SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from “The Storm,” the April 26 episode of FXX’s “Dave,” now streaming on Hulu.
On the FXX show “Dave,” rapper Lil Dicky’s friend and collaborator GaTa is the best friend and hype man we all wish we had — always around to provide for a few words of encouragement and inspiration, but just as available to deliver some plainspoken wisdom when it’s most needed. That the relationship between Dave Burd and Davionte Ganter mirrors the one they have in real life only amplifies the emotional intensity — and the humor — of their moments together on screen. Burd’s own open-book honesty has further encouraged GaTa to open up about his mental health struggles as storylines on the show, leading to several of the most powerful episodes across its three seasons, including this week’s “The Storm.”
Ahead of “The Storm,” GaTa spoke to Variety about some of the experiences that informed the episode, and explored the real-life foundations of his “heightened” on-screen alter ego. As his profile continues to grow both as a musician and an actor, he also talks about the ambitions — and challenges — that have given his performance such a mesmerizing authenticity, and offered broader reflections on the relationship between himself and Burd that have not just led to success as a performer, but helped him become a better person.
How much, if any, of this episode was inspired by events that you and Dave and the rest of your group have actually experienced while you were on tour?
This episode was inspired by just me having my challenges as an up-and-coming artist, or a person in the industry. You deal with girls, you deal with the loneliness and depression. So we just took pieces from my real life and just put it inside the show and the episode.
There’s two really interesting things going on in this episode. There’s this sort of “big city group” making certain assumptions about people who come from small towns. Then there’s also the ongoing cultural discussion about feeling the need or obligation to say something when we see someone being being pushed down from accomplishing their dreams.
When you’re chasing your dreams, you’re always going to have people giving you backlash or maybe criticism that you’re just not ready for. You don’t want to receive it that way, or you don’t like the way it’s being told to you. But at the same time, you’ve got to always know that no matter if you’re chasing your dreams, you’re going to face that harsh reality, that wake-up call of being corrected or being checked. So it’s very relatable to always be put in your place by people who care about you.
Like me, I don’t get upset when people that care about me check me, because at the end of the day I always reflect and say, you know what? That’s good. They’re speaking their truth. They’re not just here riding coattails and just being a yes man. They’re telling me the real so I can become a better person. So it was very relatable.
You have a scene at the end of “The Storm” where you have this moment of absolute vulnerability. What training or preparation have you done to be able to give yourself over to those really difficult emotions?
I think just the life that I live and the life that I’ve been trying to live is what led me to being able to perform like that. Because like I said, I didn’t always have it easy. I had some trauma in my life growing up, not knowing my real mom and my real dad. So it’s easy for me to get emotional — and I’m also a Cancer, and they say about our sign, we’re emotional people. But I’m just passionate about performing, so that’s what it is. If you go see me at a concert, I’m going to leave it all on the stage. If you see me in front of the camera, I’m going to leave it all in front of the camera right there on set. I’m really trying to win because I know there’s people that know that I’m not a real actor, so I want to show people this is how I can perform and be great.
And I kind of just study film, just being an artist. I always watch movies. Me and Dicky watch movies: “There Will Be Blood.” We done watched so many great movies together, “American Psycho,” stuff that he loves, and I just study. And every time I’m on set, every time I get a new opportunity. I just did a movie with Dermot Mulroney, who was from “My Best Friend’s Wedding” with Julia Roberts. He’s just an experienced, great actor, and I’m just always chiming in with the other actors out there, especially my older peers. I just ask questions. I’m just ready to perform, and I’m just passionate because I always want to be an artist. I always want to be entertaining.
How much participation, if at all, do you have in helping shape the direction of your character or what stories are told about him?
I’m definitely involved, man, because in real life, me and Dave were best friends, and if you see at the end of the show, if you run the credits, it says that I’m a consultant. So I chime in here and there just to add my little bit of flavor and make it more realistic when it comes to telling my story, I add value to that. I just start ripping away and answering questions to make it the best.
As a consultant, when you guys walk through what an episode’s going to be, how do you finesse what the fictional version of yourself would do?
I just always pull from what would I do in the moment in real life, because our chemistry is unmatched. We’re really friends, we’re really bros. So if he’s doing something that I don’t agree with, you’ll see it in episode. For example, with the Benny Blanco episode from Season 2 [“The Observer”] when they was all hanging out and doing the stuff like that with the peanut butter. I had the option to stay there and indulge in what was going on, or I had the option to say, “Hey, you know what, man, I’ll see y’all on the other side of the road. I’m over here, man. Chat with you later.” So I just do what I would do in real life, because I know that’s how we bring the rawness to it.
You’ve shown such a tremendous amount of vulnerability in exploring your mental health struggles. Given how stigmatized that topic can be, especially in communities of color, I’m curious, what have been the most difficult moments of that journey for you to be open about for them to show, or even portray again on screen?
Well, first, the most difficult thing for me to do is actually be able to accept the fact that I’m going to be sharing this very personal information that’s so dear to me, because I’ve got an image to uphold. I want to be the cool guy, you know what I’m saying? The life of the party, always having a smile on my face and always having a great time. So for me to be able to break down and let people know I get depressed, I get weak at times, and some days I feel like being lazy, some days I feel like this or this, that, and the third, it was very challenging. But Dicky encouraged me to share my story because he told me that I would be inspiring people and motivating people, and that’s my desire as a true entertainer, as an artist, is to inspire people. So with sharing my story, I was able to do that and it’s been a challenge, but I put my best foot forward every single day.
