel, Utopia, is discovered, a chain of violent and disturbing events begins placing a small group of Dystopia fans at the heart of a chilling conspiracy.

In the eye of the mad storm is Dan Byrd as Ian, the gateway character into Utopia's surprise-filled world. As Ian, Byrd plays the "everyman" character who's more concerned with personal matters than uncovering world-shattering secrets.

How would you describe Ian?

He's somebody who's living an underwhelming existence, perhaps not quite living up to his full potential and is painfully aware of that. He's also painfully infatuated with [Dystopia fan] Becky (Ashleigh LaThrop) via their online relationship that they've built up over Utopia and through their personal lives. She's the closest person to him in his life, even though he's never met her in person.

The series centers on uncovering truths. For example, Ian's friends have secrets they try to hide from one another. However, Ian appears to be the most straightforward of everyone. Is Ian the type of character that's playing his cards too closely to his vest? Or is he also hiding something?

It is hard to sort of address that without giving anything away. He's a bit of an outlier in this group to begin with because he's more interested in Becky than he is Dystopia. I think he's a fan of the graphic novel in a general sense but doesn't necessarily subscribe to the idea that it holds these like real-world truths like the rest [of the cast].

He's definitely the skeptic and his position on that evolves as the story evolves. In that way, he's kind of different from the rest of the characters.

The show depicts the various degrees of fandom and explores what it means to be a "true fan" of something. The show casts a critical eye of fan obsession without punching down.

I definitely never got the sense that there was any punching down. If anything, it's celebrating fandom. A big part of this story is kind of a fantasy of what fandom could actually sort of spin into, and this other reality that Utopia inhabits.

This whole adventure that the group goes on is it's like the ultimate fandom adventure on steroids, basically. There was never a sense in any of the scripts that there was judgment or commentary being cast on a whole subculture of people. It's pretty evident from the first episode that it really embraces [fandom], celebrates it in a cool way.

Utopia is based upon a British series. Did you watch it to prepare for the role?

We definitely had an awareness and a respect and admiration for it. But we were all careful to not to input too much [of it] that we felt like we were tethered to it in any way. We knew this show had to stand on its own two feet and Gillian was putting her own stamp on it.

[Our show] is fundamentally different than the British one in lots of ways. I think all of us tried to forget it once we started shooting because we knew we had to create our own world and make these characters stand on their own two feet.

Did you work with Gillian Flynn on constructing your version of Ian or was his character all on the page?

It was an ongoing conversation. It's interesting starting a show because you've auditioned for it at that point, so you know what works and what [the producers] responded to, and then you sort of take it and run with it. Everybody is making their most educated guess of what they think will work with the rest of the group dynamic, what they think are the strongest choices character-wise.

Gillian was open to allowing everyone to leave their mark, to have a voice, and to have control over the directions we took these characters in. That was really empowering it made us all relax into it in a way that we wouldn't have been able to if it was being micromanaged or if she had a very sort of finite idea of what each one should be.

It was definitely a collaborative effort. She instilled a lot of faith and trust in us to make the strongest choices we could.

In many ways, Ian is the comedic heart for your half of the cast. He's the skeptic and straight man, and simultaneously, the funny one in a fairly bleak, dystopian setting. How was it playing a role that allowed you to do that?

I'm a sucker for a joke and if there's anything that I can do to add humor into the mix, as long as it's not disrupting the flow of the scene or the story in some way, then I'm all for it. I think the danger in these types of shows is they can forget that things are funny sometimes even in extreme circumstances.

And I feel like when I'm watching something that's just relentlessly dramatic, I tend to tune out. I think you need a sort of variation in the story and you need those different notes to stay engaged.

It was also in the script, that was the character that Gillian wrote. Weirdly enough, she was familiar with some of the comedic jobs that I'd done in the past, so I knew that was part of the reason that she brought me along for the ride.

Anytime there was an opportunity to infuse some of that, I was definitely not hesitant. And I knew that if it wasn't appropriate, for whatever reason, there would be somebody there to tell me and to reign me in.

Tonally, dramatic shows today, like Fargo, Watchmen, or the Twin Peaks reboot, are secretly dark comedies. Utopia swims in some of those same waters.

Thank you for saying that. I think that was definitely the goal. Tone is a difficult thing, especially when it's a new show that you're figuring it out as you go. I know they wanted to create a world where both the dramatic stuff and the comedy stuff was impactful and landed well under that same umbrella.

We are in the midst of pandemic. Was there any hesitancy on your or Amazon's part to have an end-of-world series air during a time like this?

We shot this last year before there was any inkling of a post-COVID era. We had no idea that we were making a sort of accidental documentary here. Once it happened, I was not privy to whatever the internal conversations happen at Amazon or between whoever else. I'm sure they go back and forth a little bit as far as the right way to present this show during this surreal era that we're living through.

I'm glad that they decided to do it. I'm sure there was always a chance that they could have waited longer or done something else.

The saving grace is that this show is, by its very nature, escapism. It runs on a frequency that's similar to a comic book. The way I think of it is if this show, Utopia, was based on a comic book, this TV adaptation would be like the comic book came to life.

It's not a docu-drama type of reality that we're trying to harness here. It's entertainment. It's an adventure. It's the sort of conspiratorial thrill ride that happens to have a pandemic as this underpinning backdrop, but it's not at all similar to what we've been experiencing last six months.

The way the show presents it, I don't think is going to hit too close to home for people. I think it's still going to feel very much like escapist entertainment. I hope the fact that it has a hyper-relevant theme now just becomes a stronger and more compelling viewing experience for people.

Utopia premiered September 25 on Amazon Prime Video.

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