Comedian Rhys Darby sat down with Men's Health to talk about his role in the upcoming blockbuster Jumanji and his career in a sometimes turbulent industry.
Hi Rhys, thanks for joining us. 21 years ago you had your first stand up gig in New Zealand, how does an unassuming Kiwi end up in a blockbuster with The Rock?
I guess even at that early age, I knew that something would happen to me. I believed as a young comic, if I could call myself a comic back then, certainly a funny idiot, that I was meant for something and that I would get somewhere perhaps with my work but certainly with my determination to make something of myself. Fast-forwarding to where we are now, I mean I still find it weird that i would be in an action film alongside The Rock.
I think the moment that really made me kind of realise that we are all just living 'on a rock' ourselves (if I could be so bold, that comic junior is coming out again there you might want to take a note of that) was when I got the Jim Carey movie cause I idolised that guy for such a long time. My first movie was with him so from that point onwards I was like right this is it - anything can happen, it doesn’t matter where you're from or what you sound like, if things are going to happen they are going to happen and then from that moment, nothing really shocked me.
I did a few other movies after that one - working with Phillip Seymour Hoffman then Emma Thomspon, with Kenneth Branagh so I was 'Oh f*ck you know what, that was brilliant.' I remember looking at Yes Man and thinking 'oh it looks like I’ve been photo shopped into a good movie' and I feel the same way when I look at Jumanji because I watched it the other day and I turned up in the Land Rover next to all these big stars and it looks like 'oh there he goes, he's won another competition, he's been photo shopped into this one' - it still seems weird.
You're best known for being Murray Hewitt on Flight Of The Concords but did you purposely chase quite different roles or did an opportunity come up - were you after something different?
Yeah it's definitely not wanting to be the same thing every time and when you play an iconic role that becomes an iconic role like Murray Hewitt, at least in the comedy world, then that’s what people think of you, that's what they put your name to, your face to, you are that person. That’s a great character but of course once that job's done, other than a few aspects of that job popping up again, you know you’ve got to move on. I was only 32, 33 - now i'm a few years greater - and in that time, I've not really struggled but I’ve certainty grasped at taking other comedic roles and wanting to go down other avenues. I've been lucky enough here in the States that through my management, opportunities have come about - I still had to audition, I still have to prove that I can be other things and that’s just the way it's worked out.
I definitely want to talk more about your career but firstly what can you tell us about Jumanji and your character?
Well I don’t know how much I can give away but I think it’s out there that this movie is a sequel. It happens many years later than the first one. The first one was a board game whereas this movie is a video game so we have a similar situation with the kids but they become part of the video game Jumanji. Jumanji has warped into a video game which is great because talking to my kids and any other kids of today's generation, they aren’t fussed with board games and kids that watch jumanji go 'oh ok it's great but who is going to play a board game' and that’s great.
I guess when you do recreate something, reboot something that you modernise it otherwise what is the point of doing it? I think that’s really cool so when I found out that that was the situation, I was quite happy to be involved because i don’t want to do a remake - what is the point if you are going to do the exact same thing with new actors?
We've upped the ante on the action and on the comedy cause we haven’t got just that one funny person but we’ve got 5 or 6, even the Jonas brother managed to get a couple of laughs so it's great.
There's a host of big name actors in the film so what have you learnt about life and acting alongside someone like The Rock?
[Joking] Nothing. I think he has definitely learnt a lot from me. I learnt how to look muscly, I mean he's a wonderful guy, we got on very well but I certainly didn’t learn anything about the craft of acting.
Did being around him make you want to get in shape? Obviously you are one of the leaner characters in the movie.
Yeah and you know Kevin hart looked after himself as well - during takes and then after the takes, both of those guys had trainers with them. They had stretching bands and I remember Kevin did a lot of stretchy band arm work. Jack Black not so much. He and I would sit there and talk about comedy.
