Cobie Smulders is ready for you to meet Dex Parios.
Best known for her extended runs as Robin Scherbatsky on How I Met Your Mother and as Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the actress, 37, takes center stage for Stumptown, an adaptation of Greg Rucka’s series of graphic novels, on which she stars as a Portland private investigator with a military background and a whole lot of baggage. Smulders is surrounded on the new ABC series by a likable cast of TV veterans, including Jake Johnson (New Girl), Michael Ealy (Almost Human), and Camryn Manheim (The Practice).
Ahead of Stumptown‘s Wednesday premiere, EW chatted with Smulders about getting the chance to play a “fully realized woman,” stumbling into action roles, and what to expect with her “unusual” new show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What about Dex intrigued you and made you want to sign on?
COBIE SMULDERS: She’s unlike any character I’ve ever read. It was really exciting to me. I find her very hard to describe, and it’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to her. She’s a bit of a mash of everything: she’s very funny, she’s very closed off, she’s very determined, she’s very flighty, she comes from this tough military background, and she’s unable to hold down anything steady, yet she has this big responsibility of taking care of her younger brother. It’s this messy person who drinks and gambles too much and is not going to show up all the time, but at the same time, she’s inherently good and wants to help others and is quite righteous. It’s exciting to play a fully realized woman, and not just a couple shades of a character.
You got your big break in comedy, but you’ve taken on a lot of action-heavy roles over the last few years. Was that an intentional transition?
I stumbled into How I Met Your Mother, which was the first comedy I’d ever done. So I like to continue to stumble my way into new things, because that’s the only way you can grow and challenge yourself. In terms of falling into roles that are more physical, I’ve always been a very physical person; I played sports growing up, so it’s maybe something I’ve subconsciously been drawn to. What excites me about our action sequences is that they’re not going to be clean, they’re going to be very messy. Dex is not a spy or highly skilled; she was in the service, but it’s been 10 years and she’s rough and she doesn’t work out, so it is mostly defense and really just grounded in reality. We want the sequences to look like a real bar fight, which is uncoordinated and sloppy.
What does the setting of Portland add to Stumptown? It’s not a place that I can remember ever being the center of a TV series.
When you look at the history of crime shows, they’re typically in larger cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, or Miami. Portland is such a fascinating city to me, because I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and there is certainly a lot of darkness in that city, but it comes at you in a very unexpected way. And also what I’ve been finding through the writing of our show and learning about the city and spending time there, appearances are not always what they seem I find a lot of the time. Your token bad guy is not going to look the same on screen if they are from Portland — it’s just a different breed. There’s just a different look to the city; it’s green, super outdoorsy, people love their coffee, there are certain tropes that certainly will come up through our show. But there’s a lot of problems in that city, it’s still a dark city, so it’s exciting to display that and have crime happen in a different way visually.
You and the cast stopped by the EW suite at Comic-Con and Michael Ealy said he was drawn to the show because he couldn’t categorize it. But what should viewers expect week to week? Will it be procedural or more of an ongoing mystery?
I think it will become more serialized. Obviously, Dex is going to be hired to do a job, but usually the job that she takes will somehow lead to another case and another case. It’s not every week going to be, this is the case of the week. It’s very character-driven, and so any case we take on will pertain to the lives of all these characters. They will all somehow be involved and it will affect their lives somehow personally. It is hard to describe because we’re still figuring it out, but I think people will hopefully like our show because of the people in it and like seeing these characters put in situations that they don’t know how to get out of.
Dex comes home to care for her brother, so what can you say about relationship?
We’re still trying to figure out the mystery of why she is left to be sole guardian — what happened to their parents? I think that will be addressed at the end of the first season. There’s a pretty significant age difference, I think it’s something like 15 years, so she has already just from his birth sort of been in a more parental place in their relationship. It’s a complicated relationship; she has this responsibility to take care of her brother Ansel (Cole Sibus), who has Down syndrome, and be a stable person in his life. But at the same time, I think this relationship is really what keeps this woman from spinning completely out of control. I don’t think she would have lasted this long if it had not been for this relationship and responsibility and this love that she has for her brother. She’s tethered to him, but it’s also a tethering that benefits her. So it’s an interesting dynamic, and I think with anyone where you’re acting like a parent but you’re not, it’s always a tricky dance of figuring out how to approach each situation.
New Girl alum Jake Johnson joined in the role of Grey after the series was ordered. What has he added now that you’ve gotten to start filming with him? He’s such a funny guy that I’m sure he’s adding some laughs.
He’s been wonderful. We’re having so much fun. And, again, it’s an interesting and complicated relationship between the two characters of Dex and Grey. You’re on television and you’re on a network show so there’s always like the will-they-or-won’t-they, but it’s such a deeper relationship than that. The first episode after the pilot shows the audience how these two people met and explains their history a little bit. They sort of decided to be friends, and are proud of the fact that they’ve remained friends as long as they have. They built this kind of unusual family unit of the two adults being solely in a friendship but also caring for this kid and making the decision that to be there for the brother is more important than exploring any sort of romantic relationship that, quite frankly, I don’t think my character would ever be able to do responsibly.
What would be your pitch for why viewers should tune in?
It’s an unusual show. I think it’s going to be very unexpected. We’re really trying to do something different and we’re very excited that ABC is onboard to do something that is kind of wild. And I think it’s going to be very funny, but it’s going to be driven by this dramatic undertone in terms of finding these people or whatever case we’re dealing with. It will be a pretty wild ride and hopefully people will want to jump onboard.
Stumptown premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.
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