SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers for the Season 3 finale of “Dave,” titled “Looking for Love,” now streaming on Hulu.
The already guest-star-studded Season 3 of FX’s “Dave” ends with not one but three of the biggest guests any show could hope to have in their cast: Rachel McAdams, completing a three-episode arc by appearing in the music video for rapper Lil Dicky’s (Dave Burd) tribute to idealized love, “Mr. McAdams;” superstar rapper Drake, Lil Dicky’s personal hero, and now, his mentor; and none other than Brad Pitt, who after making a cameo in the “Mr. McAdams” video shows up at Dicky’s door looking for a musical mentor of his own.
In both Burd’s real-life career and Dicky’s meteoric onscreen ascent over the course of Season 3, their collective appearances are a coup — a fulfillment of the A-list aspirations he’s detailed in his songs and on the show. Yet they’re also paired with an increasingly humbling confrontation with a crazed fan, Bella (Tenea Intriago), who after making a brief appearance in the Season 3 premiere turns up at his front door, as convinced she’s meant to be a star as Dicky was back when he began his career.
The episode’s combination of winking cameos and cowering self-examination, gut-busting comedy and nail-biting tension, exemplifies the show’s fearlessly eclectic approach to storytelling — and its determination to top everything it and every other show on TV is trying to do. Ahead of the season finale “Looking for Love,” Burd talked to Variety about how he was able to successfully recruit Pitt and the show’s other famous guest stars. He also examined how much the show has helped him grow as an artist and a person over its three seasons, and talked about when Lil Dicky fans can look forward to a new album from the rapper-turned-TV star — turned filmmaker, which is what he calls himself now.
The Season 3 finale feels like the epitome of Dave’s professional achievements. Was there an opportunity or achievement in real life that similarly validated you?
On a personal level, to make a show that has icons like Rachel McAdams, Brad Pitt and Drake — each of them represent such important things for my life and my generation — they’re honestly the top of the mountaintop as far as what they have achieved and what they’ve done. So for them to enter my space — they don’t do television, it’s very validating for the show, not just for me personally. And when people ask me, how did you get all of these people in the show? Really, it wasn’t that difficult because it just speaks to the power of the greatness of the show, because they all loved the show. All of these guest stars are just massive fans of what we’ve done in the first two seasons, and they all champed at the bit to be involved. Personally, giving Brad Pitt direction and he’s trusting me the same way I’m sure Quentin Tarantino or the Coen Brothers were giving him direction, it’s for me very validating as a filmmaker.
Was Brad Pitt the person that you knew you wanted for the finale?
I knew I wanted to go for something big, and I’m just very proud that this show has evolved to a place where we can literally have a high-stakes gun to the head level thriller and you believe it and it’s real. And for the themes at hand, there’s no better representation of achievement and fame than Brad Pitt. He is the GOAT movie star. And Drake is that for music, and rap. And Rachel is that for love and what we look at as hyperbolized dream woman, as the star of “The Notebook.” So we very specifically went after these people, and we didn’t really have backup plans if they said no. And in the writers’ room, people were looking at me like I was crazy. “You’re putting all your eggs in the Brad Pitt basket? You don’t even know this guy.” And it was risky, but I just think it speaks to the power of the show that they were all like, “Oh my God, yeah, we love this show and we want to do it.”
It also captures the lowest point of his willingness to put his entire life out in the world. Was there a conversation, with a fan or not, where you felt confronted by all the potential bad choices you’d made to get to that point?
There are a lot of traits that go into what the character, and me even in real life at times, do as far as our quest for greatness and validation. This season has [explored] these themes of love, and that quest for love and then fame and validation, and there’s a lot of overlap, for better or for worse, in the character’s approach to each of them. And we really wanted to have, for lack of a better phrase, a sick, twisted mirror in Dave’s face in the finale with this mega-fan who appeared in Episode 1 and comes back Episode 10. And, obviously, I don’t take things to that extreme level where I’m holding up a gun to people said and saying “believe in me.” But I do have an insane level of self-belief. I want people to empathize with her position in the beginning and be like, “I wonder if Dave thought he had a shot with Brad Pitt, would he leave something on his hard drive to be like, ‘Look at me.’” And I just thought it was a really cool, humanizing way to tie together all the themes that happened throughout the season.
In my questions, some are about Dave, the real you, and some are about “him,” the fictional Dave. How clear is the delineation between you and the fictional version of you on screen?
