Irene Choi is the delightful scene stealer on Insatiable that you can’t help but love (or love to hate). Her scenery chewing, will-stop-at-nothing-until-she-gets-to-be-a-pageant-queen Dixie Sinclair is one of the most memorable comedic villains on a show since, well, we can’t remember the last time we’ve seen someone quite like Dixie. You may recall seeing the talented actress as Annie Kim on Community or as Ester Park on the now defunct Mozart in the Jungle, but it’s her mesmerizing turn as the manipulative Southern beauty queen (opposite Debby Ryan) that’ll catapult the actress to star status.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our phone conversation with the entertaining Irene Choi.
Brief Take: Congratulations on the show! I had so much fun watching it and, I imagine, you had a blast making it.
Irene Choi: Thank you! Yes, it was a fun ride.
BT: How did you first get involved with the project?
IC: It was pilot season in 2017 and it was all really fast. I heard about it on a Wednesday night, it was for a Thursday morning audition, and then on that Thursday they said “you’re testing tomorrow”, and that was basically it. It was a 48 hour process, which is super quick for pilot season!
BT: Tell me about Dixie Sinclair. She’s so over the top and yet you can’t help but root for her the entire time!
IC: I hope so! Even though she’s the villain, maybe there’s a part of her that people feel bad for. She doesn’t really have any friends, you know? I hope people think “I hope this girl finds happiness and solace in her life”. In terms of getting into character, we had a dialect coach that helped us all with our accents, which was really helpful. Our wardrobe person was so fantastic in putting together everybody’s wardrobe, but with Dixie’s wardrobe, she’s just head to toe over the top. She’s full hair, full makeup, full accessories, and not afraid to over accessorize. So that was a lot of fun. It was definitely a kind of armour where, after I put it all on, I felt like a completely different person.
BT: One of my favourite duos on the show are Dixie and Regina Sinclair, played by yourself and Arden Myrin. What was it like creating that mother-daughter dynamic with her?
IC: They’re definitely super loyal to each other because Dixie doesn’t have any other friends besides her Mom. Arden comes from a improv background, she did MADtv, so in terms of great improv and strong character choices and strong comedic choices, she gave 100 per cent. For an actor, it’s great to work with someone like that and also, as a person, she’s very effervescent and magnetic. As a character, I felt like “Oh, my Mamma is here! this feels better”, and as an actress, it felt easy with her and was terrific having her on set with me. She made the scenes more fun and, as a result, I felt more confident in doing those scenes with her.
BT: I thought your character was hilarious when she lived in the Barnard household. What was your experience like working with Christopher Gorham, the “Daddy” that Dixie so desperately yearns for?
IC: Yeah, the story is that Regina is a single Mom, so I’m really looking for a father figure and he’s kind of the only person who can be my father figure at the time. Then the joke is also that he’s a really attractive guy, so I call him “Daddy”. But he’s just such a consummate professional and such a kind person in real life and as an actor as well.
BT: It looked like all of the women on the show really bonded with each other off set. What was it like acting opposite Kimmy Shields, Debby Ryan and Erinn Westbrook?
IC: Yeah! There were a lot of women on set and all the women play these strong characters and that’s partially because they’re all strong women in their every day lives. They were all so great! We were all friends. I didn’t have too many scenes with Kimmy Shields, but I would have loved to because I felt like our early scenes together were really great. With Debbie, in our scenes together I’m just so mean to her. There were times when after they’d yell “cut”, I’d say to her “I’m so sorry! I really didn’t mean that”. [laughs] With Erinn, I felt like our relationship on screen mirrored our relationship in real life. Once our characters started bonding, we definitely became a lot closer as well.
BT: Did you have a favourite scene to shoot?
IC: Personally, I loved the bullying assembly. I had a lot of fun with that scene and I had a lot of choices and freedom to do a lot of funny takes. So that was really fun. There’s a moment that you can’t really see but I’m staring at Debby’s character and we did three takes where I’m just staring at her forever, and then occasionally she’d look back and we’d just break character. It was so late into the night and we didn’t have time to waste, but I just had so much fun shooting that with Debby. As for other scenes, I wasn’t in it, but I loved watching the Dirty Dancing scene with the two Bobs – Chris and Dallas Roberts -with Chris in his gold booty shorts. They were doing that scene for a few hours but I never got sick of watching them. Every single take I was laughing in the back of the room. Even now, as I watch it on Netflix, I can’t stop laughing. It was such a delight and a half to watch them.
BT: What are some of your favourite things to watch on Netflix?
IC: Well the minute that Stranger Things comes back, I’ll be watching that. I’m also a sucker for the true crime, documentary-style shows like The Keepers. I’m also very into Orange is the New Black, and I’ve really been enjoying GLOW. I worked with Alison Brie before on Community and she’s super talented, but she’s also very sweet.
BT: What are some special memories from your time on Community?
IC: For me, it was my first time as a recurring character, so that was really exciting. I went into it being super nervous and super intimidated because I was surrounded by comedic veterans and everyone was super talented. Gillian Jacobs and Alison Brie are incredibly talented, then you had Donald Glover, Danny Pudi, Joel McHale and then Chevy Chase is such a comedic veteran. But people could not have been nicer on set. That cast was so welcoming and just so kind to me, which was really sweet. They never once made me feel left out and it truly felt like a community. I know that’s cheesy to say because it was also the name of the show, but there was such great energy on set and everyone had so much fun with each other when the cameras weren’t rolling as well. Once I went on there, they made it really easy for me to feel comfortable and not nervous around them.
BT: You’ve been on some of the best shows during your acting career and have really shown your tremendous range as an actress. Are there any people that you’ve worked with in the past that you’d particularly like to work with again in the near future?
IC: Just because this is more recent and fresh in my brain, Gael Garcia Bernal. I worked with him on Mozart in the Jungle and he was directing an episode for the first time, I think the only time he directed an episode of that show. I’ve been a fan of his work for forever, just as a dramatic actor, and it was just great to work with him as a director as well. He seemed nervous because it was his first time directing, but he was extremely cooperative and generous with his directing, and I thought that was really sweet. I’m really rooting for him to do more directing work.
BT: Are there any other directors that you’re keen to work with?
IC: You know I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of female directors, most of which have been more recent in my career. I worked with Jamie Babbit on Silicon Valley, then with Kate Dennis on CSI: Cyber and with Tricia Brock on Mozart in the Jungle. I’ve noticed that that’s been more of a trend in the recent years than in the past years. That’s definitely been a change that I’ve seen in the industry and it’s a positive change that I’m happy to support.
BT: Is there going to be a second season of Insatiable? Have you heard anything about a renewal?
IC: I have no idea! And that’s not me being secretive. [laughs] I really have no idea! We haven’t heard anything so we’re definitely keeping our fingers crossed.
Insatiable is currently streaming on Netflix