It would be difficult for New Zealand actor Rhys Darby to shake free of his character Murray Hewitt, the earnest and lovably hopeless manager on Flight of the Conchords, but it’s not as though he’d ever want to do that. After all, “Murray” helped launch his career in America when Conchords debuted on HBO in 2007, and it hasn’t hindered him at all from getting work since the show last aired in 2009.
Darby has appeared in films like Yes Man and What We Do in the Shadows, had a notable guest appearance on the rebooted version of The X-Files, and is currently co-starring on two new shows: TBS’s Lost-like comedy Wrecked and Netflix’s relaunching of the popular 80s cartoon Voltron. So he’s kept very busy with new projects but that doesn’t mean that we won’t see Murray again.
In fact, Darby is sure of it.
How did you come about this role on Wrecked?
It was a funny one. I came in kinda late as an afterthought. I think it was all cast and stuff and initially they wanted to cast an older character. They had someone in mind, it might have even been an older Asian man that they had in mind. Then I think someone in the office mentioned me and the creators loved my work and were fans of my stuff. So they thought, “Oh, maybe we could get him.” I just got a phone call. It was a guest role, a small part and what I picked up from it was that it was filming in Puerto Rico so my adventurous side thought “Oh here we go, let’s go there for two weeks.” So I said yes to it and once I got there comedy took over; I enjoyed what I did and gave them a bit more than I needed to, one thing led to another and next thing I know I’m a regular in the series. Just meant to be a guest part but I got sucked in.
You’re a very physical comedian and that’s been put to use right away in the pilot with your destroyed legs.
Yeah, initially I was going to be mangled and was going to be the guy that couldn’t move. Then we looked at it and thought that’s going to leave me with very few options. As Murray I spent a lot of time behind a desk, I had to use my wits in the form of a “roll call” to get some real comedy going. So I thought “What am I going to do here with no legs to move with?” Do I get a chariot? Are people gonna cart me around? And in the end luckily they went with “Hey, let’s get those legs healed!”
Sitcoms don’t usually have setups where characters could get killed off at any moment. Is that something that’s discussed on set?
We were all very aware that things were gonna lead to the death and demise of certain people and we didn’t get the scripts until a week before. We kinda had a clue that we would at least last a season but were told from the beginning that at any point, you could go. So make up your own mind whether you’re enjoying it or not. I think it’s good. I think that’s quite real and that’s one of the fun things about Lost, that nothing’s a given and you’re in a survivalist situation. And even more so in this show which is more like Lord of the Flies, where people just don’t get on. You’re forced to have to get on with certain people you’re stuck with, it’s like being stuck in a lift with different people that have opposing views on everything.
You recently guest starred on another TBS comedy, Angie Tribeca, which is tackling the spoof genre on TV, something few others shows have done successfully.
That was really fun. I knew exactly what that show was all about and I was really happy to be a part of it. The actors were great, everyone was enjoying themselves and it had that feeling of a show that was into it’s second season and was comfortable with what it was doing. I’ve since seen, from being back in New Zealand and also from being online in the streaming world, that Angie Tribeca’s out there and doing really well in all its different platforms and people know about it. It’s one of the few, if the only show, that’s doing that type of comedy. It’s got a good market. Everyone needs the absolute silly now and again.
You were also recently on the Comedy Bang! Bang! Podcast.
I can’t believe I hadn’t done one yet. Scott [Aukerman]’s great. I think the two of us could probably talk for hours about nonsense, trying to screw each other up and make each other laugh. He was telling me he tours that, even taking it to Australia, and I thought “Wow! Just sitting on stage talking bollocks in front of a thousand people? Man, I could do that.” It’s inspired me to maybe get something going on with a podcast. It seems like the easiest, laziest way to entertain, just sort of sitting there with a couple of mates. It was fun.
You’re a part of two very different shows that debuted around the same time with Wrecked and Voltron. How has that been, promoting to very different demographics perhaps?
