Rhys Darby on His Optimistic Vibe and Love of Whimsy with Relax, I’m from the Future

Rhys Darby is an unassuming charmer who first got real attention alongside his fellow New Zealanders Taika Waititi, James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, and Bret McKenzie when they all worked on Flight of the Conchords, the little cult show that could. Since then, Darby has starred in several of Waititi’s films (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the recent Next Goal Wins) and has lent his voice to a wide array of animated titles, such as Voltron: Legendary Defender, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Curses! It really wasn’t until 2022, though, that Darby became a bona fide sex symbol.

That’s mainly because of Our Flag Means Death, David Jenkins’ brilliant pirate comedy starring Darby and Waititi, among many others. Fans universally ‘shipped Darby’s character Stede and Waititi’s character Blackbeard, and became emotionally invested in their relationship. Now even a fan account of Darby has a quarter of a million followers on Instagram, and there’s a lengthy Tumblr fan group devoted to him, The Totally Normal for Rhys Darby Tumblr Association.

This newfound attention has considerably helped the new sci-fi comedy, Relax, I’m from the Future, which is a perfect sort of vehicle for Darby. He stars as Casper, a man from the future (duh) who is very bad at time travel and very goofy. Gabrielle Graham plays Holly, the leftist activist who picks him up off the street and profits off his foreknowledge of the future with sports betting. Casper’s actions have consequences for the direction of time’s arrow, of course, leading a bounty hunter to track him down and stop him.

Darby’s great for this in many ways, considering that the film is very much about the battle between optimism and nihilism, and the deeper complications therein. Darby spoke with MovieWeb about the film, his character, and his penchant for whimsy, absurdity, and optimism.

A Goofball from the Future

Relax, I’m from the Future

Release Date
September 22, 2023

Luke Higginson

Gabrielle Graham, Rhys Darby, Julian Richings

Not Rated

1hr 34min

Sci-Fi, Comedy

MovieWeb: This seemed like a tough shoot. You flew almost straight from finishing season two of Our Flag Means Death and into a very cold Ontario in January, having only 15 days to film. Why did you take on Relax, I’m from the Future? Why did you think it was worthwhile?

Rhys Darby: Because of Luke [Higginson], and because of the idea. I love time travel, and I had just come off Our Flag Needs Death. He offered me this role. It was a cool title. I looked at the short film, and then I read the script. I had a chat with him and he was super nice, and he was just really gunning for me and wanting to do it. And so I thought, “Why not?” I went up there and I had a blast. And I somehow knew I would, even though it was cold and I was in Hamilton. It was a fun time.

Related: Time Travel Was Totally Unrealistic in These Movies

MW; You’re a naturally funny person who likes to improv. In a genre like sci-fi, where you can be a little more ridiculous and stretch realism a bit, did you feel more freed up to be goofy here?

Rhys Darby: I just felt like this guy was a bit of a goofball. You know, he ended up there by mistake, and he was kind of making it up as he went along. And I guess that was just his personality. So, knowing that, and that this was a comedy, and I was cast in it, and as the lead, I want to make things funny. I’ve done a couple of rom-coms in the past, one in New Zealand, which I’d wished had been even funnier. But then when I look back at it, the director’s choice was to make it more romantic. And I think he made the right choice. But at the time, I was thinking, “Man, this could be so much funnier, I do all these great takes.”

Rhys Darby: Because my instinct is to be way more goofy and hilarious, and then I need to be pulled back and go no, no, no, don’t. So yeah, that’s when the writers and particularly the directors on these things really earn their money because they know what they’re doing. Because if it was up to me, I’d probably make it even more ridiculous, so I’ve learned over the years to listen to them. Now when I eventually do, maybe one day, create my own film, I mean, it may be way too much.

Injecting a Little Bit of Effervescence Into His Characters

MW: Relax, I’m from the Future has a very wholesome and delightful quality to it. Do you find yourself gravitating toward projects and characters that have a sort of kindness and whimsy to them, or do you think you just inject that into most things you do?

Rhys Darby: I think it’s a bit of both. I’m definitely attracted to things that have a whimsy, things that are quirky, things that are weird. That’s the things I’m attracted to for sure. But when it comes to injecting a little bit of effervescence, a little bit of fun, empathy, and obviously silliness, but an optimistic vibe, that’s kind of what I bring to the table. And when I see that that’s going to work for the character, I think it just makes the audience root for that person more. When you look at Our Flag Means Death, it could be someone that’s truly troubled and should not be doing what they’re doing. But for some reason, you still sort of have their back.

There’s an innocence in some of these characters that I play. And I think that’s important as well, because they mean well. They’re not 100% sure what’s going on, and I think that resonates with most people, because no one really is sure what they’re doing every day. They’re just sort of faking it. And if I can play a character that is likable, he’s making it up as he goes along, then I think yeah, people can relate to that.

Related: Best Sci-Fi/Comedy Movies, Ranked

You Can’t Not Like That Rhys Darby

MW: Adam Devine is also specifically talented at these kinds of characters you’ve been describing. When we spoke to him for Pitch Perfect, he said, “There’s something so endearing about a sweet, nice guy who is also a total idiot,” while the writer compared him to Homer Simpson. Do you kind of feel the same way?

Rhys Darby: When you say Homer Simpson, that’s exactly what he is, and you can’t not like that guy. But I think the difference with what I do, is that I try to have someone who is a little more interested in trying to figure out what’s happening in life, and he gets it wrong. But he also has a confidence that he shouldn’t have. And I think once you have those elements, then you’re more willing to follow that person; you’ll follow someone who’s got a confidence. I think there’s just two steps before being a trickster, as someone who’s like conning someone, and they’re not. They’re innocent, but it looks like they could be [a con].

And so it’s finding that right line. Because if you go too far, and you think you’re gonna lead everyone to some great thing, and then it completely fails and people die or whatever, then you’re horrible. So there’s a fine line of how you get to a point to be trusted. Especially when you’re, as you say, a bit of an idiot as well.

Rhys Darby: So it’s complex. And I think someone brought that up in another interview recently, and that I can pull that off because — it is hard to explain. It’s hard to write down on paper, especially when you look at some of those characters, like Stede who, you know, left his wife and kids — you shouldn’t like him at all. And when it comes to Casper, I mean, people would barely give that guy five minutes of the day; Holly was very trusting of this maniac. There’s something inside him that I think convinced her, and this is well done on her acting as well on this character, because she looked convinced.

Rhys Darby: I grew up watching Monty Python, so it’s just absurdity. You know, it’s silliness and things like that. The more grounded and the more real and stuff is something I’ve learned to do over the years. I’m at the point now where I can go full dramatic, which I’ve shown on a couple of occasions, especially in the last season of Our Flag Means Death. And I like it. I like the challenge.

We like it, too. While HBO has yet to reach out to Darby about a third season of Our Flag Means Death, the actor stars alongside Minnie Driver in the film Uproar, which has drawn critical acclaim in New Zealand and Australia. Watch for that next year, and in the meantime, check out Rhys Darby in the film Relax, I’m from the Future, which is available to rent on digital platforms like Google Play and YouTube (see below).

Rent on YouTube


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