Interview: Rhys Darby – 'To prove to the youth that things were cooler in the 80s, we've gone and shown them'

Interview: Rhys Darby – 'To prove to the youth that things were cooler in the 80s, we've gone and shown them'

Comedian on DreamWorks' Voltron Legendary Defender, the appeal of anime, and the golden age that was the 1980s

Friends, readers, anime fans: we're going to do an experiment. If you would be so kind as to close your eyes, and imagine for a moment the most 80s name you can think of for a sci fi show. Open your eyes. If the answer isn't Voltron Legendary Defender, you've done it wrong. Also, there really was no need to close your eyes.

Voltron Legendary Defender was indeed an enormously popular sci-fi series from the 1980s, and DreamWorks have rebooted it. The series uses anime to tell the story of a galaxy embroiled in an intergalactic battle against the evil alien force led by King Zarkon. Series one premiered on Netflix last year, and in January, the second season airs in the UK (much to the delight of many eager fans).

In it, comedian Rhys Darby plays Coran – the man entrusted with keeping the galaxy's Princess Allura safe during all the kerfuffle. We caught up with him to find out a little more about the series, and why things were just so much cooler in the 80s …

Tell us a little about Voltron.
Rhys Darby: This is a reworking of the show that was iconic in the 80s. They've carefully remade it by focusing on the memory of how brilliant it was and by making that vision come alive, rather than going back and doing it as it was. You know when you have a memory as an adult, and you're looking back and thinking about how cool a show was? That's the vision they've gone with, which makes it so much more awesome than it actually was.

Were you worried that rebooting Voltron would ruin how the show was remembered for viewers who loved it in their youth?
Absolutely, that's always the risk. This particular show has been remade a couple of times, in different forms, and it's been successful to a certain degree. This particular version actually goes back to the heart of what the original show was. Without deviating from the past, they recreated the same universe, and so all the characters were the same, and were true to their original form. I think we were all very relieved when we saw the first episode, or at least did the first reading from the script, and saw it for what it was: a very honest recreation. When the fans said they loved it, that was the relief point. It helped that all the cast were big fans of the show and we're excited to be part of it, too.

At the moment, there seems to be a lot of momentum around remaking 80s shows and films (Mad Max, Star Wars etc). The success of Stranger Things, which utilised 80s sci fi tropes really proved the era's style still resonates today. Did you think the genre peaked in the 80s, or is there more to come in terms of new, original sci fi?
There's certainly nostalgia linked into all of these relaunches, of movements and stories that were popular in the 80s. I'm 42, so I guess the 80s was my growing up decade, and I'm at a time in my life now where I have children of the same age as I was when those shows were first out. My 11-year-old boy is kind of me from the 80s, and we as parents really enforce on our young how cool things were back then. That has transcended into the creative of things. To prove to the youth that things were cooler in the 80s, we've gone and shown them.

DreamWorks often creates things that both children and adults can enjoy. Do you think that's true of Voltron?
Absolutely. Voltron comes with nostalgia anyway, so Dad wants to watch it because it's a space opera with lots of battle scenes and cool laser music, and he can watch that with the children. The Flight of the Conchords, the other show I was on, was the same. That show appealed to late teens, the age when it's not really cool to watch things with your parents, but I always had people saying they watched it with their families. Voltron fits into that category as well.

The show uses anime, which for a lot of people was considered an underground art form. Do you think this show is bringing it into the mainstream?
Yes, absolutely When I was a 10-year-old living in New Zealand, we had the best of the British and US cartoons, a lot of Disney stuff. I grew up with things like Danger Mouse and Banana Man, but we didn't have anime. I was watching Ducktales and Ninja Turtles. As I went into my adulthood, we started getting things like Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon, and by that time I was a soldier in the army. I wasn't watching cartoons. I missed out on the anime thing, but my son is obsessed with it. It seems that from the 90s onwards, it became a huge thing. Now that I look at it, I can see the appeal – there's a more romantic realism with anime, and you seem to get more attached to the characters than you do with regular animation. My son is actually demanding that we go to Japan next year on our travels to get to the heart of it all.

Voltron has such a huge cult status. Why do you think that is?
Voltron already had a huge following from the 80s anyway, and that has crossed over. Most of the original fans have accepted the new version, and have got right behind it. It's more in line with anime than the original one was, and because anime culture is so popular now, and the fandom is even bigger because of the internet, there's more accessibility. People want to escape more, too, in this day and age. It's the kind of show that lets people do that.

Voltron Legendary Defender is on Netflix. Season two premieres on Netflix 20 Jan, 2017.