I think what gets you the most about Dwayne is that he really is a juggernaut of personalities and a very popular, big guy, but he also brings joy to wherever he goes - there would be a lot of fans turning up really early just to get a glimpse at The Rock in Hawaii where we shot. I remember back in the day I would watch Arnold Schwarzenegger, I feel he's the modern version of him - he's even better because he can do comedy very well and I think yeah there is something about him almost like a super human quality that makes you go 'f*ck that’s as good as you can get as a person' and I think that he is a really good person - he’s a specimen - if the aliens attack, we'll send Dwayne first and if he doesn't come back then the rest of us should all run.
Well when you did Flight Of The Concords, there was obvious chemistry between Jemaine, Brett and yourself so it must have been easy to bounce off each other but Jumanji features other comedians like Jack Black and Kevin Hart - what was it like to preform alongside those two?
Great, I mean they had more scope in their characters because they got to I guess - they were more human, it’s kind of hard to explain but my character is part of the video game so I couldn’t really work outside my parameters if you can imagine. It’s hard to describe but I couldn't be a loosey goosey funny guy because I wasn’t really a real person - that was new to me because I’ve never been not allowed to do that. I was restricted somewhat where they weren’t, they could be funnier, I thought my lines were pretty good but that was my only complaint.
You were in the New Zealand army before your career took off - how did that come about? Now you're living the life in LA - do you ever think 'shit, I wish I became a commander instead of a comedian'?
No, I’m happy where I am because I think even in those early army days, I knew that I would probably be here or at least I should be. I knew back in the military, my sense of humour was getting in the way of my ambitions of being an officer - I would be getting into trouble for being a dickhead.
I kind of made the right decision to leave and move on and I think when you are young, you have no idea - you feel like your life is going to last forever so you go 'oh i'll do this and I’ll do that' and i think kids of today’s generations have more of an idea that when they want to do things, they better hurry up and get on to doing them because life is short. You know sleeping dudes today who are in there 30s and 40s and thinking 'yeah, i was going to do this and I’ll do that' and it's kind of like 'oh, you’re a bit late to kind of start that now.' I’m glad I did the military and glad I skipped out after 4 years - that was enough for me to get all the glory from that which was really just keeping the training boots.
Research shows that stand up comics are at a startlingly high risk of depression or premature death. Having been on the stand-up circuit for so many years, why do you think that is? What do you do to stay on an even keel?
Yeah, what it is - not even that, it's kind of not being able to get off that guinea pig wheel or whatever the correct term is, you know that wheel where you feel like you are going nowhere. It can happen in any career but it happens to more of a degree with comedians because we live in our own little worlds where we are writing jokes, only socialising with other comedians, going out every night, telling our jokes. And you know getting drunk then coming home and sleeping in then doing the same thing over.
And you are kind of trying to outdo each other with funny. You can try and get as far as you can with it but it's only ever within that world and how I managed to escape it was through finding other work through mainly acting. I guess if you can branch yourself out into other areas then you get to work off other people who aren't comedians and get to keep that sanity. I have a few comic mates who are in that bubble and that's when you kind of do start to lose it a bit I think, especially when you see your peers end up doing bigger tours in huge stadium and you might be doing small things and trying to do the same show at Edinburgh every year and losing money. I was luckily that I got out and through that in the UK to become an actor who can get a role in America.
Have you had terrible experiences with hecklers?
Not really - the odd one but nothing that made me want to give up. Part of being a comedian being able to poke alive anything that gets yelled at. You take that on your back and have the audience behind you and that comes with experience. You're supposed to be the whippy bastard and there are going to be people who don't think so but you have to bring them down and that just comes with confidence the more times you do it. These days no one really does it to me because people come purely for my show and there isn't going to be some guy there that pays to pester me. Gets better as you get older.
Any more shows lined up in Australia?
No, I’ve just done the Australian leg of the tour and now I’m going to be down in Canada so that’s what’s going on in November.
Rhys Darby stars alongside The Rock and Kevin Hart in Jumanji, in cinemas Boxing Day, 2017.