Rhys Darby is a nerd icon. Best known for his role in Flight of the Conchords, he has also had roles in Comedy Bang! Bang!, The X-Files, and What We Do in the Shadows. His latest role is in the new series Voltron: Legendary Defender.
At WonderCon 2016, we caught up with Darby to talk about Voltron, the possibility of him returning to The X-Files, and what we can expect from a What We Do in the Shadows sequel.
Crave: Tell me about your role in Voltron.
Rhys Darby: I play Coran. He is the royal advisor to Princess Allura. He also runs the Castle of Lions. He and Allura are the only two Alteans left. When the rest of the team arrives, the blue lion brings the rest of the team to their planet, Arus. We come out of our 10,000 year cryogenic sleep chambers and welcome these new Earthlings who are going to become the Peledons to fly the lions and defend the universe. [Laughs.] It’s such a weird thing to say.
It’s bonkers, it’s a space opera, it’s very much in another universe. It’s what is so magical about it. There are backstories to everyone, things unfold, and it’s a really well-thought-out world. My character is quirky; he’s like your favorite uncle who has a lot of knowledge about the universe in his head, but it’s kind of jumbled, so he says a lot of things that might not make sense at first. He’s kind of the older guy, so I like to look at him as a sort of Christopher Lloyd character, or a character John Cleese might play. He’s very funny, so it’s a joy to play. They let me get away with a lot of funny, quirky stuff.
Were you familiar with the 1980s cartoon or the anime?
Yes, both of those things. Back in New Zealand, we had the show back in the 1980s. Obviously, I loved the giant lions that combined to make a massive robot. Oddly, what I really loved were the humans who piloted them. Their spacesuits were cool, their helmets were cool, and I wanted to be one of them. I don’t remember my character from back then, but once I got the role I looked back on the series and got some books and stuff, and am now fully into the world.
I feel like my character has certainly been reimagined since the early show. There is a lot more texture to him. He’s humorous and nice comic relief. The entire show is funnier than it was. One of the strengths of the new show is the comedy. That’s what I love about it, not just the action, but that there’s a lot of humor. I think kids love that; adults certainly love that.
Do you feel like the show is geared more towards adults for the nostalgia factor, or is definitely for kids, with something for their parents to enjoy?
I think it is both. I saw the first couple of episodes yesterday, and I watched it with my 10-year-old. I was on the edge of my seat, watching the action, laughed at the humor. It was almost like watching Star Wars for the first time. It’s the same feeling. My 10-year-old, halfway through the second episode, said, ‘This is my new favorite show!’ I knew that he thought it was hip and cool. A lot of the kids cartoons these days are. All the best ones have a lot of comedy in them, intelligent humor so the kids have to think up.
Do you find doing voice-over work is more challenging, because you only have your voice to work with, or easier, because you have more freedom?
It’s both easier and harder. It’s easier because you are going every day to the same booth. The difficulty is you’ve got to really stick to the script. Often when I’m acting in live-action stuff, I’ll put in my own ten-cents worth and I’ll get away with it and they love what I do. I do a little bit of it here, but I really can’t do it as much as I would in a live situation, especially because the words and dialogue of this show are so quintessentially space operatic. Words from another universe; a lot of made-up words, especially my character, because he is this alien who just rambles off, and the Earth characters are like, ‘What’s he saying?’ That’s fun but it’s difficult to get those words right.
When we can get the whole cast in, then we can bounce off each other more. That’s what I love about live-action stuff, which you don’t get to do in voice-over. I haven’t done a lot of voice work, but I know that a lot of shows will just bring in the actors individually and they will just do what is on the paper. You miss out on that connection of having everyone there. The difference with our show is that we do try to get everyone in the room at the same time. That’s where the magic happens. It comes out more real.
You were just in The X-Files reboot, and in the best one of the season, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.” Were you familiar with the show before you came into it?
Yeah, it was a phenomenon; I think the whole world knew about it. Back in the 1990s, I was in the New Zealand army for like four years, so I only saw a little bit of it. I am a massive paranormal fan, so this is my favorite genre, particularly cryptozoology. I have my own radio show about it, called The Cryptid Factor, which combines humor with the fascination with the possibility of creatures that are out there. So when I got this role, it was almost too good to be true: I’m actually playing a cryptid!
Then I thought, ‘Hang on, is this going to be dramatic? Have I been given this role because I’m a good actor?’ I rehearsed and went into the first scene, in the graveyard and [played it straight]: ‘Hi Mulder, yeah, I lost someone recently.’ Darin Morgan, our director, said, ‘Okay, just be your normal, quirky self!’ Then I realized I could do comedy and the results are there.
Still, it was a difficult job. There was a lot of dialogue in that one, but what an episode. It was so cool. I was so proud to be in that one.
Chris Carter has said that The X-Files will get another season. Any chance of seeing Guy Mann again?
My favorite thing is that I didn’t die! I ran off into the forest and said I was going to have my 10,000 year sleep. Isn’t it funny, because as Coran, he wakes up 10,000 years later! That’s so creepy, it’s the exact same number!
Maybe you really are a cryptid!
I know! I’m from another planet, I run the Castle of Lions on the planet Arus, then I come to Earth and I’m a reptilian.
It rated so well, and my episode in particular was a fan-favorite, some people are saying even from the old seasons, this one was one of their top five. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they bring Guy Mann back. It’s certainly easy enough for them to do. The only reason he changed was because he was bitten by this savage human, so I guess I would have to get bitten again. Or, his changes don’t stop! He keeps changing, so maybe he comes back from the forest and says, ‘I’m still changing! Look at me!’ But he’d know more about being a human. I’d love to come back.
Maybe get your dog back from Scully.
Yeah! Get Daggoo back!
What else are you working on right now?
I have a show called Wrecked coming in June for TBS. It is a comedy series, kind of a comedy version of Lost. We are stranded on a desert island, a whole bunch of misfits, coping with life. It’s very Lord of the Flies. We all go a bit mad.
There have been rumors about a sequel to What We Do in the Shadows. Any truth to that?
Yes, definitely. We want to make that, so then it just comes down to people’s schedules. Taika would be at the helm of that, and he has Thor 3 to do now, so getting him to be available is going to be difficult. Jemaine [Clement] is the other one who co-created that and directed as well. He’s very keen to make it happen. We’ve spoken about various werewolf ideas. We know where we want to go with it. It will be a bunch of nerdy werewolves. I hope that happens. It’s still in the early idea stages.
Will it be a direct sequel, or more like in the same “series?”
I’d say it would be the same documentary crew, just following the werewolves instead of the vampires. It will happen just where we left off.