Actress Irene Choi Talks 'Insatiable' & Playing Misunderstood Villain Dixie (Exclusive Q&A)

We get it: If you've even ~breathed~ near Twitter in the last month and half, then you'd know that there's controversy around the Netflix series Insatiable. Controversy aside, Irene Choi has been putting in a lot of work to bring life to her character—the main antagonist of the series, Dixie. While Dixie appears like a villain at first, she's very much more misunderstood. And granted, we shouldn't need to say this, but don't harass any actors who might be involved in any productions that you find offensive, troubling or otherwise problematic. Actors aren't the characters they portray, even if it is scary difficult to delineate between an actor's stellar performance and their real-life persona. Still, it creates a cycle of toxicity that nobody needs in their lives, DMs or mentions. Seriously, actors aren't the same character you see on screen, and they're so much more than a singular production they're apart of, obviously.

And if you have any doubts about that, then y'all need to pay close attention to Irene Choi's introspective messages because she has a lot of vital insight on not only Insatiable, but about having healthy discussions and learning from our discourse. 

 

Her Campus: You portray Dixie on Insatiable, who acts as the villain in the series—how did you get into the mindset to play her?

Irene Choi: It comes with, I think, drawing inspiration from a lot of people that I know and I’ve met in my life. Because she's such a caricature, I can’t say that she's inspired by this one super awful person that I know—that would be a very truly awful person. But, there are parts of her that are sort of like this collage of other people, other awful people that I’ve met, who had these sort of traits—and exaggerating those traits.

In terms of preparation, because she's such a huge character, for me it’s kind of like a soldier going into the battle and getting ready for that process and putting on her armor. She's so 180 because of her character, so there was a lot to do. We had a dialect coach to help with the accent. Then, we had an actual pageant coach who helped us with how to do the pageant scenes and how to act and walk. Also, our hair and makeup team were so great and put the look together that was just so head-to-toe overdone all the time—full hair, full makeup and full accessories and a very bright, patterned wardrobe and high heels. Once we get to set and put on those high heels and they yell "action," it was kind of really easy for me to be like, ‘Okay, this is Dixie. This is no longer Irene.’

HC: Have you learned anything about yourself from your time as Dixie?

IC: That’s a good question. I think, just in general, being on this series. I’ve said this to other people, but I always feel like the best advice I’ve got as a younger actor was to really stick up for yourself and know your worth. Also, when you can, speak up for other people. Being on a show long-term—because this is the first show that I’m on long-term, so I’m in a lot of episodes, as opposed to before when I might have only been on a couple of episodes and only there for a couple of days—I was really sort of able to see that being done with a lot of our more establish cast members, who would definitely help out other people who weren’t really in a position to speak up for themselves. I think that was definitely really inspirational for me to actually see that because it was sort of a piece of advice that I had grown up with, and I’ve always sort of been aware of in this industry. Like, I’ve always had this piece of advice tucked into my head. And to see it to really see it being done from a cast of such great people, like these are just really talented people, and to see them really help out others was great to watch.

HC: It's nice to see that idea of sticking up for yourself, as well as for others.

IC: Yeah. I mean, I know it's an important lesson in general, but especially in this industry it's so important because I think actors who aren’t as established will feel like they're less human in a way when you're in a work environment like that–but it's not what that means at all. Sometimes it's important for someone who’s a bit more established to remind you and be like, ‘Hey, you're a person, you’re a human being with equal amount of worth as everyone else.’

HC: Definitely. Now, I wanted to jump in to some of the controversy around Insatiable—many even wanted to boycott the series. What were some of your initial thoughts or reactions to this?

IC: I wasn't entirely surprised. I mean, I was on the show, obviously, and I was familiar with the script. In the pilot, and also the script in general, there are some unapologetic and very provocative and sort of very eyebrow raising with their jokes. But at the same time, I knew they had a great and overarching message to it. So when the controversy came out, it was mostly in backlash to the trailer, so that wasn't a huge shock to me. It was surprising how big the controversy got, but I wasn't totally surprised. And I kind of knew that once the show came out that people would actually sit and watch it and see kind of what it was about.

I think a lot of people kind of misjudged the trailer. I've seen a lot of comments and people sort of saying, ‘Oh, you know, I watched the trailer and I thought this was going to be awful. I thought this show was just going to be about fat shaming, but I realized once I saw it there’s a little bit more beyond that.’ Then, I’ve seen people who are saying, like, ‘I've taken something away from the show that I could really relate to.’ You know, it’s important for us to listen.

