DARBY AND THE DEAD Interview: Riele Downs & Auli'i Cravalho Reflect On The Craziest Moments On Set (Exclusive)

Darby and the Dead stars Riele Downs & Auli'i Cravalho talk to us about the new Hulu supernatural comedy, looking back at their fondest memories from working on the movie, how you play a ghost, and more...

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In Darby and the Dead, after suffering a near-death experience as a young girl, Darby Harper gains the ability to see dead people and spends her time counselling lonely spirits. When Capri, the Queen Bee of the school's most exclusive clique, dies in a freak hair straightening accident, her upcoming "Sweet 17" is (obviously) cancelled.

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. 

Darby and the Dead has all the makings of a sleeper hit, and it's a movie we strongly recommend making a priority once it lands on Hulu on December 2. The impressive ensemble of young actors is led by Riele Downs (Henry Danger) and Auli'i Cravalho (Moana) as Darby and Capri, and their dynamic...well, it's certainly unique!

In this interview, we hear from them about playing two high schoolers who couldn't be any more different, what it's like when all but one of your co-stars has to pretend you're not there, and the hijinks that ensued on set (including frog projectiles). They also touch on the more serious side of this supernatural comedy and the input they had in creating these characters. 

Auli'i also teases the future of the Moana franchise, while both she and Riele comment on possibly joining a superhero franchise, with the former pointing to Namor's recent MCU debut as a turning point for creating opportunities in the genre. 

Check out our full conversation with the Darby and the Dead stars in the player below.

Auli’i, you do spend a lot of this movie being dead, so what was the strangest thing about shooting this role and having all but one of your co-stars pretending you’re not there? 

Auli’i: Yeah, it kinda sucked! Nah, I’m just kidding [Laughs]. It was actually really cool. I love that Capri has the ability to still influence the living and I threw quite a few frogs in this film if you noticed that. I influence Darby as well…I stick her head in a toilet bowl, I life her off the bleachers and slam her back down, so there were a lot of practical effects I really enjoyed. There’s also the emotional aspect of playing a 16-year-old, going on 17, who all her life is used to being seen. To not be seen really does something to her ego. Realising that you can’t take your influence to the grave with you is a real learning moment. 

Thanks to Capri, Darby goes through this huge transformation in her school, but what about exploring the two sides of the character did you have the most fun with, Riele?

Riele: I think what was interesting is that Darby, at the beginning, really does just think that’s who she is. In reality, we’re all very multi-faceted, and even though she was reluctant, the journey actually ended up helping her and Capri because they end up discovering so many different sides of themselves and discover that maybe they were putting themselves in a box and not allowing people to know who they really are because they were afraid they would get rejected for who they are. It was just really nice to see a character who is so introverted become, once again, a parallel. She’s used to no eyes on her and suddenly has them all on her, so what does that do to a person [and] what effect does it take in this social media age? There were a lot of places top pull from, so that was a lot of fun. 

Darby and Capri couldn’t be any different, so what did you both enjoy most about bringing their worlds together in such an unorthodox way in this movie?

Riele: I think it was so fun, honestly. We just had a ball with all the arguments. Of course, we’re not actually enemies in real life at all, so it was fun to get to play these characters that were so different from us. Any scenes with tension and fire in them are enjoyable to play, and we got to do so many fun things with it like cheer and dancing and all of these different things. Overall, it was just a wonderful experience. 

Auli’i: Yeah, I feel the same way. As soon as the take would end, I would tease Riele saying, ‘Okay Queen, go off…that was a great take.’ It’s so strange, especially with me, I’m not a mean girl. I’d have to go, ‘Phew,’ and very stoic faced. Riele didn’t make it easy because she’s so nice and so funny. It was a great shoot. 

Capri seems to really take delight in antagonising Darby to get what she wants, which I’m guessing must have been a blast for you, Auli'i?

Auli’i: [Laughs] I took great delight in putting Darby and Riele in these situations, for sure. There were some incredible practical effects with rigging that we both got to work with. That really helped the physicality and Riele was saying, we had an hour or two session with a movement coach and what it looks and feels like with the difference in being pushed or pulled and really getting into our bodies and exploring that supernatural element. It was making these rules where Capri can’t touch things, but she can move them. Riele does a really great job of making those things look real and being shocked every time. Capri gets stronger as the film progresses the longer that she stays, so it was very fun to play with that. 