I think it all starts with core kernels of truths. Sometimes those truths can then be like the GaTa bipolar episode [S1E5 “Hype Man”] — a lot of that was super-literally true. But then there’s other things like, oh, here’s a core truth — I am a perfectionist who’s selfish — and so we based episodes on that. Now, I never do anything nearly as socially abrasive in reality to the people that I work with, and I think that anyone who works with me respects my attitude and loves working with me, unlike the show where I’m the biggest pain in the ass. Or, I don’t think GaTa is going on stage at a panel and saying that he got “sucked by a fat bitch” or whatever. But we take a core truth and try to push it while always trying to be like, but could this really happen? And the second it starts feeling totally false, it’s a step too far.
After three seasons, what have you discovered is the reward for sharing your experiences so nakedly? And maybe what is the cost?
I think the best form of art is art rooted in honesty and authenticity. And I think the best part of this show is that honesty and authenticity. And usually it comes from two guys that the show was based around initially, which is me and GaTa, and both of us happen to be independently willing to put our hearts on our sleeve. Because we both have insecurities, but by putting it out into the world, people come up to me all the time and be like, “Man, thank you for putting your insecurities [on screen] about your penis or your body acne. I have my own insecurities, and it makes me feel so much more comfortable.” And what I want to do with art is obviously make people laugh and make people’s days better on just a micro level, but primarily inspire people to go for what they want in life. And then I want people to feel like they’re not alone as far as whatever problems they have. They can look at these characters and be like, “They’re going through something. Look how they’re handling it. It’s easier for me.” So many people come up to me and thank me for GaTa’s mental health stories on the show, and I’m like, “Don’t thank me. Thank GaTa. He’s put the one putting himself out there.”
At the beginning of the season, Jeff Schaffer talked about how honest and vulnerable you are about the real experiences that led to a lot of the story choices. On a personal level, do you look at that sharing with a sense of resolution or catharsis? Do you identify growth between yourself and the way they’re dramatized?
I think its case-by-case dependent. I wouldn’t say it’s like, “performing the scene and acting it made me realize something.” But just simply talking through all these huge things in the writers’ room, there are times where I’ve been like, I didn’t ever see it from that perspective when I was a kid. But the writers’ room is me and 10 brilliant writers sitting around talking about the core tenets of life, and the show has a lot going on but really it’s about coming of age and growing up and the pursuit of satisfaction, peace and happiness. And I think I’ve learned on a lot as I’ve made the show just about the narrative I tell myself what we go after.
Obviously, there’s insecurities I’ve held my whole life and putting them out in the show is cathartic in its own right, like with the penis and having never told anyone — and boom, we put it in the first scene of the series. It’s a weight off my shoulders. But on a personal growth level, what I love about this season is that it explores power and gender dynamics within dating and how a lot of men are in this privileged position where there’s endless options, and women who already are subject to being lower in just the default power structure of society to begin with have to deal with this default attitude of men being like, “maybe I can do better.” And even me as a famous rapper, I never got girls growing up. This is so cool that now I can get women, and so what’s good enough? Could I get Rachel McAdams? And that is a flawed line of thinking, and it’s problematic and it’s not helpful to society and we shouldn’t be viewing women as achievements. And I don’t lecturing people, but if someone can watch the show and be like, “huh, I guess I am kind of that way,” and then they think about their behavior the next time, that’s a win in my opinion.
The finale clarifies that Dave isn’t just wondering if he can get Rachel McAdams, but he’s facing more existential fears about commitment in general. How clearly were those anxieties laid out throughout the season?
There’s just this beautiful overlap in terms of looking for love, looking for validation, and achieving your best as an artist. And Episode 9 does it so well, where they’re literally drawing parallels between “look at how he looks at everything as he’s pursuing his career” and this perfectionistic mentality that isn’t fair as far as the pursuit of love goes. It was all laid out very strategically. And I’m so proud of the writing of this season, because it creates the opportunity to have totally different short films every time we’re in a different city. Everything in Philadelphia is gritty, and then we’re in a Southern gothic horror episode in Mississippi, and then we’re in a real thriller in the finale, and another one’s rooted in documentary footage in Episode 9. And it’s all these different genres, but I don’t think there’s been a season that’s been more thematically connected than this season. From a filmmaking perspective, you never knew what to expect, yet it’s all very unified under the tone of what the show is and the themes that we’re exploring.
How much do you feel like the success of the show has helped you clarify or maybe redefine your creative aspirations?
I had entered this entire series having never acted before, having never written before. Didn’t even have the software, Final Draft, and now I’m writing episodes starring Brad Pitt. Having made these episides this season are especially so validating where I see myself as a director, as a total filmmaker, not just a funny guy on screen. And I think it was getting these people to be in the show that are the stars of the films that are made it all feel very real that I should be taking myself hyper-seriously. Obviously I’m a rapper and a musical artist, but I would always say I’m a comedian when people ask me about the show. But now I feel like if you ask me what I am, I say filmmaker prior to being comedian.