There are people who are still very critical of the series, and it’s important listen to these concerns because they come from valid emotions and feelings and human experiences—but I still hope that everyone is going to be able to find something that’s relatable to them. The ultimate message is about self-discovery and self-love, and that is something that I think will, hopefully, apply to everyone. I think a really big message, also, is that a lot of people are very critical of the process of self-discovery of all these characters. It just seems so messy, and I think that in real life self-discovery is messy. 

Not really portraying the super role model of these people who should be like, but certainly some of these inspirations come from real human experiences, where in real life discovering yourself has a lot of moments of denial and heartbreak and distress.

HC: Absolutely. I like that because self discovery isn't clean cut, really. It's confusing, and it's a mess at times.

IC:  Yeah, and there's self-discovery in the show within Patty, with obviously her weight loss journey wondering if she's beautiful now. Like, is she going to be accepted or will people sort of start treating her differently? With Bob’s character, with her bisexuality and relationship with sexuality in general, they just have to come to terms with how to label themselves. Everyone sort of has that journey.

HC: Definitely. And given the controversy, do you think there are ways that people can criticize the show, and shows and movies in general, without harassing the people behind the production? Because I know there's been a lot of backlash, especially for some of the cast.  

IC: Absolutely. I think it's important to realize that actors are actors, and that we don’t write our dialogues. I’ve seen people being like, ‘I can’t believe people would sign on to do something after they’ve read all the scripts.’ But it’s like, well, we haven’t. So just that actors are actors, and we don’t always write what we say. For everything that there is in media — except for very small portions like Sesame Street or something, you know what even Sesame Street has controversy — but there’s always going to be these opinions and these concerns that some people are going to find offensive. Whereas, others don’t.

Like I mentioned before, it’s important that these concerns—like if people are feeling offended, that’s an absolutely valid emotion and feeling. But aside from that, it creates a dialogue. And it's important to engage that dialogue, as opposed to bullying people. Other than saying, ‘Hey, I think you should seriously go hide under a rock or whatever,’ which people are really saying. With social justice, we haven’t come this far without dialogue, right?

With dialogue, there’s always going to be push back. Like I said with self-discovery, people will come to conclusions, but it’s not just a clean cut thing. Someone doesn’t correct you and you’re immediately like, ‘You’re right!’ There’s a bit of grappling with your feelings and emotions and your opinions. It’s a long process of learning these things. I think it’s ideal to create healthy dialogues where you’re not being mean, I guess. And ultimately, and hopefully, once you create healthy dialogue, then everyone can kind of go back and be like, ‘Okay, I’ve learned from this experience.’

HC: Absolutely, and then it can move productions even further and we can have even better productions, which I think is the end goal—to improve, well, everything.

IC: Exactly, exactly. Because there were people who wanted to boycott the show, and it was kind of like, ‘Well, you can’t really just censor everything you feel like is going to be offensive.’ Then, you’re sort of shutting down that dialogue, in a sense. In that case, you’re just telling people what to think and not exactly letting them get to a place where you want them to get to.

HC: Yeah, it can take the context away from it all. If Insatiable were to be renewed for a second season, where would you hope to see your character go from here?

IC: So far, we’ve only really seen Dixie be this caricature of this awful person. And we do kind of get to see little hints of her and why she is the way that she is—hopefully, we kind of get an opportunity to explore that future. It’s been explained in the series that she kind of deals with OCD issues and she’s sort of antisocial and misunderstood.

At the same time, something that hasn’t really been, but has kind of been built into the context but hasn’t been said, is that she’s an Asian adoptee who’s growing up in the Bible Belt without a father figure and with a single mom who is a white mom and isn’t even the best parental role model. Perhaps, that is partially to blame for why she is such a wreck of a human being. And she’s best friends with her mom. Her mom could do no wrong in her eyes. Maybe at one point, we see that she kind of starts to question that and is like, ‘Wait a minute. Maybe I can be a better person, if I think for myself and figure out who I really am.’

HC: Absolutely. What do you hope that viewers ultimately gain from watching this series?

IC: I  think relatability and, ultimately ideally, a little bit of healing. It’s important to reiterate that the show is not trying to make fun of problems or glorify it or glamorize it. It’s important to realize that the show is a very heightened reality and none of these characters are meant to be role models. They’re just these caricatures or exaggerations of people. But the best comments that I’ve seen is that people are saying that they can find moments of relatability and some people will heal through some of their own problems, either through laughter or crying. After watching the show, they feel a little less alone.

And again, it’s important to realize that this is not going to be a show that’s for everyone. Not everyone heals in the same way. People heal from their problems and relate to things in different ways. But, there are other shows for other people out there that help them in a certain way. I hope that this show helps people heal in a way that they haven’t really been able to find in a show before.

Insatiable is currently streaming on Netflix.