How ‘Dave’ Star Chloe Bennet’s Real-Life Friendship With Lil Dicky Led to an ‘Inherent Chemistry’ Onscreen

Long before she guest starred as the love interest of rapper Lil Dicky aka Dave Burd’s on FX’s comedy series “Dave,” Chloe Bennet was a television mainstay — first on seven episodes of “Nashville,” then another 136 of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..” Those experiences taught her a lot that she applied to Robyn, a photographer who ventures tentatively into a romantic relationship with Burd, a musician and performer who frequently blurs the lines between his professional ambitions and personal instincts. In “Dream Girl,” the penultimate episode of Season 3, those dueling impulses come to head after Robyn announces plans to move to Los Angeles, forcing them to confront the prospect of a more substantial commitment as Dave’s options — in his career, and his life — seem to be more open than ever before.

Ahead of “Looking For Love” the “Dave” Season 3 finale, Bennet spoke to Variety about the relationship she developed on screen as Robyn with Burd, whom she had known for several years as a friend before joining the show. In addition to examining the attraction — the chemistry — between Robyn and Dave, Bennet touched on the larger cultural changes that the show explores via the romance the two characters share, and reflected on the growth she’s witnessed in Burd since he took on the incredibly taxing challenge of turning the events of his life and work into the foundation of his self-named comedy series.

Particularly in Episode 9, “Dream Girl,” it’s interesting how much vulnerability you exude, but also such clarity, in terms of sizing up Dave. How much did the writers tell you about where this story was going?

It’s a constant thing to differentiate Dave, the person, and Dave the character. Knowing Dave personally for as long as I have, and knowing his general neuroses around the idea of perfection — in all of the ways that that applies to his life — I had some pretty good insight into certain ways that he kind of conducts his life. Then, there’s the character Dave. We have this very specific situation with Robyn. I don’t think I played that awareness.

For me as an actor, it was making sure that I had that kind of purity throughout the season. So the most difficult job for me was just kind of “unknowing” Dave as a person, and going into it with the most pure intentions as Robyn. I think that inherently the end of 9 sets that scene up to be just genuine disappointment and sadness. What I certainly wanted to do was toe the line between feeling authentically and genuinely sad for what could have been, and also equally empower Robyn’s decision to walk away.

What are the qualities that Robyn finds endearing about Dave, given all his neuroses?

Maybe that’s just me, Chloe, being biased, but his neuroses, to me, are always something that I find interesting and I gravitate towards in people. I believe that there’s a lot of people who have those neuroses but are not honest about it, whereas I believe that Dave is pretty straightforward with his inner thoughts in a way that most people in our industry, most creatives, most artists, actually are, but maybe pretend not to be. So, that honesty is something that I inherently gravitate towards in real life.

I think that transferred into Robyn. In my mind, she’s going, “So, I truly value you for who you are in all of your flaws or neuroses or quirks that other people might see and think are not as ideal.” But, I think where Robyn draws a line is, “I need to be valued still.” What I love about this season and what I love about their story is it really highlights this specific relationship, or type of relationships, that I think are more common now in society. At our fingertips, we have the ability to see the entire world and to see the different people and different potentials of realities, whether that be with work, or family life, personal life.

That does something to the psyche — you’re always going to be going, “Can I do better?” It affects commitment. It affects the way we love people. It affects the way that we think of love, I think. I don’t think that’s super highlighted in media, or in shows, but “Dave,” the show, I feel does a great job at showcasing that heartbreaking understanding of going, “I know we have what it takes. But are we both willing to kind of commit to that, or put blinders on and, deny an inherent chemistry?” I think that’s ultimately what I tried to have with Dave on the show, an inherent chemistry, from the get go.

To ask the same question from the opposite direction, what did the writers, if anything, talk to you about what her history is that that makes this chemistry feel so vivid?

From the beginning, I was determined, if I was going to do the show, to not make Robyn an overly prescribed female love interest. I wanted to make sure, with what little scenes I had in this season, that some narrative was pushed forward, that we got a little essence of something else. That something else, for me, was building out her life and understanding where this person would draw the line. There were a lot of scenes that did get cut. I think ultimately what got on screen was the essence of that character, who I think represents a lot of different young women in this time.

Luckily there was, I think, some inherent trust between me and Dave, just knowing each other. That last scene in Episode 9 that I have with him, that was my audition scene. I know Dave well. I knew what kind of things, on the day maybe, he’d be like, “Wait. What?” But in my mind I was like, “Oh, in the edit, I think you’re going to want certain bits like this.” So as a viewer of the show and as a fan of the show, I’ve been really excited to watch Dave, the character, navigate his relationship with femininity and misogyny and the things that Season 3 really does well.

After watching the finale, it’s interesting what that episode tells us about how Dave’s expectations — or maybe his realizations about relationships. How important was it for you to know how broad his fears were, as opposed to the ambient threat to Robyn of Rachel McAdams coming in as a legitimate love interest?

