Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan talks to GaTa from Dave on FX about his first acting role. . .playing himself.
As Dave’s manager Mike (Andrew Santino) acknowledges in the episode “Hype Man” of FX’s Dave, based on the life of rapper Lil Dicky, it is ironic for a hype man (the person who gets the audience revved up before a show) to be clinically depressed. And yet this wasn’t a diagnosis written into the show to make a statement—this really happened.
In the fifth episode of its first season, the comedy series gets a little serious when it focuses on Dicky’s hype man GaTa, playing a version of himself, when he reveals to his friends that he’s bipolar. It’s a stunning scene, that has so much authenticity and heart that people immediately started talking about GaTa as an Outstanding Supporting Actor Comedy Emmy hopeful.
I chatted with GaTa about what it was like to pull back this layer about himself, in his first ever role as an actor, and what he’s learned from playing the part he was literally born to play.
Awards Daily: I was blown away by your performance on Dave. You’ve never taken an acting lesson, and you have your first TV role, playing a version of yourself. That’s quite the feat! Did you do any kind of preparation for this role?
GaTa: Oh, no. Definitely not. I didn’t do no type of preparation. I just wanted to shoot from the heart, straight from the hip. The only thing I really prepared for was every day being long and working hard and trying to be better every day. That’s it.
AD: I talked to [showrunner] Jeff Schaffer and he said how authentic everything is on the show, and that really speaks to that. All of Dave’s friends fulfill something in his goal as a rapper. Mike’s business. Elz is creativity. How would you describe Dave and GaTa’s relationship and how does Dave fulfill GaTa?
GaTa: Honestly, I think me and him are like water and oil. We’re total opposites, but when we come together, it’s like we really mesh very well. It’s like an unheard of mesh, because we come from two different worlds. Dave, he’s very intelligent and very ambitious, and I feel like I’m intelligent, but in a different type of space or world. As far as my education, I didn’t finish college. Everything he knows, that I don’t know, as far as finances, business—he teaches me. It’s about patience. I come from a different environment. I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, so my mindset, I’m thinking about the next step, he’s thinking about five or 10 years from now. I’ve developed a lot of patience with him. He’s taught me a lot of great things. We have a Kobe and Shaq type of relationship.
AD: What does GaTa fulfill for Dave?
GaTa: I think I give him the ultimate confidence, as far as believing in yourself and never being afraid to be who you are, not worrying about opinions and more so day-to-day stuff like having the confidence to speak to a girl, tell her she’s hot, without thinking twice. Little stuff like that, trying on a different shirt with some different type of pants. As far as the music stuff, he got that. I just help him with his day-to-day confidence and being that extra battery in his pack, because you always need people to have your energy and I think my level of energy matches his.
AD: The “Hype Man” episode is all about you. How did the decision to reveal your bipolar diagnosis on the show come about?
GaTa: It took a little while for me to make the decision, but it came about just knowing that I had a great support system behind me. I had Michael Hertz, who manages Dicky and myself. My mom and sister were always in my corner, just going through the whole process. At first, I didn’t want to reveal it, because I was embarrassed, but my support system they reinforced there’s nothing to be embarrassed of; you’re going to help people by sharing your story. There are many people around the world just like you. Once they made me feel comfortable and knowing it was going to be all right, that I was keeping healthy and taking my medicine, that’s when I really wanted to share it with people. There’s a heavy dark stigma around bipolar and mental health awareness in the Black community, and especially in the music industry, too, with being a man.
AD: You’re genius in that scene, because you’re both heartbreaking and hilarious. First I want to cry, then you make me laugh when you start tearing up, saying “This dude raps about having a small dick all the time.” Your voice breaks when you say that. What was it like filming that scene?
GaTa: It was emotional because I’m not an actor. I was really digging into places in my mind, thinking about No. 1, this is changing my life, so I’m excited. I cried for like a week straight, knowing I’m going to be in this position, where this could take me, the possibilities. Then I’m thinking about my past, all the hardships and the trials and tribulations that I’ve been through, how long it’s taken me to finally get a decent amount of spotlight. I just had all those emotions built up in that scene and the hospital scene. And when I revealed that to them that I was bipolar, that actually happened in real life. I’m just even thinking about that moment, when I really told Dicky and Hertz that I was bipolar. It caught us all off guard. We stopped rehearsal for 30 or 40 minutes, just so we could talk about it. It was a real moment. I was reliving it. I was reliving moments that I actually lived through.
AD: I know there’s a lot of improvising. Were you comfortable with that before you started work on the show? How much do you improvise?
GaTa: Oh, yeah! Definitely. Oh my god. I love to be able to know I got the green light. The script is really not me. These writers are writing words. I’m gonna take that back. The script is me, but they’re writing based around me, but as far as the dialogue and wordplay, they can’t predict my delivery. So that’s why they gave me the green light because, when I shoot from the hip and shoot from honesty of my heart and go stray away from the script, I come up with better stuff than what’s already written. I love the fact that I get to freestyle and be myself. It makes me feel more comfortable anyway. Actors are so trained to follow guidelines, hand signals, and stick to the script. Being able to improvise in my first role, it just made me feel even more comfortable, and I love Jeff for that and I love Dicky for allowing me to do that.
AD: How much of the stuff on the show is taken from you and Dave’s real-life relationship? Have you slept in his parents’ basement?
GaTa: Oh, yeah! For sure. That’s how we come up with these great scenes. For the fans that do know, they know I’ve been his hype man for over 6 years. But that’s just a small percentage of the people watching the show. But for everybody else, they don’t know that I’m really his best friend in real life. They don’t know that I’m really his hype man. They didn’t know that I would really engage with his family like that. This show is based upon what Dicky has been through and my scenes are based on the things that me and Dicky have really been through. That’s how we come up with the material. We sit down and think, ‘We was on tour this day, and this happened this day.’ And that’s how it comes out. That’s why I love the show. It’s true to Dicky’s life and true to his art form.
AD: Have you learned something about yourself in the course of playing yourself? Would you recommend it to others?
GaTa: I learned that I don’t know it all, because I was so used to being on stage and performing and writing songs in my own backyard and just dreaming. I learned anything is possible, and you can do anything if you always believe in yourself and surround yourself with great people. That’s the main thing that I’ve learned. I’ve been in the industry for a long time, and I surrounded myself with people who I thought were my friends, who I thought would look out for me, and that wasn’t the case. Making the show, I learned that you always have to surround yourself with great people. Even if it takes time to learn in the process, just make sure that you’re learning the best from the people around you. That’s what I learned. It doesn’t matter what race you are or whatever—you can learn something from anyone. You can learn something from the bum off the street. Just always listen.
AD: You’re my pick for Best Supporting Actor Comedy. I hope you get a nomination and win.
GaTa: Man, I do, too. That would mean the world to me, but even if I don’t win or don’t get nominated, I already won in my mind. Thank you. I’m not even supposed to be here, where I come from. I already won in my mind. This interview is my Emmy.
Dave Season 1 is streaming on Hulu.