Most Americans will know Rhys Darby best from his turn as the awkwardly flailing manager of Flight Of The Conchords for several years on HBO. The comedian and actor has built up an impressive body of work over the years, however, doing stand-up, film, and television work, both internationally and in his native New Zealand. A whole new audience is about to encounter him, as the actor has a large and unusually distinctive guest-starring role in tonight’s episode of The X-Files, written by series MVP Darin Morgan, entitled “Mulder And Scully Meet The Were-Monster.” What was scheduled as a short interview about his character’s place in the show (spoiler-free, so fear not) quickly shifted into an unexpected and fascinating diversion into one of Darby’s passions: The existence of mythological creatures. He held court on Bigfoot, Yetis, and his own encounters with the unexplained.
The A.V. Club: Were you approached by The X-Files to be on this episode?
Rhys Darby: Yeah. It was just another case of getting an audition. I get them from time to time, and I sometimes get auditions for big dramas, and I often think, well, I’m not going to get that part. This was a big surprise—it was The X-Files. I was really excited because I am very much into the paranormal. It’s kind of my bag, so I had hoped that something might come from it. I tried my best, and it worked out. I got the part. So I was flabbergasted. [Laughs.]
AVC: Were you a fan of The X-Files going into this?
RD: Yeah, I’ll tell you, the funny thing is I never got to see much of it back in the day because I was in the New Zealand army for like four years, the exact period of when it was on the air, so I never saw it. And it was back in the day where if you didn’t record it or whatever, you kind of missed out until it came out on videocassette later on. So I missed the whole thing. And I know it went for nine seasons, and I think I saw bits and pieces of it in maybe season seven or eight or something, and then was very busy doing whatever else, stand-up comedy and stuff throughout the world. Now I’m watching the show right from the beginning. I’m halfway through season three now, and I just absolutely love it. It’s such a great show. So I can’t believe I completely missed the bandwagon the first time around. You know how you do that sometimes? Like, I missed Breaking Bad and people just go on and on about it until you’re blue in the face with envy and you’ve got to watch it. It’s one of those sorts of situations. But now I’m a big fan. I had to see what all the fuss is about, and I love it.
AVC: Do you tend to be more of a monster-of-the-week episodes person, or do you like the big mythology episodes?
RD: I think I’m probably a monster-of-the-week guy, and that comes back down to my old favorite show, which as a kid was always Scooby-Doo. [Laughs.] And I’m actually somewhat of a cryptozoologist myself. I have a podcast [The Cryptid Factor] with a couple of other guys and we research stories about creatures that may or may not exist. And I’ve been to Loch Ness three times, I’ve done a fair amount of research on the Chupacabra and things like that, so I’ve actually done a bit of the sort of paranormal investigation that happens on this show. I’ve always been into monsters, so it’s sort of an uncanny scenario that I got this part.
AVC: So do you have favorite monsters or myths?
RD: I’ve always been a big fan of the Yeti, simply because I have an affiliation to Everest—who was the New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hillary, the guy that conquered it. He actually went on an expedition after the Everest climb to look for the Yeti, and they didn’t find it, but they found a footprint and some hair samples that turned out to be a goat or something. He never actually ever believed, but I think there’s something out there. The more recent news is that some sort of ancient arctic bear exists, which seems to make sense. I believe that there are definitely creatures out there in this world that we haven’t classified yet, and whether or not they can transcend dimensions is yet to be seen, but I… well, to put it simply, I want to believe in that kind of stuff.
AVC: So when you hear myths or people saying, “Oh there’s a creature that lives in these woods,” you tend to go in more open-minded as opposed to skeptical?
RD: Yeah, definitely. Open mind all the way. Because people have had eyewitness accounts, they’ve seen things, they swear they’ve seen things, and I tend to believe in people rather than—maybe I’m a little naive, but my optimistic outlook on life is to sort of be positive and take everyone at face value. And I’m quite a good reader of people; I like to meet people, and I can tell if they’re lying or not, and I’ve certainly had interviews with people in this radio show I’ve done that swear they’ve seen things or have had bizarre experiences with creatures, and so I think they’re telling the truth.
AVC: When you talk to somebody who says they’ve had an encounter with a creature, is your inclination to be like, “I wish it was me who had that encounter,” or are you more content being the one hearing about it after?