I never ever played it literal: “Rachel McAdams is coming in.” It was always more of an abstract thing, rather than the literal, like you said, immediate threat of someone like Rachel McAdams. I think Robyn is smarter than that, I guess, or more aware of him as a person, which speaks to her understanding of his neuroses — like, “if you have this insecurity around masculinity, of course a sex doll feels safe,” rather than being like, “that’s just weird.” I totally get the tongue-in-cheek concept of “Mr. McAdams,” the song.

But at the end of the day, my assessment is, “I think this is who you are, right now. I don’t know if I want to be collateral damage with you discovering and growing in that space.” As someone who has personally lived in LA for 13 years now, that is the plight of an artist, really, which is, “How much of your personal life do you compromise for the art?” There is a stability, emotionally and psychologically. I think the biggest fear amongst artists is that those two don’t mix well. It’s just a pretty organic topic to explore personally, and also works well for the show.

Jeff Schaffer talked about how so much of what happens on the show is a belated exploration of something that Dave has explored and grown from in his real life. How much do you feel the show is Dave reflecting, learning, growing, evolving as a person?

I am going to answer this strategically, and honestly, as I can. “Dave” feels like an extreme version of journaling, or something. Obviously, he’s pulling from very real-life circumstances. As someone who’s been friends with him for a while, I would be lying if I didn’t say it didn’t enter a state of extreme meta-fucking-inception at certain points where you’re going, “Wow. OK. What is real here?” I think that a lot of art in our industry is some very specific, personal journey of whoever’s at the helm of that ship, whoever is leading that project.

“Dave,” the show, because of the turnaround, because of the fact that it is a TV show with a lot of hours, and him playing a version of himself, there is a timing thing that makes it kind of weird. If someone’s making a movie about something very personal that happened 20 years ago, that feels less weird, more impersonal, maybe, because of time. Because he was able to do this show, and process things in, not real time, but in a still pretty recent time, it is odd — in a great way. Sorry, what was your question?

It was really just if you feel like Dave has grown, either prior to, or because of, these amazing conversations and stories that happen in the semi-fictionalized plotting of the show.

I think so. I know so. This is the kind of thing that will take years for him to digest. He’s deep in the sauce of creating the show and getting these episodes out for everyone. I’m really, really excited for him personally, as his friend, to take space from this, in my opinion, masterpiece of self-expression, so he can really unpack it for himself, not as Lil Dicky, not as Dave the character, but as Dave. I think that’s important for all artists to do. If I know David all, he certainly will do that because no one is more thoughtful and self-aware. But I think that’s something that takes time.

Does being on a show like this change what projects you want to do?

I think the reason that we bonded when we first met was in our pursuit of honest content. I was not really in a place where I was making content that felt emblematic of me as an artist. Where we bonded as friends was always our yearning to make that kind of content. For me, that’s all I do want to make — so I think that’s why it was more of an effortless fit to do “Dave.” I was 20, and I got cast on a show [“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”] that lasted for seven years. I had to pay the bills. That was a whole different situation. So if anything, it definitely lights a fire in me as a creative and makes it even more clear that the content that I want to make moving forward about what I do and do not want to make. I feel like I will thrive much more when I’m more in control of the narrative and the content that I’m making.

The finale does not exactly indicate to whom he sends this big confession of his feelings. To whatever extent you can speak to it, are you planning to stay on “Dave?”

I will always be interested in being a part of the show because everyone involved are such dear, close friends of mine. I do know what they’re planning for Season 4, but I do not know the extent of my involvement. I think it’s kind of been a grind to get this season out, to be completely honest. I’m always open to explore more of their relationships. I also, as Chloe, am very excited to move more into the directorial and producorial space, the one that I came out to LA wanting to do. I think post “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” post pandemic, I am more fired up than ever to create and tell my story.

Knowing that you have recorded music in the past, has there been a conversation about you and he, either in your fictional iterations, or in real life, collaborating musically?

Absolutely not. We’ve certainly talked at length about collaborating as actors and in different projects that we’ve had ideas for, but never musically. I do not think of myself as a musician. I do love being in the studio — that’s always very fun. But no. There will definitely not be a Chloe Wang-Lil Dicky collab. I am very excited for Dave to finally put out an album — I hope he gets time. Most importantly, as his friend, I really want him to just probably sleep.

As we’re wrapping, I just wanted to ask if you could encourage him to release that.

The world is ready. I think it’ll be interesting place, as an artist, to have put himself out there as Dave, and then to go back to being Lil Dicky. I’m curious to see how that experience is for him. But as his friend who cares about him, I think he needs to rest, to take a night and sleep. I think he’s pushed his limits creatively.

It’s very impressive, but it’s hard. It’s hard, man — that’s a lot of work.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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