Rhys Darby as Stede Bonnet on the lookout in season two of Our Flag Means Death

Rhys Darby Told Us All About Happy Endings During the Golden Age of Piracy and Having Rocks in Your Smoothie

“I’ve been a huge fan back since the ‘band meeting’ days,” I found myself telling Rhys Darby at the outset of our Zoom interview.

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That’s very true—as someone who morphed from a Flight of the Conchords fan into an actual working musician, Darby’s voice chiming “band meeting!” before taking attendance has been something of a meme inside my own head for the better part of a decade.

“Ah cool, thank you,” replied Darby—heartmeltingly sincere, but also as if he gets that comment a lot.

While Conchords served to introduce Darby’s effervescent charm and comedic prowess to a wider audience, he’s popped up in all kinds of incredible and surprising roles in the decade-and-change since. In addition to a delightful stand-up comedy career, you can catch Darby doing everything from voice work on series like Netflix’s Voltron: Legendary Defender (as Cornan) to playing field guide Nigel Billingsley in the new Jumanji films. He’s even voiced a Krabby Patty on SpongeBob SquarePants.

But thanks to the rapid and well-deserved ascendance in Our Flag Means Death‘s popularity, Darby has a new most-popular role: Stede Bonnet, the so-called “Gentleman Pirate.” Our Flag Means Death is a tightly-written and brilliantly executed comedy which centers around Bonnet’s tumultuous romance with the notorious pirate Blackbeard—played by Taika Waititi, a frequent collaborator of Darby’s who also worked on Conchords.

OMFD quickly gained a huge fan following after its 2021 premiere, which helped the mid-merger higher-ups at Max renew the show. OMFD‘s excellent (and sometimes heartbreaking) second season wrapped up in October. The SAG-AFTRA strike ended shortly thereafter, giving me the chance to catch up with Darby’s thoughts on the full season.

Major spoilers ahead for Our Flag Means Death season 2!

Kirsten Carey (TMS): Our Flag Means Death has amassed a really big, passionate fan base, especially since the end of the first season. How does it feel to suddenly know that there’s all this fan art of you and to have a project whose fans were instrumental in its renewal?

Rhys Darby: It’s huge. I was in a show called Voltron, which was an animated series—that had a lot of fandom, a lot of artwork came from that one. I went, ‘Oh, this is cool! People do fan art!’ Because we didn’t really have much of it, or any of it, during Flight of the Conchords back in the day. The internet was so tiny then and [there was] no social media. So when it started happening with Our Flag, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is, uh—’ It just got more and more and more, and intense, and then just, like, too much. And so I had to drop my phone and just take some time off. I had to go to Costa Rica for a while. It was quite crazy.

But all it shows is the passion and that we’re doing something right. And that there’s so many people out there who—first of all, that have amazing artistic skills, that’s what blows my mind. Some of them are absolutely brilliant. And even the ones that are not so good are still doing it, and it’s pushing their enthusiasm into our world, which is just showing nothing but love. So it’s amazing, really.

TMS: When you were filming season two, did the fandom have any sort of presence in the minds of people on set? Were people thinking about how vocal fans were on social media about season two happening in the first place?

RD: Yes, definitely. Because we’re all on social media—some of us more than others, I’m pretty skittish on it. I’m on now and again to promote something, and I’ll get off because there’s just a lot on there. But others in the cast absolutely love it and are on there constantly, like everyone else their age. You can’t not notice it. And it’s all pretty much positive, and there’s some really bizarre stuff on there, and so you can choose what you want to look at or not. Some stuff is way too sexually explicit, and things like that. That kind of stuff is new to me, and I’m not interested in it. But it’s kind of like, once you start working, you’re not looking at any of that stuff—I’m certainly not—because you’ve got a job to do and it’s your script, your character, and then the world that you’re in on those sets. So you’ve got to separate the acting world from the fan world.

TMS: What was your initial reaction when you heard of the plan to turn you into a mermaid?

Ed and Stede in the ocean together

RD: Well … [laughs] It was a shock. But one of those ones where you go, ‘Oh my god, this is really happening?!’ Because I’m into cryptids, and I love mermaids, and I used to swim like a merman when I was a kid. That’s why I managed to pull this one off. I got no training to swim in that suit. I just jumped in and did it because I knew I could, because I used to pretend I was a mermaid—or merman, merkid—when I was a merkid. I was very, very pleased. I mean, at the end of the day, I was like, ‘What! You want me to be—? This is the second time I’ve been an actual cryptid!’ I was a lizard man in The X-Files. I may have been some more cryptids, I have to recall—the fans can find that out. But I was elated.