RD: No, I wish it was me. I do want to come across something, I do want to feel something and see something. I’ve had a couple of ghost experiences, but I’m not a big fan of the spiritual side of things, of the ghost type thing. I don’t know why, maybe it freaks me out a bit, or I’m more into tangible, physical beings rather than things that can pass through walls [Laughs.] but yeah, I think there’s stuff out there. In New Zealand we had this colossal squid, which was discovered just off the shores of New Zealand, between New Zealand and Antarctica back in 2003. It’s the biggest squid ever found, and I know that there’s things living down in the depths of the ocean that do explain the Kraken—you know, these giant things that people saw back in the day, that could take ships down—and so I know that there’s stuff out there, and I like the idea that we haven’t solved everything yet. And I think that’s one of the reasons people love The X-Files, because most people do believe that there’s something else going on that we don’t know, because life is just too bizarre to be the way it is.
AVC: It’s interesting that—to connect it to The X-Files—you tend to prefer the tangible, or creature myths or stories to the ghost stuff, and yet you haven’t had the creature encounter but you’ve had one or two ghost experiences. What were those?
RD: When I was a kid I thought I saw a ghost in the forest when I was on a bush walk, like a walk through the forest. I saw something weird pass from one side of the track to the other, and it was sort of a white, blurry… it’s hard to describe, really, something that was almost see-through but it just moved in front of me. It was definitely something you could tell was there, and it really freaked me out. I think I was probably 10, and I ran all the way home.
The next ghost experience was when I was an adult and I was in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The venues there are notorious for being quite haunted, and I was performing in this cave—they used to bury the plague victims in these caves underneath the streets of Edinburgh, and then right about 2001 they opened them all up and started using them as venues for the performance artists and comedians and things. So I ended up performing in this cave, I was performing to about 12 people—kind of a packed house for me at that point—when I got this weird cold sensation up my spine, it gave me this really weird feeling, and then I looked up and there was this white, sudden white shape, that just zapped from me and went straight to the light that was at the back of the room, and I just stopped cold and said to the audience, “Did you guys see that?” No one saw it; no one felt it, but obviously I did, and that was a really weird feeling. Hard to explain, once again, but I had to stop the show, and everyone left, and then the next day a priest came in and threw holy water around and stuff, and it made the papers.
[Laughs.] But it’s a funny thing because it’s what the people say when they come across a ghost situation is that it does freak you out, but then you do get over it—for some reason you’re not scared to come across it again. I guess it wasn’t evil, but it was certainly wasn’t normal, and so you’re thrown back. You’re thrown to the side and then you think, oh, there’s more to life than what we really can just see in front of us. There’s something else going on.
AVC: How much do you think your experience fueled your interest in that sort of thing versus how much maybe it happened because you were already interested? You already consider yourself open to those sort of things, so maybe you’re more likely to be somebody who would have that kind of experience.
RD: More susceptible. Yeah, maybe, but I think my argument there would be that I’ve never really been into ghosts or spirits, and I’ve only had a couple of those kind of experiences. I’ve seen UFOs, and Loch Ness—I’ve been to Loch Ness a few times looking for Nessie, and that’s also a beautiful place to be. When I do the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I always go across to Loch Ness and stay there. One time we stayed at a B&B, and there were a couple of hippies who had this nice little area and they let us sleep in their beds that they had in the back. So we got talking to them and had a dinner with them and they cooked us wonderful food—this was my wife and kids with me. Then the woman suggested we go out and lie on some cushions and look up at the stars and look for UFOs and she said, “You know, I do this all the time,” and I was like, “Okay…” So there we are, lying there next to this amazing loch, and we’re looking up in the stars and I don’t really know what I was expecting, but to see some sort of metallic object. [Laughs.]
But we all had binoculars and she said you’ve got to look right up, way up into the stars, and so we just lay there staring for what seemed like an hour, until we saw some of the stars moving in weird patterns. So they would move along and then they would suddenly dart to the right or dart to the left—like, what the hell’s that? How can they move like that? And she said, well, that’s the UFOs. They kind of—and there were three or four of them, moving in these different patterns. And so they couldn’t be shooting stars because they were doing weird right-angle movements, and they were right up there with the stars. And then she started talking about how they’re kind of communicating with us and all this sort of stuff by doing these patterns and things and… I don’t know. But I swear to God, we weren’t on any drugs. [Laughs.] It was just one of those fun experiences where I can say that I certainly saw something that made you think that there’s more to life than what we can see in front of us; you’ve got to really look for it if you want to see something different.
AVC: I was going to ask you if there were surreal moments on the show, but it’s pretty hard to top that as far as having a surreal moment.