Riele, how do you prepare for a project like this beyond, I guess, watching a movie like The Sixth Sense

Riele: [Laughs] I’ve been telling everyone, I stay away from all of that stuff! That’s all I’m gonna say…I don’t like opening that door and don’t want to see what happens when the light goes out. I’m running away from that. For me, I guess it was more mental work than doing anything physical. I honestly didn’t really watch a horror movie. She’s a regular girl as well, so I wondered, ‘What would it be like to be a person who is, you know, seeing these people who haven’t passed on?’ It turns out it wouldn’t actually be that terrifying! They’re not the ghosts depicted in horror movies, they’re people, and she finds a lot of comfort in them. 

Were there any scenes you both struggled to get through when Darby and Capri are butting heads? 

Auli’i: Oh my gosh, there’s the one scene where we’re out by the bleachers and I’m throwing a frog.

Riele: [Laughs]

Auli’i: Where the frog comes from, we don’t know. We don’t know where the idea came in, but I ruined one take, I’ll be honest. It was so good and it was the first time you said, ‘Bitch, is that a frog?’ I lost it! I thought it was so funny. And the take we actually used, it was a direct hit in the face. You have to imagine there’s a PA standing to one side saying, ‘Not too hard because she’s the lead of the film, but hard enough where it sells that entire situation.’

Riele: I forgot, but that was entirely bizarre. We didn’t even see it in the script until the last minute and were like, ‘Oh, we’re supposed to shoot this.’ It was great. 

Auli'i, like a lot of people, I’d love to revisit the Moana franchise - are you hoping that you and The Rock might be able to reunite, whether it be in another movie or even a series of shorts on Disney+?

Auli’i: My lips are sealed, my friend. I’m very excited for Moana’s future [Laughs]. 

I know you had a taste of a superhero world with Henry Danger, Riele, but how would you both feel about joining the Marvel or DC franchises at this stage in your respective careers?

Auli’i: Oh my goodness, I’ll let you go first.

Riele: I mean, I feel like, maybe I’m wrong, it’s every actor’s dream to at least once get to play a superhero character. Even in the show I did, I was on the sidelines and helping from behind. To be the person in the suit actually doing the fighting? That would be awesome. I’d be extremely down for that.

Auli’i: I’m such a fan of Marvel and comics. I got to watch Black Panther as well, so I just see the world fully opening up now that Namor is a key player now. There are mutants! We can say that word out loud…the world is truly just expanding even larger. Even the What If…? series makes everything possible and, as a voice actor who enjoys animation, I just really appreciate all of the content we’re getting. We’re spoiled for choice. 

Riele: All thanks to Disney+ really [Laughs]. 

I thought it was great how the movie avoids a lot of the now old-fashioned high school stereotypes, but did you both have a lot of input with your characters by bringing any of your own ideas or experiences to set? 

Riele: Yeah, we talked about this a lot. Our director was incredible and very collaborative and always checking in on us every scene to find new layers. There are just so many layers to these characters and we wanted to make sure they weren’t one-note because it’s very easy for these high school characters to fall into one box. What’s beautiful about what this story did, kind of by itself, but we also helped it go along, is that it had so many different takes in it. Everyone did something unexpected from that type of character and we definitely had a lot to do with that. It was a great collaborative experience. 

Auli’i: It really was collaborative. Everything from wardrobe to so many fittings, and that was really fun between our two characters as well, because you get to see Capri’s style rub off on Darby and then we get to have that mean girl walking down the hall bit, and then you get to see these wonderful, beautiful messy teenagers going through grief. Asher Angel does a fantastic job of showing grief. He’s going through it and giving it in every scene because he lost his girlfriend and we’re able to play the humour of seeing dead people and being a high school teen spirit kinda vibe. Then, you see the real effect of losing someone and Derek Luke, who plays Darby’s dad, is such a wonderful father figure and open and emotionally available when she is ready to talk about grief. I really respect how our film touched on these sensitive topics. 

Darby and the Dead premieres on Hulu on December 2.


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