And then when [Gypsy Taylor] showed me what the design was, and it was gold like a goldfish—I thought, ‘That’s perfect. It’ll go with my hair!’ And then we did it. I was super stoked because it’s one of those moments in life where you go, ‘Whatever I’m doing, whatever this show is about, I’m now getting the opportunity to swim underwater with this ridiculously gorgeous set of fins, and it’s going to captured on film!’ [laughs]

It was one of those crazy pinch yourself moments. I was excited. But I had to keep it secret. That was one of the most exciting things for season two when it came out—I knew that when that was going to happen that people were just going to be shocked.

TMS: Yeah, I imagine the secret-keeping throughout the season was difficult.

RD: Yeah, there’s a lot of little secrets.

TMS: On that topic, when did you find out that Izzy was going to die, and how did that affect your scenes with Con O’Neill?

RD: So we found out just before it, really. He may have known, I think he probably knew beforehand. But we knew—I think when the script came out, basically, so maybe two weeks before. It was a shock, mainly because I don’t want to lose arguably the best actor in the troupe, and he’s such an awesome guy. It sort of made sense because everything can’t go perfectly smoothie. Smoothie? Smoothly. You’ve got to have some rocks in your smoothie. [laughs]

He was upset, because he didn’t want to leave. We were all upset. But we could see how powerful that play would be, how important that moment would be for the story. So yeah, it was a double-edged sword, but most of the sword was hurting, for all of us.

TMS: As a fan watching that moment, too—it was powerful, but it did feel right.

RD: Oh, good, good. Yeah. There was enough happy ever after moments in there to not have everyone like—it’s like that moment in one of those Star Wars films where they return and they all get medals. We can’t sort of go to those extremes.

TMS: Your medal is a rundown inn.

RD: Yeah! Exactly.

Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby as Blackbeard (Edward Teech) and Stede Bonnet at their new inn in Our Flag Means Death

TMS: What do you think is the reason that Stede so readily gives up piracy—kind of at the height of his pirate powers—to be with Ed at the end of the season?

RD: That’s a good question. I’m still working on the answer to that, thinking about him. I think, if I was putting myself in his shoes, he’s expecting to die most days. And even though he did get trained—and he showed himself to be pretty capable in the last season—I think when you put yourself into a pirate’s shoes of that time, their lives are not long. And so I think to take a breather for a moment and actually go, ‘You know what? We’ve got each other. We’ve got the inn. Let’s leave it there. Even though it’s just a dream that might only last a few days,’ or whatever because I keep thinking, if I put this into reality, the British are still after them. There’s always going to be people trying to—because I retain it to history as well—trying to kill these pirates. They all are supposed to be hung at some moment.

So I think he’s not like, ‘That’s it, I have achieved piracy, and now we will live—!’ I just think [this is a] moment in the chapter where he’s going, ‘Right, let’s see what it’s like to do this loving relationship thing, or try a normal—’ It’s only gonna … I mean, in his back of his mind, he must be thinking, ‘In the morning, someone’s going to be here with a sword, and we’re going to have to have a fight.’ It’s like a fantasy within a fantasy, I think. If that makes sense.

TMS: It does, especially knowing what happens to the real-life Stede Bonnet

RD: Yeah, that’s what I keep thinking about, because they are based on true people. And if you take that away, then I could just say, ‘Yeah, well, that’s it! They’re going to live happily ever after and blah, blah, blah!’ But I have that in the back of my mind. And also just knowing about piracy in the golden age—they all ended up getting captured. There’s only few of them that actually lived, who went back to their countries or hid, and those two were not two of them. [nervous laughter]

But we’ll see! Because it’s not a factual drama we’re making. It’s certainly not, hence the mermaid.

TMS: You mean to say there’s no mermaid that saved Blackbeard in real life?!

RD: No, no, of course there is! What am I saying?

You can watch both season of Our Flag Means Death on Max. Here’s to a third season renewal!

(featured image: Max)

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Image of Kirsten Carey
Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.