Dave has an almost pathological level of honesty. How much has that helped you feel comfortable to be open sharing these experiences, and then actually acting them out?
To be honest with you, it helped me a lot in every aspect of my life. It gave me the development of patience, and then also it made me think, if I’ve got my best friend right here who’s not afraid to tell people that he has two pee holes and he has a small penis, and this, that and the third, it definitely makes me feel more open to be vulnerable, because he’s open about his story and everything that he’s insecure about because it helps all of us.
There’s a lot of self-examination in this season in particular about Dave’s relationship to his fans. What have your experiences been with fans in terms of balancing GaTa on screen, GaTa on stage and GaTa in real life?
It’s kind of easy for me to balance, because I always knew that this is who I wanted to be. I always wanted to be a star, always wanted to be a person that entertains and inspire others. So it’s kind of easy for me because I never really changed. I play a heightened version of myself, so it’s easy for me to connect with the fans because this is who I really am. I’m not putting on no front. I’ve been GaTa for a long time, you’re just seeing different versions of me throughout the show. But I love connecting with my fans because they know that it’s really me. It’s very dear to my heart, too, to interact with the fans, because I always dreamed of having a solid fan base and stuff, so it’s amazing.
Because there’s so much overlap between your real life and what goes on the show, is there anything that’s fictionalized that didn’t actually happen to me and now people associate that with you because of the fictional version?
Nah, I think people know that we pull from real pieces of our lives, but at the same time, it’s still production, it’s still considered acting. Because there’s people to this day that don’t even know that I never went to no acting classes or anything like that. There’s some people that think that, “Oh yeah, he’s an actor. He’s great at that role,” not even knowing that it is really me. So yeah, a lot of people love the show, and I like the fact that we get to put real moments in there, whether people believe them or not. We know what’s true and we know what’s not true, so it’s just dope to see because it’s always drawn from our life. That’s one of my favorite things. Every little detail is something that happened in real life.
Your character also offers this really important mirror today, as Dave navigates a community and a world that he’s not necessarily a part of. What conversations have the two of you had that you especially wanted to show, or recreate, because it might shed light on some of those important differences between Dave’s reality and yours?
I think it’s just about being aware. You know what I’m saying? I feel like us coming from two different backgrounds, we’re always able to make sure that one or the other is on point, we’re being sharp, and we’re being socially aware of what’s going on around the world. That’s why I like having friends in different cultures. Shout out to Dicky, my Jewish brother who taught me a lot of things about what’s going on in the world. How to stay alert, make sure you donate, make sure you’re saving money, make sure you’re protecting the Earth and all that. Me, I’m able to let him know what’s going on in my world, and that’s how we always keep each other balanced. It’s just a beautiful thing.
What was the moment that you knew that Dave was a person who could be a best friend to you?
I had a friend, probably some years back, earlier when I was working with Dicky, he had a injury from gun violence. My friend got shot six times, and I was with Dicky on set vibing, we were working, and he actually sent food to the hospital for a week and all that for my friend and his family, for people to be in the waiting rooms. At that moment right there, I was like, man, this is a good dude right here. This is not even his friend, but he knows that my friend is dear to me and he cares. The position that I was in at that time, I wasn’t able to even think given what was going on, but I’m happy and grateful for Dicky because he cares about what’s going on around me and my world, and he saw how that hurt me.
So that’s when I knew, man Dicky, he is a great, long-time friend. Then also too, when he even checked me into Avalon Therapy, a medical center, when I had an episode. He took me to the hospital to make sure that I was okay and able to get right mentally, and be able to proceed forward with my career and stuff. That was a great thing, and I think he fronted the bill until I got well and was able to take care of it. So it was dope — it was an expensive hospital trip.
The trajectory of your relationship on this series runs parallel with your individual creative ambitions. How much you feel like his own perfectionism has impacted your music? Has the fact that he hasn’t released an album in a while meant that you’ve similarly slowed the pace of the releases that you’ve tried to put together?
He definitely makes me think more — he helped me develop better patience perfecting my craft. But I don’t think that I’ve personally slowed down because I just dropped the song “Too Many Women” during the first episode of Season 3. Last season, I was dropping songs — “Havin It,” “Check Up,” I dropped a lot of stuff, and I’m going to just keep on going. I just really appreciate Dicky for allowing me to build up my platform amongst his audience so I can have viewers and fans and stuff like that. I think it’s dope.
That’s another moment that I realized he was a great friend, because like I said, if you pay attention to the show, you know that everything is real. So last season when we were arguing about, “Hey man, why you haven’t done a song with me, man, I’ve been on stage with you, jumping around with you everywhere,” for him to hold his word and actually do a song with me, which is “We Good,” that song is out right now. It’s almost at four million streams. I’m excited about that. I’m about to go get a plaque made and all that. But when he started putting my music on TV and stuff, and then showing me that I’m getting better, I definitely learned that from him just by taking my time and perfecting it.
Showrunner Jeff Schaffer and your co-star Taylor Misiak both acknowledged that when famous artists appear on the show, they don’t have to worry that they’re going to look bad because Dave is so willing to sacrifice himself for comedy. Is there anything that in a sense of protectiveness or friendship that you suggested maybe he doesn’t have to be the butt of this particular joke?
Nah, I don’t think too hard about it because he’s a professional comedian, just like he’s a professional rapper. So I know he knows what to do to bring out that big laugh. Come on, dude, the Scroguard? There’s just so many things he does where, whether it’s for his personal pleasure or for other people to laugh, it’s genius and it works every time. I appreciate him for putting himself out there — because I always look cool.
This interview has been edited and condensed.