Dan Byrd on how ‘Utopia’ will resonate now more than ever

Dan Byrd in ‘Utopia’
Elizabeth Morris

When we here the term “utopia” we typically think of a place or setting where everything is perfect—well, that’s not the case with Amazon Prime’s latest show of the same name. “Utopia” comes from “Gone Girl” and “Sharp Objects” writer Gillian Flynn, and this show explores a world that is eerily similar to 2020 in a contextual sense. Based off the critically acclaimed British show of the same name, the new eight-episode series follows a group of comic fans who bond over their curiosity and obsession with a comic titled “Utopia,” and that obsession becomes actuality when they are thrust into the reality of the story, one that correctly predicts a pandemic.

This show wrapped production in 2019, unaware of the happenings that were on the horizon for the next year. Although some of the sentiments of the story align with what’s happening in our world today, one of the show’s stars, Dan Byrd (Ian), says that is what will make the audience’s viewing experience resonate more.

Byrd sat down with Metro to discuss more on what audiences can expect from “Utopia.”

Eric Hobbs

What was it about this particular project that intrigued you or made you want to sign on? 

Well, anytime they want to hire me, I’m immediately intrigued. So, that played a big part and then a close second was the fact that it was Gillian Flynn who was at the helm. I was very familiar with her work both as an author and for on-screen adaptations and was a big fan, so the opportunity to be a part of something that she was doing was one that I was really excited about.

What can you tell me about your character specifically? 

I think Ian is somebody who is living a less than underwhelming existence. He is not really fulfilling his true potential, and also has a painful self-awareness that that’s the case. He becomes infatuated with another character that we meet who’s name is Becky through their online conversation and when finds out there’s an opportunity to meet Becky in person, he jumps on it and the interaction between them sort of livens him in a way that I don’t think he felt in quite some time. It sort of like wakes up something inside of him that gives him this new lease on life and this new meaning in his life that was very much lacking before. The entire story only takes place over the course of a few days, so it’s a pretty quick transformation that’s happening, but I do think I gravitate towards people who are sort of down on their luck or that are trying to become something that they’re not. That’s just an interesting sort of compelling dynamic to watch I think, if you can get it to translate. Those were all things that I found interesting. 

Elizabeth Morris

Did you get to check out the British version of ‘Utopia’? 

Oh yes, we were all very familiar with the British version, and we knew that this show was going to be fundamentally different. I always get a little hesitant to call it a remake because that sort of suggests that we’re just trying to simulate what they did very well only a few years ago, but this show feels, and as much as I’m not a huge fan of this term, [like] a re-imagining because it is so different in kind of a fundamental way. So I think we all wanted to have this awareness of the first one, but then immediately forget it because we knew this show had to stand on its own two feet. We’re not going to make that show better than they did, but we have a chance of making this show as good as it possibly can be. 

Gillian Flynn had said she wanted to tone down the violence because she doesn’t want to use it just for shock value, what do you think she meant by that? 

Her saying that, I think she was trying to convey her sensibility when it comes to violence—but make no mistake there is some very graphic violence. I think her reference is just to sort of pinpoint places where it is both effective and impactful to the story and hopefully the reaction the audience is having to the story. It’s not like this show shies away from violence in any means, but she was careful to kind of cherry-pick the moments when we really dig into it. Then, sometimes it can be more suspenseful and can be more effective to sort of imply something but not actually see it onscreen. So, we have those moments too. As far as whether or not that makes it more accessible or effective, that’s open to interpretation and depends on what your taste is for these things. 

Elizabeth Morris

How was it working with the rest of the cast on the show?

It was great, everybody was there for the right reasons, to borrow a line from Bachelor Nation. Gillian is such a grounded, humble, thoughtful person that she really just set a tone and also hired people with similar dispositions, there were no bad eggs on this set. Everybody gelled and got along really well and we all wanted to make the best thing we could possibly make, so it felt like a very safe and nurturing, creative environment that we all got to step into every day. 

Are there any episodes or scenes that you were most excited to see come to fruition onscreen? 

The first episode, which starts at the comic book convention, it’s arguably one of the biggest most colorful setups that we have. It’s interesting knowing where the show starts and where it ends and how they’re in these completely polar opposite environments. I was always really excited about the comic book convention stuff giving the aesthetic of it and given the very lively, energetic nature of it. It was something I looked forward to seeing come to life, and after having to watch the first episode, I think they did a really great job of putting it together. 

Elizabeth Morris

What do you think about the timing for this show? It explores the world in disarray, and we now are experiencing a world that also feels uneasy.

I think it’s all about context. We completed this show almost a year ago now, so it’s been pretty surreal or just another layer of surreal given the way it has sort of tied into what’s happened in 2020 when the show was completed in 2019 before this was even on the horizon. But, contextually, it’s so different than what we’ve experienced over the last six months. It’s very much escapism in nature. It’s got this fun, pulpy, comic book frequency that it runs on and all these sort of intersecting storylines with this hyper-relevant backdrop that is a national pandemic on a different scale too than what we’ve been experiencing over the last six months. It is, in short, no way informed by anything that’s gone on this year. So, the timing of it is bizarre but I don’t think it would impact someone’s viewing experience really, because of the context of the show and everything else that’s going on. Hopefully, now, it makes it more engaging that it holds this layer of relevance that it didn’t last year. 

‘Utopia’ drops on Amazon Prime Sept. 25