Voltron is a huge world, it comes with a lot of history, a lot of fans that are my age and come from the original source material, and remember things how they were when they were kids and then they see the new thing coming and they start to panic. Or aren’t sure whether it’s gonna be like it was and of course it can’t be the same, it can only be better. That’s the first time I’ve done something where it already comes with a big world of people who are already kind of waving their arms about “Hey, that’s the wrong color!” or “His hat shouldn’t look like that!” So there’s that side of it with Voltron. But once it’s out there, there’s a whole new wave of new fans, new kids, new parents with kids my age who love the idea that they’re watching something with their kids again. Which is the same feeling I had with Conchords over the years where I had so many parents say “Oh I can watch this with my teenagers. Thanks for creating a show that uses humor optimistically.” So it’s so cool to be part of that world.
Wrecked is another one where it feels like it’s got a young audience, which is quite cool for me because I’m the oldest guy in the show and I sort of came from a show that was sort of made for the youngest sets back in the day in Williamsburg and the birth of the whole hipster generation. Now I’m involved in a show that is sort of aimed quite a lot at the 20-sets who are Snapchatting, which is something that I don’t do but I’m kind of looking at some of the cast and the things that they’re doing and at least I’m involved. Even some of the humor is a bit more raunchy than I would have liked but it’s cool to see how this thing is evolving. And my role slightly gets more and more so I look forward to the next five episodes where my character takes a weird turn. I guess I’m sort of getting a younger audience come through and quite possibly people who don’t even know who I am.
Were you worried about that aspect with Voltron, as far as rebooting something?
The thing I was worried about, which I always worry about, is “Will my character be accepted?” Particularly in this show, I play Coran who in the original didn’t really have much of a personality and that thrust me into it and made it more comical and I think he’s cooler in a way. He gives a bit more of a high energy kind of panic to the whole thing. I’ve had really good positive feedback on that, mainly on the funny aspect. I think that’s what this show steps apart from the original, it’s way funnier. You’ve gotta have humor in anything you do these days, especially in the world we’re living in right now where if you’re gonna watch something you want to be able to smile as well as get excited about it.
How does it feel to see one of your closest friends Taika Waititi, another Conchords alum, go on to direct this gigantic Marvel movie Thor: Ragnarok?
It was quite a shock. But we all know how good Taika is, especially with his attention to detail, and he’s a fantastic filmmaker. At that point, we kinda went, “Okay, right, so this is happening now. Well done. What’s next?” That’s the kind of vibe we’ve had for the last ten years because crazy stuff has happened to all of us. My first movie was with Jim Carrey (Yes Man) and that was a shock. Bret (McKenzie) won an Oscar for his music in The Muppets and that was another moment where we all had to pinch ourselves. Jemaine (Clement) working for Spielberg (acting in The BFG). Now we kind of feel that we’re not surprised by any huge thing and I think that Taika’s job with Thor has proven to ourselves that literally anything can happen now. I’m kind of sitting by the phone waiting for NASA to call, “Hey we need a comic on the first rocket to Mars and you’ve been chosen.” And I’ll be like, “Yes, of course I have. I’ll let the boys know!”
Are you excited for Americans and other people to see Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a new film which you co-starred in and was directed by Taika?
Yeah, I’ve been really impressed online seeing big names, and this is through Taika getting through and hitting the mainstream and getting his films out there and getting them seen by famous people who then are impressed and tweet about it. I’m just really, really proud that his work’s getting out there. And now people are gonna go back and see some of his earlier work. He makes really true, honest films. In a world where there’s so many billion dollar Hollywood blockbusters that you walk away from with absolutely no second thought and think “Man how much money was just wasted on two hours of me just watching buildings collapse?” And then of course the irony is that he is making that movie now with the buildings collapsing. Hopefully he’ll turn it around and bring his honesty and empathy and wonderful artistic ideas to it.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about any developments either on the What We Do in the Shadows sequel reportedly titled We’re Wolves, or with Flight of the Conchords.
The only answer I can give there is there definitely will be something happening on both of those ends but there’s been literally no developments since any other interviews. I am reading books about werewolves and I have seen Jemaine recently. You just can’t beat that “Bret, Jemaine, and Murray turning up out of the blue” combo.