Darby and the Dead comes to Hulu on December 2nd. It’s Sixth Sense meets Clueless when Darby (Riele Downs) has a near death experience that allows her to see dead people. She ends up doing whatever she can to help them with their unfinished business so they can pass on and that makes her an outcast with her fellow teens. But when Capri (Auli’i Cravalho) unexpectedly dies her unfinished business includes a makeover for Darby.
During the press conference, cast and filmmakers discuss this quirky yet entertaining film!
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 Saunders (Producer)
Eddie Rubin (Producer)
Pretending They Hated Each Other
Right from the start, it was clear how good of friends Auli’i Cravalho and Riele Downs became during the filming of Darby and the Dead. They were giggling together and just having a blast during the press conference. So when asked what it was like pretending that they hated each other, they both claim the other is impossible to hate — but they had a lot of fun together.
“It was so fun to play off of Riele. 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 it was really fun. This whole cast is Gen Z, so we all played off of each other really, really well.” explains Auli’i Cravalho.
Riele Downs adds, “It was easy ‘cause she’s talented. But at the same time, it was hard because 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 stylistically, I feel like Darby likes to go more just one color and I like to play and do all types of things.”
Supporting Male Roles
Darby and the Dead is very much a female-led film, which makes the extremely talented Chosen Jacobs and Asher Angel the supporting characters. They both said that it was the script that drew them to the film, and they don’t necessarily feel their characters were lacking anything.
“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. 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, to know 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 such great talent.” Chosen Jacobs explains.
Asher immediately agreed. “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’s something that’s super special. And it’s one of the things I really love to do. And getting 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.”
As we said earlier, Darby and the Dead is very much Sixth Sense meets Clueless or Mean Girls. So when asked if they took inspiration from any other films, pretty much everyone agreed that it was these types of films.
Kylie Liya Page jumps in right away with “Mean Girls is definitely one. That’s easy. We’re a group of four girls. 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.”
Auli’i Cravalho admits that she had her own Clueless nod, which was her own little puffy pen that she brought to set. It even made it onto the poster, which she was thrilled about.
Nicole Maines explains that even their wardrobe tried to give nods to films that they love and were inspired by. “We wanted to just make a fresh take on the classics that we grew up with. But also, not make it too mean. Like, it’s fine to have characters that are funny or dumb, 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.”
The actors think that the outfits are what will make Darby and the Dead the Clueless of their generation. “Plaid skirts, the suit, the top two pieces just all the fashion inspiration. It was very, very much modern day Clueless.” Kyle says.
Riele agrees, confessing how impressed she was by how focused on style the movie is. “[Darby] does go through a style evolution throughout the film. She starts dark. She goes totally the opposite direction, and then she ends up in a place that’s 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.” She also praises the film for its supernatural elements, stating that she feels like she hasn’t seen a lot of movies that bring that in, especially regarding grief. Add in the frenemy aspect and they really brought in some fresh takes on a classic inspired film.
Genneya Walton adds that she feels the like movie perfectly shows all of the things that we love from those 90s and 2000s classics — the outfits, the cliques, the teenage drama, the problems. “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.”
Nicole Maines explains “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 accurately depicts what the high school environment is today. And I think that is breathing new life into what we think of as the popular girls or the popular kids. What this film does spectacularly, and what is groundbreaking about it, is that it showcases diverse and marginalized communities, particularly women, in 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. And to get to be the top dog for a second. It was a little fun.”
What Drew In The Filmmakers
There is a lot to love about Darby and the Dead, and when asked what made the filmmakers want to be a part of it, Director Silas Howard didn’t have to think for a moment. He immediately gushed about the incredible cast and crew, before adding that they “really got to make this story our own.”
“For me, as a transhuman 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. Nicole, if I can mention, 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. 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. Just kudos to everybody ‘cause it doesn’t just happen by accident. That’s for sure.”
Producers Adam Saunders and Eddie Rubin talk about how incredible it was shooting in Cape Town, South Africa. They explain that there were a few options, but that is where they ultimately settled.
Saunders says “I’d never been to South Africa. I’d never been to Africa at all. The movie takes place in California, so we were kind of wondering how that was all going to pan out. 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, 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.”
Rubin adds that it gave them all a chance to bond. “We lived in this apartment complex where we were all walking distance [from each other]. It was amazing. Nowadays, in making film, sometimes it’s hard to get that bonding outside of set with COVID, and you want to be really careful. We were really fortunate to have that ability to 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 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 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.”
“Darby and the Dead” is coming to Hulu and on Disney+ internationally on December 2nd.
Tessa Smith AKA Mama's Geeky, is a journalist that covers geek and Disney culture on her own website, as well as freelances for other sites such as What's On Disney Plus and Screen Rant. She graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Marketing and loves all things geeky. She is a Disney Vacation Club member and a Founders Circle Member of Disney+. She is also an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes and a member of the Critics Choice Association. Tessa lives in Upstate New York with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs named Sansa and Khaleesi.