We now live in an era where there is no clear definition of what constitutes comedy — this, “Ted Lasso,” “Barry,” even “Succession” qualifies. How much has the success of this show emboldened you to keep pushing the limits of what your work can be?
Not to toot my own horn, but I feel like the stuff that’s going on in the show is fairly revolutionary as far as a comedy that’s really trying to be gut-bustingly funny but that then one scene later has a grown man crying on it. With Season 1, I was like, let’s make the funniest show on tv. Season 2, I was like, I really am starting to feel like a filmmaker — let’s make things a little more psychological and darker. Season 3, I was like, let’s go back to being the funniest version of the show possible while getting all that artistic legwork that we developed as far as being cinematic and deep and put it in there.
So I think Season 3 is this perfect marriage of everything everyone loves about the show. Even just on an episode to episode level, tonally we have 10 different short films that run the gamut of, sometimes it’s wandering the desert, and sometimes it’s a horror movie, sometimes it’s a true action thriller. Other times it’s total slice-of-life rom-com. Other times it’s documentary-based. I don’t know that another show would take on all those genres. And I know I can make a great standard episode of “Dave” where it’s funny and has the characters and heart and everything, but Episode 9 of Season 2 [“Enlightened Dave”], the Rick Rubin one being such a total departure and feeling to me like the best of the series up to that point, was really enlightening for me as a filmmaker to be like, let’s really risk it. Let’s do an episode where we’re doing all oners.
And this season we just took risks every single week — and none of the risks failed. This is the one time in my career where I think the product has actually exceeded my own lofty expectations. Every single episode is a slam dunk home run of what it could be tonally. So I feel very validated.
This search for perfection is this recurrent theme throughout the series. How much have you been able to identify that not just as a challenge to completing certain goals, but to some extent, an excuse not to when people are, say, asking about a new album?
I wouldn’t say making a season that examines the perfectionistic mentality has freed me of having a desire to be as great as I possibly can be. But it’s more I’m aware that there is no such thing as perfection, and that I will never be satisfied in life because the goalposts will always move. You’ll make a movie and then I’ll be like, “Well, I want to make a movie that is best picture now.” If you live your life trying to have certain benchmarks that are based in validation, you just simply won’t be satisfied because you’ll never have enough. And the theme of the season is, until you’re enough for yourself, you’ll never be able to find love and be happy.
And it only helps me be more aware of those things, and the more I talk about it with smart, intelligent people and the more we could tell stories about it. So whereas after Season 2, which was all about writer’s block and continuing an album, as soon as Season 2 ended, I was like, I’ve got to get back in the booth and finish this album. Now that I’m finished with Season 3, I’m like, let’s live life! And those lessons are a part of this season, and I do think I’ll take them into account as I move forward. But I obviously have not rid myself of my desire to be as great as I possibly can be. But if I was, we’d have nothing more to do.
Jeff characterized the show as a few years behind where you are in your career. How much have the two things have caught up with one another and what does that mean in terms of what you have the opportunity to explore going forward in the show?
Well, it’s tricky because I had never hung out with Brad Pitt or Rachel McAdams before making the show. I had hung out with Drake. But I think that there’s a catching up that has happened. And I do have things pretty well-thought-out and mapped out. But I do think that it’s important to live life and have more experiences. And I’m excited about where the show can go next. There’s so much room to grow for me personally, and for the character in the show and for the stories that we’re telling. And I feel very well-equipped to continue telling those stories.
How much of the music that you’ve actually made for the show is from what I imagine might be your next album?
It’s hard for me to quantify. I try to make the best possible music I can at all times, but with certain things, I’m like, I don’t know if this is an album thing, but it’s really good for the show. Like in Season 2, there was a song about the Ally character. When I’m making music for my album, I’m not sitting making a song about a fictional character. But I had to do that. So I found this really cool freestyle that I made about love that feels like a romantic type of thing, so I had to take those melodies and make them about Ally. So it really is a give and take.
So then, I guess my question is how soon will we get to listen to a new album from you?
My quotes and predictions on this topic have been so egregiously off base for the past three years that I feel like no one should even listen to a word I say, but just know I’m working as hard as I can. It’s truly not for lack of effort. The life cycle of a show is 11 months, and I’m the main guy in the writers’ room. I’m in every scene and a part of directing every episode. I’m in the edit every day with the editor. I’m in every color session, every mix. I’m composing the score.
So I don’t have a second to breathe from the moment we start the season. And that lasts a year, and then I only get five or six months, and then I go back into it. Luckily, what I did in the six months between Season 2 and Season 3, musically, was more fruitful than what I did in the five years prior to that. So I’ve evolved as a musician to where I’m better now than I ever have been, and when I get time to work on music, I can be more prolific. But it still takes time and I’m still not going to put out a body of work until I feel like it’s really the right body.
This interview has been edited and condensed.