In DARBY AND THE DEAD, after suffering a near-death experience as a young girl, Darby Harper (Riele Downs) gains the ability to see dead people. As a result, she becomes introverted and shut off from her high school peers and prefers to spend time counseling lonely spirits who have unfinished business on earth. But all that changes when Capri (Auli’i Cravalho), the Queen Bee of the school’s most exclusive clique, unexpectedly dies in a freak hair straightening accident, resulting in the obnoxious cancellation of her upcoming “Sweet 17.”
Capri, however, pleads with Darby from the other side to intervene and convince Capri’s friends to proceed with the party as planned. In order to appease the wrath of the undead diva, Darby must emerge from her self-imposed exile and reinvent herself – which along the way allows her to find new joy back in the land of the living.
Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings took part in the global press conference for DARBY AND THE DEAD, moderated by Lisa Cabello. On hand were actors Riele Downs (“Darby Harper”), Auli’i Cravalho (“Capri”), Asher Angel (“James”), Chosen Jacobs (“Alex”), Nicole Maines (“Piper”), Kylie Liya Page (“Taylor”), Genneya Walton (“Bree”), Silas Howard (Director), Adam Saaunders (Producer) and Eddie Rubin (Producer).
Kicking things off, Lisa Cabello chatted with Riele Downs and Auli’i Cravalho where they discussed their characters Darby and Capri and what their experience was in pretending that they hated one another.
“I will go first, only because it is impossible to hate Riele and every moment was not torture because it was so funny. It was so fun to play off of Riele,” stated Cravalho. “I don’t think I’m too much like my character, but I will say that it was very easy for me to become her. So I’m not really sure. Maybe there are bits of me that decided to show itself with Capri. I love her confidence, and yeah, it was really fun. This whole cast is Gen Z, so we all played off of each other really, really well.”
“I want to second that and say same to Auli’i. She’s impossible to hate. She’s so fun, so funny, so talented. So, it was very easy to play. It was easy ’cause she’s talented,” explained Downs. “But at the same time, it was hard because neither of us…we didn’t hate each other or anything. For me, I guess I’m somewhat like my character in a few ways. I am a little more on the introverted side. I like to do things by myself sometimes or a lot of the time, I guess. But in terms of, like, stylistically, I feel like Darby likes to go more, you know, just one color, and I like to kind of play and do all types of things, so I guess that’s how we’re different.”
One of the more interesting aspects of the film is that our female leads are supported by their male contemporaries instead of the opposite, something unusual for a film like this. In discussing this with actors Chosen Jacobs and Asher Angel, they commented on their approach to their characters and if that aspect of the film was appealing to them as actors.
“I think for me, whenever I look at a script, I just look at does the script have genuine, interesting characters. No matter if it be a man or a woman,” explained Jacobs. “[J]ust to read the script, every character is very fully developed. You know, every character in their own could have had their own spin-off, and I always look for that. That every character really has a true layered role. So, to know I’m gonna be in a movie with Auli’i’s and Riele’s characters and Asher’s and everybody’s characters, I was excited just to get to play with so many different people and just such great talent. And that’s always gonna [deliver] a cool product, and I think we have that.”
“To follow that up, all of our characters are going through their own thing, and I think being an actor and getting to dive into that [is] something that’s super special. And it’s one of the things I really love to do,” explained Angel. “[G]etting to work with Riele and Auli’i and Chosen, and watching them do their thing every day, and watching them come to set and take on the character was one of my favorite things. Because it’s nice to be in an environment where you’re able to learn from others. Especially as an actor. So I think getting to do that was probably one of my favorite things I’ve been able to do on a set, by far.”
With this film paying homage to such teen films as Mean Girls and Clueless, it begged the question: Is DARBY AND THE DEAD the [supernatural] Clueless for this new generation of teens? And if so, in what ways was this movie inspired by those films?
“Our outfits,” explained Kylie Liya Page. “Like, plaid skirts, the suit, just all the fashion inspiration. It was very, very much like modern-day Clueless I would say.”
“I was so impressed by how focused they were on style ’cause she does go through a sort of style evolution throughout the film,” explained Downs. “She sort of starts dark. Then she goes totally in the opposite direction, and then she ends up in a place that’s sort of in-between. So, they definitely did a lot of fun things with that. And she starts a few trends along the way, too, so that was fun. Also, just the supernatural elements that they bring to it. I feel like I haven’t seen a ton of movies that sort of bring that in, and everything they brought to it, you know, regarding grief, and also just all the fun you could have with that. And the frenemy aspect. There’s a lot of fresh things that we combined to some of those old movies that I feel makes it different.”
“I feel the movie perfectly shows all of the things that we love from those 90s and 2000s classics, like the outfits, the cliques, the teenage drama, the problems, you know?” stated Genneya Walton. “Our cast is so incredibly diverse and perfectly displays the actual world that we live in and what it’s like to be around this age living in this time. So, we get all the lovely things from the 90s, 2000s but in our modern world.”
“Absolutely. I feel like what brings this movie into the realm of being the Clueless or the Mean Girls or the next Heathers is it very, like Genneya said, accurately depicts what the high school environment is today,” explained Nicole Maines. “And I think that is breathing new life into what we think of as the popular girls or the popular kids. I think what this film does spectacularly, and what is groundbreaking about it, is that it showcases diverse and marginalized communities, particularly women, thriving and existing at the top of the food chain, which we never get to do. And now we’re seeing them as top dogs, and it’s really refreshing to see. And it was really refreshing and exciting to get to be a part of that.”
A mixture of old and new, teen angst and supernatural shenanigans, regardless of what anyone has to say, DARBY AND THE DEAD is a fun time if you give it a chance. And a huge part of that has to do with this incredibly dedicated cast.
DARBY AND THE DEAD is now streaming exclusively on Hulu.
Photos by Marcos Cruz. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved
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