RD: Yeah, absolutely. The whole show was really surreal for me as well because of all the things I had to go through. For anyone who’s a fan of the show—I mean, I have the ultimate role. I got to deal with Mulder, I got to talk to him, I had a fight sequence with him. Really for anyone who is a fan of the show, I think I fulfilled a lot of young boys’ dreams.
AVC: We won’t go into any plot details, but your character gets to make an argument that’s almost a mission statement for the show. You get to tell Mulder what’s important about him.
RD: Yeah, absolutely. I get to remind him of what his quest has been and how he is a believer and should be a believer. Because that’s what he is and [in the episode] he’s kind of lost that within himself and needs to be reminded of it all.
AVC: It’s interesting too that this episode was written and directed by Darin Morgan, and he really went after comedian-actors to play the guest roles—you and Kumail Nanjiani, especially. Did you guys talk about that at all? That seems like it was clearly intentional on his part.
RD: I think the only thing we spoke about was that we were lucky and were fans, and he knew that we were either fans of the show or of the paranormal genre, that we were perfectly hand-picked for these roles. I’d like to think that, yeah, obviously he’s done some research and we were the right ones to be in it. My time had come. I mean, I was still surprised, but once I’d read the script and started working on it, I totally understood why that character should’ve been me.
AVC: When you play a role like that, does it feel qualitatively different than when you play more traditional roles?
RD: Yeah. It was certainly interesting to play because I didn’t really have anywhere to draw from. Once you know what this character is about, you had to kind of invent him on the spot. And luckily the script was written wonderfully and that became who I was and I was quirky, and I was kind of agitated and not entirely happy, but at the same time, witty. [Laughs.]
AVC: As you said, you probably fulfilled a lot of fanboys’ dreams by doing this role. Do you have a dream list of TV shows, past or present, that you’d like to be on?
RD: That’s a good question. I guess, on my list, going back to some old American stuff and British stuff that I used to love in the ’80s, would be a British show called Dad’s Army, which recently just turned into a movie. That’s because it was a military thing but also very funny, so it’s kind of the two things that I experienced by being a soldier, and I found it very humorous then and there, because of the juxtapositions [and] me and my emotional state. Greatest American Hero, I really dug that as a kid, because it had an alienation to it, where he was given a gift and didn’t know why, and yet he was forced to do something with it and he was very much an out-of-place character who was trying to cope with his own surroundings, and I can kind of relate to that guy.
MacGyver of course, that’s probably my favorite show of all time, because it was a guy who was so, so smart and could use his wits, and his technical know-how could get him out of any situation. There’s something about the adventurer aspect of that show that I loved, that he went on all these great missions and saved people without having to use guns or anything like that. And I think that show might even be coming back, too.
AVC: Would you want to be a bad guy or would you want to be one of MacGyver’s buddies?
RD: Oh, I don’t know. I would probably be someone who needed rescuing somewhere. [Laughs.] And I would have to team up with MacGyver in the end. He’d give me some instructions, and the two of us would manage to escape the compound by using tubes and sheets and maybe a couple of toothpicks or something. I’d have something in my pocket that he really needed the entire time, like some sort of magnet bookmark or something. The other show I love is Magnum, P.I. [Laughs.] I’d love to be on that one. I’d watch that one and just think, wow, what a life. Living in Hawaii, driving around in someone’s Ferrari, and solving mysteries.
AVC: So in that one you’d basically want to be Magnum, P.I.
RD: Yeah. You could only be Magnum, really, in that circumstance. Or perhaps one of his friends. TC or Ice Pick—whatever his name was. Oh—Knight Rider!
AVC: Knight Rider would be on the dream list?
RD: Oh yeah. That was a fan favorite again, because of the car, because he was just cool and he talked into his watch, and I think it’s another one of those circumstances where I’d have to be Knight Rider. I’d have to be that guy. And I think some of the big characters, you know, they do these adventures, but they’ve got something about them, they’ve got this charisma, and they’ve got to have a sense of humor. Because whether it be very dry, or very silly, they’ve got to be likable. And that’s one of the best things about characters like Indiana Jones. I mean, he’s funny. He’s done really wicked things. And James Bond. He’s got these one-liners that are just like, ah, how can you say that after you’ve just snapped someone’s neck? But he does, and so it’s kind of like there’s a human element. And when there’s characters out there that don’t have humor, I don’t find them as believable, because we all have humor, no matter what level it is, we all use it every day, no matter what situation we’re in, we’ll try and have a bit of a laugh even if it goes wrong.