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Actors Alia Shawkat and John Early talk 'Search Party's' final season

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

HBO'S "Search Party" has begun its fifth and final season with its leading character, Dory, played by Alia Shawkat, in the midst of an awakening.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEARCH PARTY")

ALIA SHAWKAT: (As Dory Sief) I died, and then I came back. I can see the world so clearly now. I see through the lies and the illusions.

MEREDITH HAGNER: (As Portia Davenport) That's a level of narcissism that none of us can relate to.

JOHN REYNOLDS: (As Drew Gardner) If that's not what crazy looks like, I don't know what is.

JOHN EARLY: (As Elliott Goss) She needs, like, real help.

SIMON: Her friends aren't so convinced. The edgy Brooklyn millennials have moved on from searching for a missing college acquaintance in Season 1 trying to figure out if Dory's new knowledge could set them all on a higher path.

Alia Shawkat and John Early, two of the stars of "Search Party," join us now. And thank you both very much for being with us.

SHAWKAT: Thanks for having us.

EARLY: It's an honor, Scott.

SHAWKAT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Let me start with Dory. She has been through what people would call a near-death experience. She doesn't think it's near at all, does she?

SHAWKAT: Yeah. I mean, she thinks - I mean, she did die, I guess, and came back. Now she's enlightened and wants to help everybody.

SIMON: Dory's a hard person to see as enlightened, isn't she? Let me put it that way.

SHAWKAT: Sure. I think if you know her past, she has definitely made some bad choices. But I think in her mind, everybody deserves forgiveness and redemption. And for the sake of the story, I hope the audience can, too (laughter).

SIMON: I forget historically what it was, but, you know, as somebody said, we forgive sinners; we just don't expect them to lead the choir on their first Sunday in church.

SHAWKAT: Right.

SIMON: Dory wants to find her - you know, essentially establish her own view of truth and religion, enlighten the world.

SHAWKAT: Yeah. I mean, she's definitely bold, to say the least.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAWKAT: She has a confidence that took a couple seasons to come out. And now there's no putting it back in its box.

SIMON: Yes.

SHAWKAT: I think that this story - over the five seasons that we've done - has pretty much been about someone searching for herself, but searching for a higher calling. And it's taken her in lots of dark directions - this whole group. But yeah, at this - in this final season, we find her trying to make up for lost time.

SIMON: John Early, your character Elliott is also a little hard to like, isn't he?

(LAUGHTER)

EARLY: I don't think so, but good to know that that's, you know, your takeaway, Scott.

SIMON: Well, I don't mean to be unpleasant, but he - I mean, he's...

EARLY: No, no, no. He's horrific. He's horrific.

SIMON: Yeah. All right. How do you play someone like that and manage it with such charm?

EARLY: Aw. You know, I mean, I think the secret to our little ensemble is that we don't really overthink their level of likeability. I think if we were to do that, then we would maybe be telegraphing ways in which the actors themselves, you know, are aware of, like, the kind of moral questionableness - if that's a noun - you know, of what the characters are doing.

SIMON: Or sometimes there's no question whatsoever that what they're doing is reprehensible - yeah.

EARLY: (Laughter) Right, right. No, no, absolutely. I think it would be a much more kind of flat and stale show if we the actors were trying to always kind of be ahead of that and comment on their morality, and it's much better to be just kind of inside of it. The key to Elliott specifically, I feel like, is always making sure to balance his kind of Machiavellian moments with moments of, like, extreme laziness.

SIMON: (Laughter) Oh, what a compliment.

SHAWKAT: Well said - very true (laughter).

SIMON: Yeah. How do you feel about people who take "Search Party" as a commentary on millennials?

SHAWKAT: You know, I think this show when we first started was definitely a satire on millennials, a comment on it. But I think it's become so much more than that in the sense that, yeah, based off of the year that we were born, we are millennials. But I think that the show has been so omniscient in just how society has kind of been functioning. You know, through the Trump years is when we made the show - to the election to COVID now. And the show has always mirrored kind of what's happening in the world and yet been able to bring such a dark comedy, like, tone to it. And as the seasons have gone, it's gotten more extreme and more intense and more kind of graphically crazy. And I feel like that's what the world has felt like over the last, (laughter) you know, five years. Things have just gotten more surreal. And I think good art does a really great job of mirroring that feeling of not knowing what's happening.

EARLY: With the millennial stuff, it started as this, like, very kind of solipsistic, like, pursuit of, like, self-actualization. And it's, like, a new kind of individualism, which is, like, about self-care and, like...

SHAWKAT: (Laughter).

EARLY: ...Pursuing your dreams.

SIMON: Yeah.

EARLY: And it's like - but at the end of the day, like, no matter what the generation is, like, all individualism is bad. And, like, I think this show - especially in this fifth season, it gets really kind of global. And I feel like it shows that, like, the kind of logical conclusion of that level of, like, constant individualism is, like, chaos and death.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Oh, and we were hoping this interview would pick us up. Oh, well.

(LAUGHTER)

EARLY: Sorry.

SIMON: No, no, no. I must say I laughed a lot where what I think of as millennial - and they're not just millennial - but millennial, vintage pop cliches are turned against themselves. I think, in fact, John Early, it's Elliot and his companion who say at one point, I need you to be toxic for me.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAWKAT: Yes.

SIMON: ...Which just had me on the floor...

EARLY: Yes.

SIMON: ...I must say.

EARLY: That thrills me.

SIMON: Miss Shawkat, it sounds like you're going to - well, you're going to be wistful about saying goodbye to Dory.

SHAWKAT: Yeah, definitely. You know, this show, these last five to really six, almost seven years since we kind of started it - yeah, I mean, they've, you know, changed me forever. And Dory exists inside of me. And I love her. She also tires me out. She drains me.

SIMON: I'll bet, yeah.

SHAWKAT: It's definitely a wistful goodbye, for sure. I've learned the most I've ever learned on any job on this show. And it'll continue to teach me.

SIMON: And how do you feel, John Early?

EARLY: I don't know. I'm terrified that I'll never have an (laughter) experience like this again.

SHAWKAT: Same.

EARLY: I just can't believe I got to be in something where I got to do a fake rash all over my body. My hair fell out. You know, I defecated in my pants...

SHAWKAT: Who can forget?

EARLY: ...On one episode. Who could forget?

SIMON: This is the whole life cycle, I think - yeah.

SHAWKAT: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

EARLY: Yes, yes, It also has, like - the process has always, like, resisted a certain level of sentiment and, like, ceremony because we made - three of the seasons were released during COVID. So we've never - we never get to have, like, a party...

SIMON: Wow.

EARLY: ...To, like, send it off into the world. And so - and even the last day of shooting, it - there were flash floods in New York. And so they, like, walked into our last scene, and they're like, and that is a series wrap on "Search Party." We have to go right now.

SHAWKAT: Everybody get out.

EARLY: And, like, John Reynolds' trailer was flooding. Like, it was just like - we've never had a proper hug and cry.

SIMON: I hope 2022 you have a really good sendoff and a hug and a cry with each other.

SHAWKAT: Aw, thank you.

EARLY: I agree. We deserve it.

SHAWKAT: We really do deserve it.

SIMON: Alia Shawkat and John Early - the final season of their show "Search Party" - out on HBO Max. Thank you so much for being with us.

SHAWKAT: Thank you. Thank you, Scott.

EARLY: Thank you, Scott - what a thrill.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.