On December 2, Darby and the Dead will premiere on Hulu and Vital Thrills caught up with the cast and crew to learn more about the supernatural teen comedy. The film will stream on Star+ in Latin America and Disney+ under the Star banner in all other territories.
Directed by Silas Howard, Darby and the Dead stars Riele Downs, Auli’i Cravalho, Asher Angel, Chosen Jacobs, Nicole Maines, Kylie Liya Page, and Genneya Walton. The producers include Adam Saunders and Eddie Rubin.
After suffering a near-death experience as a young girl, Darby Harper (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 (Cravalho), the Queen Bee of the school’s most exclusive clique, unexpectedly dies in a freak hair straightening accident, resulting in the obvious 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.
In the film, Capri and Darby hate each other, so Riele Downs and Auli’i Cravalho and were asked how much they’re like their characters. Cravalho said, “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.
Cravalho continued: “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, Im 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.”
Downs added, “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, like, easy ’cause she’s talented. But at the same time, it was hard because neither of us were, like, 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 just one color, one, you know, and I like to kind of play and do all types of things, so I guess that’s how we’re different.”
Chosen Jacobs, who plays Alex, and Asher Angel, who plays James, were asked about whether or not the unusual step of having the male characters as support for the female characters was something that appealed to them as actors.
Jacobs said, “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. And, you know, just to read the script, every character is very fully developed. Every character on their own could’ve had their own spin-off, and I always look for that. That every character really has a true layered role.
“So I’m gonna be in a movie with Auli’i 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 bring a cool product, and I think we have that.” Angel added, “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.”
Genneya Walton plays Bree, Kylie Liya Page plays Taylor, and Nicole Maines plays Piper, a group of colorful people. They were asked about playing “often obnoxious characters.” Maines said, “It was so much fun. And we had such a blast getting to do all those scenes. And it was such a good opportunity because the more we got to play with these characters, and the more we got to play with each other, the opportunities for improvisation just grew so much.
“And so, by the end of the film, we were sort of given the green light to just do whatever stupid thing popped into our heads. I think it just serves the film so much because these are three characters who are presented as the flawless, effortless, perfect beauties, which is, like, [makes “Ah” noise] just so true. But [laugh] by the end of it, you realize that they’re three idiots.”
Walton laughed, saying, “I really think that was my favorite part, for sure. I think spending the time with you ladies and also Silas, sitting down and trying to figure out who these characters really were ’cause given their, like, position in the movie, we could’ve fully taken all of the Mean Girls group tropes, but we were trying to find more depth to that and truly, I feel, like, show that we’re just teenage girls that happen to be popular and cheerleaders. But are also still trying to find their way throughout life, and what it means to be a teenager in this current digital age.”
Page added, “It was fun being able to play with improvisation and having so much creative freedom was, like, such a gift, I think, for any actor to have… it was so much fun playing these teenagers needing to go through such a traumatic experience. And I think teenagers already have so much emotion that they don’t know how to deal with and so much energy. I think it was so much fun because we were able to bring so much humor to the piece.
“And it was very interesting combining a humorous sort of depiction of these characters and putting them in something very, very traumatic and observing how different people are dealing with the grief. We have the grief of the dead people versus the grief of the living. And I think playing with all of those different dynamics was so fun. And the funny part about playing someone who is kind of, you know, not self-aware is that they don’t know that they’re being a type of way. So, we just got to be extremely dramatic and hilarious and just, like, run full-fledged in that direction. And it was so much fun.”
Since Mean Girls was brought up, the women were asked about films that inspired their characters. Page said, “I think Mean Girls is definitely one. I mean, just that’s easy, you know, we’re a group of four girls. You know, we’re at the top of the food chain. We’re cheerleaders, so a little bit of Bring It On in there. And Clueless for sure.”
Maines said, “Even our wardrobe tried to give nods to different films that we loved, ’cause we wanted to just make a fresh take on the classics that we grew up with. But also, not make it too mean. It’s fine to have characters that are funny or dumb, as you say, but there’s depth to them in a way of exploring grief and what it means to also have performative grief. And figuring out how to move on with that. And Riele does a really great job of also giving deadpan humor to the camera, bringing the viewers into that journey.”
Director Silas Howard spoke about the story and why it grabbed him. He said, “I love this cast and crew and team and the producers… For me, as a trans human and to do a classic high school story, where I never had visibility. There wasn’t even really language for it, that’s how old I am. [laugh] But, yeah, and, Nicole, if I can mention just… we talked a lot about how Piper would be out or not. And it was really also with the support of the studio, we got to find that moment together.
“And I feel like the whole cast, we got to make these roles our own and custom fit them. And that, I think, you know, when we want to have these new kind of fresh takes, it takes a lot of thinking about it. And it doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t just fall into place, and takes a lot of trust from the cast, with myself, and really strong writing. And the studio backing us and the producers backing it. And yeah, just kudos to everybody ’cause it doesn’t just happen by accident. That’s for sure.”
The film shot in Cape Town, South Africa, which doubles for California. Producer Adam Saunders said of the experience, “The movie takes place in California, so we were kind of wondering how that was all going to pan out. But what was actually amazing about the movie, and you’ve seen it, and the look of the movie, we had talked at one point about getting rid of some of these trees and mountains and things that don’t feel specific to some place in Los Angeles or some place in California.
Saunders continued: “But we ended up leaving it because it felt like this idyllic sort of utopian magical place that still feels California-ish, but it’s so aspirational almost in how it looks, and I think that’s kind of what we got from being in Cape Town. And just being in Cape Town was an incredible experience in its own.”
Darby and the Dead producer Eddie Rubin added, “I think there was a great ability to all of us to bond. And we lived in this apartment complex where we were all walking distance in one complex in the harbor. It was amazing.
“And, listen, nowadays in making film, sometimes it’s hard to get that bonding outside of set with COVID, and you want to be really careful. And so, we were really fortunate to have that ability to sort of create our own little bubble in this community and to see each other and interact and get to talk about the characters and what we’re doing the next day.
“And what’s amazing, and what this cast and what Silas [who got an elephant tattoo in South Africa] did here, is you have an ensemble cast, and you have a lot of characters. But I truly believe that everyone will walk away from this film remembering every single character because everyone here brought something and makes their own and so unique and it was amazing to see come to life ’cause some of it, as Nicole said early on, it wasn’t on the page.
“And Silas and the cast brought it out and I think people will be really surprised and make sure as people are watching that you’re listening. A lot of these characters have little one-liners that go quick, but they are fantastic.
“So, it was a joy, and South Africa, the crew there was incredible. The local cast was amazing, and we could not have had a better time there, and we’re so grateful to have had the opportunity to get to travel across the ocean and make this film while getting to experience the beauty of South Africa.”
Who’s the Boss? star Tony Danza is also in Darby and the Dead, and Howard said of his appearance, “Let me just say one quick thing about Tony Danza. It’s like he walked out of the TV set of my childhood and onto the set. I mean, he was amazing. He brought a ukulele to set… there were no small roles in this movie.
“So many honest conversations and there were really interesting parallels between Wayne and Tony’s friendship and Darby, you know, Darby and Capri’s friendship. And so, it was just interesting to find this intergenerational completely world apart, and actually just dig into the weeds. We just sort of, like, overthought everything in a joyful way.”