Jade Eshete Talks Being A Woman Of Colour On One Of TV's Weirdest Shows

Photographed by Refinery29.
Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about all of the songs that exist in the world that I might love, but have never heard before. Seriously, it keeps me up at night. I never considered that the same thing could be true about television. TV feels so neat and manageable with its guides and far-reaching promotion. I felt a false sense of security that I had neatly sorted television programming into what I like, don’t like, and am not interested in at all. This was before I knew that Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency existed.
Starring Elijah Wood and Samuel Barnett, the science fiction comedy is a BBC show based on a book series by Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. The second season begins airing on Saturday, October 14, and trying to recap the first season would be like trying to casually tell someone what has happened so far on Game of Thrones. There are too many moving pieces, a bunch of fantastical elements, and some things you just have to see for yourself. But one detail that sets the medieval sci-fi political drama from Dirk Gently's apart is Jade Eshete, the Black woman who plays Farah Black, a badass bodyguard and one of the main characters on the show.
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I had the pleasure of speaking with Eshete, who went into a fit of laughter when she heard the apprehension in my voice as I cautiously approached the topic of Dirk Gently’s. Apparently, she gets “confusion and unsurety” from newcomers a lot. But, as I quickly realised, laughter comes easy to Eshete. The native New Yorker opened up about her first major role and being a Black woman on one the strangest shows on television. Check out our conversation below.
Refinery29: I don’t know what I thought Dirk Gently’s was about, but what I watched was not at all what I had in mind. [laughs] If you had to give a 15 second elevator pitch to explain the show, what would you say?
Jade Eshete: [I’m obligated to share that Eshete took a few seconds to gather her thoughts, because this is quite the undertaking.] “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is based on the character created by Douglas Adams. The first season of this show takes that character, Dirk, and puts him in this world where he’s a holistic detective — basically, he’s allowing the universe to guide him in finding the clues to solve this murder case. He doesn’t use conventional methods of detective work. He follows his intuition and feels like the universe is going to point him in the right direction every single time, which gets him into lots and lots of trouble. That’s what the show is about — that interconnectedness of the universe and letting it guide you to find the way you need to go.”
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I don’t think there’s any way to truly prepare someone for this show.
“Exactly! You go on so many tangents that it’s no way that you can ever really fully describe it. You just have to watch it. And that’s what I tell people. If you watch the first three episodes, you will be hooked. You’ll be fascinated; if only for the sheer desire to find out how this all comes together. Because all you have is questions when you watch the first few episodes.”
Did you read the book or the script first?
“I read the script first. I was actually introduced to Dirk Gently and Douglas Adams through this project. There were quite a few people who were already familiar with him from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or they may have loved the book coming in. But for me, this was my introduction to this world. I just remember laughing out loud so many times reading this pilot because it was just... non-stop. Max [Landis] has a way of pulling you into this world and keeping you so intrigued and so interested. Sometimes when you come to a project having read the material, it’s so close to you and your heart. You have this high expectation of this character you’re about to embark on. Sometimes [not being familiar] works against me, but it was kind of nice to come to this with just my imagination and my instinct about how I felt about the material.”
Give me four adjectives to describe season 2.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to give you four. I’ll just say that last season was more about body swapping and time travel. This season is more about fantasy and magic.”
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Those are all the same things to me.
[This inspires another burst of laughter from Eshete] “Well ma’am I need you to go back and look at season one so that you are prepared for the differences that are going to ensue in season two. There’s a whole ‘nother fantastical world that is created in season two called the Wendimoor and I can’t really give any more details than that. But it’s unlike anything you can even imagine.”
What has it been like being one of the only women of color on the show and the only woman of color lead on the show?
“Wow. Well, it is so amazing, and humbling. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity. When I first read this role, it was like, ‘Oh no. This is not me. I can’t do this. This is like the furthest thing away from me. She’s a bodyguard? She kills people? Like murders them?! And they’re in pain? No. You know how much I weigh? I’m tiny.’ It was the furthest thing from my mind as something that I could do. The really exciting thing for me is that even though the attributes of this character were the furthest thing from me, they have become like second nature to me now. Being thrown into this kind of environment, learning all the proper guns, all the gunplay, all the weaponry… It’s never something I had never explored before this role, and now it’s all I want to do. I love it. The whole experience has been super empowering for me.
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In season two, we’ve got a female villain. You got the female heroes and you got the female villains. We’re on all sides of the spectrum with this show. I remember when I was auditioning for this show, they didn’t have a specific person or type in mind for Farrah. There were all kinds of women in the waiting room. You have so much room to play, and it’s all about what you bring and what perspective on this role. That has made me so enamoured with it and completely humbled by the experience to get to portray my artistic view of who Farah Black is.”
Have you heard of AfroFuturism?
"I feel like I may have read that word looking at a lot of the Comic-Con cosplay situation stuff. But I’m not familiar with the actual meaning so please enlighten me."
The heart of it is this idea of a movement for Black people to also be included in sci-fi, and ideas of the future and magic. Because Black people are underrepresented in the genre. I was wondering if you felt like your character was included in this canon?
"Farah Black should definitely included. I absolutely love it when I see characters of colour in these types of shows. It makes me interested. It makes me want to watch. It completely draws me in because I want to see that perspective. I want to see that viewpoint. Watching all of these new types of shows come out… I didn’t grow up on comic books. My cousins and stuff did. I want to see that slice sci-fi or fantasy and how that casting decision colours the entire world. It’s awesome."
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It is. Last question: How does Farah evolve in season 2?
"You learn a lot more about Farah this season in terms of why she is the way she is. From the first season you can tell that even though she is a badass, kickass bodyguard, and insanely competent and super confident as well, there’s this side of her that you can see when someone taps into her insecurities. She crumbles at times. She doesn’t always know how to handle it. She holds herself to a very high standard and when she doesn't meet that expectation she comes down on herself very hard because she’s a perfectionist. You learn about her backstory — why she is that way and how she became that way. She definitely goes on a journey this season that’s different from last season in terms of growing from that place of self-doubt. At the end of last season, the detective agency formed and everything was wonderful for about two seconds. And then Dirk gets kidnapped and Todd has his first Pararibulitis attack. It all goes to shit real quick, so that’s kind of where the second season picks up. Farah and Todd are on the run and searching for Dirk. Through that journey, she discovers a lot about herself, her relationships, where she’s supposed to be and where she’s going in life. I think it’s a really exciting season."
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