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Dirk Gently Star Samuel Barnett Is Your New Queer Geek Crush

Dirk Gently Star Samuel Barnett Is Your New Queer Geek Crush

Samuel Barnett's Long, Strange Trips
Photography: Aingeru Zorita

The lead star of BBC America's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency talks sci-fi, playing straight, and defying limits.

Samuel Barnett settles into a sofa in The Library lounge at New York's Nomad Hotel, orders a decaf almond milk latte, and wonders aloud if the books on the shelves lining the room are real. He examines them more closely. "OK, they are," he says, satisfied.

The 37-year-old British actor is in town for Comic Con, where he's been promoting BBC America's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, loosely based on the books by novelist Douglas Adams (best known for the sci-fi phenomenon The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). Barnett plays the titular offbeat detective, whose belief in the fundamental interconnectedness of everything drives the show's frequently absurdist story lines. Season one saw Dirk teaming up with a hapless hotel bellhop (Elijah Wood) to investigate the murder of a millionaire and take on a bizarre cabal of body-swapping hippies.

"I know it's not for everyone," Barnett admits. "I think it's quite a particular beast." However, he's confident the show's audience is growing, thanks in part to the first season's availability on Hulu. There's also the fact that the second season, which premiered in October, is less of a Gordian knot of time travel and world-building.

"Season one was willfully complicated," Barnett says, "and I think that was done on purpose to show you the random chaoticness of the universe, which actually does connect into something."

This season thrusts the agency into the realm of high fantasy, specifically the magical kingdom of Wendimoor, where a gay, pink-haired knight is searching for Dirk. It also explores its characters' link to the shadowy CIA program Blackwing and the strange goings-on in the unincorporated rural territory of Bergsberg. "All three places feed into the same mystery," explains Barnett, adding that the plot this time around is "much easier to follow."


Jacket & Pants: Prada, Turtleneck: Hermes

Like his gumshoe alter ego, Barnett has developed more faith in his own intuition and instincts over the years, though they haven't always led him where he expected. Growing up in a small fishing village in the north of England, Barnett never expected to be able to carve out a career as an actor. "I had no idea this was an option for me," he says. "Even through drama school, even through my first job, I kept thinking it was just a fluke." It wasn't until he landed the role of Posner in the original London cast of The History Boys and the show transferred to Broadway that Barnett realized he could really pursue performing.

Still, success didn't inure him to certain anxieties. While playing female characters in 2014 Broadway productions of Richard III and Twelfth Night (which earned him a Tony nom), Barnett confessed in a New York Times profile that he'd worried that being out might hurt his chances at greater success. "It's like the folly of youth that I thought I was important enough for anyone to give a shit about my sexuality," Barnett says now. He's still unsure if his sexual orientation ever cost him a role: "You don't know the choices producers are making." But, he adds, "Even if it has affected my career, I'm so happy with the variety of work I've been able to do."

Barnett has played straight more than he has gay, though he thinks his gay parts have gotten more attention because they're simply less common. He can't reveal anything about Dirk's romantic interests, but he says he and series creator Max Landis have both expressed thoughts on the matter: "If we get a season three, we'll find some stuff out." Meanwhile, he's found his footing with the character, who initially seemed a tough nut to crack. "In season two, I feel like I know him a lot more," he says. "He wants to be loved and he wants friends. With all this connectedness to the universe, he can't connect to humans."

This theme of connection feels particularly timely in a cultural moment when we're increasingly alienated from one another by social media and divided along partisan lines. In that regard, the series offers something more than escapist adventure and quirky humor. "As soon as I read the script, that's what resonated with me," Barnett says. "It reminds us that we are all connected, and that we do all need to look out for each other and be kinder to each other. I think it looks at chaos and says, 'It's OK that things are messy, because eventually things will come together.'"

Photography: Aingeru Zorita
Styling: Michael Cook
Grooming: Korey Fitzpatrick at Exclusive Artists using Beauty Blender
(Above) Sweater: Tommy Hilfiger

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