Abundant Life | Manifestation Affirmations

Main image photo: Carlota Guerrero; background: Jon Pack/HBO Max and Alyssa Longchamp/HBO Max

Main image photo: Carlota Guerrero; background: Jon Pack/HBO Max and Alyssa Longchamp/HBO Max Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

Through the lens of its four protagonists,  Search Party  holds up a mirror to inflated millennial egos. The biggest driving force here is Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat), whose identity crises tend to torpedo the lives of those around her. The TBS-turned-HBO Max series following Dory and her friends quickly became a cult favorite after it premiered in 2016—no wonder the satirical comedy actually pokes fun at cults in its fifth and final season, which premieres January 7.

In season five, Dory’s self-centeredness is on full display as she corners the market on enlightenment, turning into a cult leader for today’s social media-obsessed youth. Her efforts to capitalize on spirituality lead to national fame and disastrous results. The A.V. Club spoke to Shawkat about Dory’s dangerous reawakening, the inspiration behind her season five persona, and working with guest star Jeff Goldblum .

The A.V. Club: How did you envision Search Party’s end when you found out season five would be the last one? And how do you think it stacks up to the others?

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Alia Shawkat: As involved as I am, the writers have their own crazy imagination. I just try to make sense of it, and sell it as much as possible. I think every season we didn’t know–even after the first, we thought “Maybe that’s it.” I love how each season is different. It’s not just another girl goes missing and I have to find her. It’s different genres and different characters. Dory especially changes so much every time. It’s been a really graceful process when we do get another season, we think “Okay, here’s our shot, let’s have fun with it.” As you’ll see this season, we really destroy the world. You’ll see how we do it exactly. This time we knew there is no coming back.

AVC: What was it like for you to play this particular version of Dory, who now seems to want to spread the message of love and enlightenment?

AS: I feel like I’ve heard actors say it, and it sounds so cheesy, but it’s true: You have to like the character you’re playing or at least be on their side, even if they’re a murderer. Otherwise, you’ll hate yourself. It’s not fun, and no one will want to watch you either. As troubled as Dory is—, she’s giving herself this opportunity where she is learning how to forgive herself after her brush with death. She realizes she’s done terrible things and people have to learn how to forgive in order to heal. It was fun to play that. For the first time, it wasn’t Dory dealing with so much, holding on to angst. I got to be giggly and smiling again. It felt nice to let go of that load.

Alia Shawkat in Search Party’s fifth season

Alia Shawkat in Search Party’s fifth season Photo: Jon Pack/HBO Max

AVC: Is she able to confront her trauma then, in terms of everything she went through with Chip? Will it impact her mission or how her story ends?

AS: That’s a very good question. I think when everyone sees the end, it’s very much connected to the very first episode of the show. The writers did such a great job of showing “And this is what the story has always been.” As much as Dory has done to escape her past, the reality of what the beginning seed is—of someone looking for somebody and trying to help, but it going awry—is ultimately the ethos of the show. It’s a generational comment of how we’re trying to help, we think we’re helping, but we’re trapped in a mirror image of ourselves. We’re actually not doing anything. It’s dark, but the ending is beautiful in that way. I don’t know if she does get away from the stuff she’s running away from, but there’s an honesty she lands on.

AVC: Did you have any people or references you looked up to channel Dory’s inner savior this season?

AS: I watched [Indian philosopher] Swami Ramdas speak a lot. He’s always laughing and having a great time. There’s a reference that [series co-creators] Charles Rogers and Sarah-Violet Bliss told me about: former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. They sent me lots of videos of her. I saw lots of interviews of her, even the one Oprah Winfrey did talking about her book. She seems productive. I bet she has a great life. But she has an intensity and assuredness that I tried to mimic. That’s where the lines get weird throughout as the season progresses. Dory seems happy, but when she tries to get other people to feel that way, it gets manipulative and cult-like. You start thinking, “Is she safe?” or “Is she a little too crazy?” or “Does she believe in herself a little too much?” It’s a balance of that with Ramdas. I like to think she starts out like him, with wanting to help people, and then it just gets strange.

John Reynolds and Alia Shawkat in Search Party season 5

John Reynolds and Alia Shawkat in Search Party season 5 Photo: Jon Pack/HBO Max

AVC: How will Dory’s reawakening affect her connection with the rest of the group?

AS: Last season, [she] was really isolated with Chip. It was fun, but it was dark. We knew we had to get the gang back together for the final season. We’re all reunited fully, but the dynamics have shifted because now Dory has a strong leader-of-the-pack mentality. In the past, she starts as being a pushover who does favors to then manipulating [her friends] during the court case. She’s gone through the wringer with them. They get to a place now where they can forgive her and let her in, but they also want to be close to the power once she gets involved with billionaire Tunnel Quinn [played by Jeff Goldblum]. I think their relationship definitely toggles on and off, especially with Drew [played by John Reynolds]. But the four of us together are my favorite scenes to film.

AVC: What was it like collaborating with Jeff Goldblum?

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AS: It was super trippy. He’s very Jeff Goldblum. He’s very smart and giving. I don’t think he had heard of the show before he was offered the part. He watched it after and was so complimentary. Our show isn’t the easiest to shoot, our budget is not very big. It’s scrappy. You need an actor who is just game to really throw themselves into it. The character he plays has so much dialogue, it’s intimidating for anybody. But he’s just an ultimate professional. He showed up every day singing in between takes. His wardrobe is fitted to him and so groovy. He was able to be Tunnel Quinn in an instant. It’s also cool for us any time we get a big actor to be a guest on the show. Jeff Goldblum, Susan Sarandon, John Waters—I can’t believe they were all part of our show. It feels like such a coup.