The Margaret Mahy Questionnaire: Rhys Darby

Holy moly! We’ve got a Mahy Questionnaire from none other than the creator of Buttons McGinty, Rhys Darby! Of course, you may recognise him from the fact that he’s, well, world-famous in New Zealand AND beyond, but a whole lot of younger folks have been getting to know his way with words and knack for a joke or two through his awesome junior fiction books. The third instalment in the series, The Top Secret Intergalactic Notes of Buttons McGinty is out now.

Rhys Darby, photo courtesy of Kate Little Photography.

1. Describe yourself in three words

Audacious, Weird, Funny.

2. During the height of adolescence, was it good changeover?

What’s all this about a changeover? I didn’t notice any changes apart from being told to shave every day from the age of seventeen when I joined the army. I guess the military turned me into a man, but I never stopped imagining and playing with toys.

3. Are you haunted by a particular memory?

There are no memories from my youth that haunt me, although when I was a fifteen-year-old army cadet, a retired sergeant major once said to me ‘You’re too quiet Darby. That means you’re either very smart or very stupid.’ To this day I still don’t know which one I am and that sometimes haunts me.

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The Haunting by Margaret Mahy (J.M. Dent, 1982)

4. MM: ‘Imagination is the creative use of reality.’ Is this true for you?

Absolutely, and more so. I would say imagination leads to creativity beyond reality. Imagination is everything to me. It allows me to look further up the stream than is physically possible. I also think anything humans can imagine, can somehow happen and this is quite true of me.

5. Have you ever owned a rattlebang car?

If by that, you mean an automobile that rattles and bangs, then yes. I bought an old 1984 Land Rover this year which is full of rattle noises. In fact I call it Ratty Bat the Battle Rat.

6. Which witch? Identify a favourite one from literature.

Badjelly the Witch of course!

7. ‘Come dance all around the world. And see all the beauty that surrounds us.’ Words for a romantic or just being mindful?

Both right? I mean, I’ve done my fair share of dancing around different parts of the world and no matter where you are, there is beauty to be found. One becomes mindful of that the more they travel.

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The Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams (F. Watts, 1989)

8. A lion in the broom cupboard or a lion in the meadow?

I’ve always liked the concept of opening a door to another realm, so it’s the lion in the cupboard for me. Wait, wasn’t it a wardrobe? Is there a lion I don’t know about? Now I’m getting worried there’s one in the cupboard under the stairs where Harry’s supposed to be. Regardless, I’m sending in a trained ranger first to check.

9. When have you been at your most discombobulated?

What a wonderful word. Hang on, I’ll just google it. Ahh, right. I see, confused and disconcerted, so that would be this year then. Many times this year. The world is a mad place right now so I declare 2020 the year of discombobulation.

10. What is your most favourite thing to do on a summery Saturday morning?

I like to take a trip to the local markets with my family, in… Ratty Bat the Battle Rat of course. We’ll buy pies and more jars of honey we don’t need.

11. In what way might you be a trickster?

I wish I could be more of a trickster but I’m just not smart enough. I guess the closest I get is in the surprising callbacks I do in my comedy routines. In order to be clever, maybe I need an audience.

The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy (J.M. Dent, 1986)

12. Have you ever been rewarded when looking down the back of the chair?

On occasion, I have found remotes, coins and the odd button. Nothing to write home about, although once I found a pencil, so that counts as something to write home with.

13. A pirate for a mother or a jester for a father?

Correct on both counts. Have you met them? I guess if I had to choose, it would be the pirate for a mother. I mean, who wouldn’t want that? Shiver me timbers, she probably wouldn’t even care if I went to school and I imagine I’d become a much better trickster!

14. Would you babysit someone else’s shadow?

If I had to and the pay was good. Mind you, that would depend on whose shadow it was. If it was someone cheeky I could imagine them getting very tall and trying to slip away as the sun goes down. ‘Stay inside until your owner gets home.’ I’d say and ‘Stay in the corner of the room by the lamp.’

The Boy With Two Shadows by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams (J.M. Dent, 1971)

15. ‘Horrakapotchkin,’ said the cat. ‘I want to write a poem.’ Is that how it works for you?

Poems come to me like downloads from outer space. One certainly has to be in the right mood to write. That’s why they call it writing. I’ve done my fair share of wronging too but it’s never as good. Right time, write place works as well. Sometimes I get inspiration from my surroundings. You have to get the write vibe.

16. What I like for dinner when I am on my own is…

Going out for dinner. I’d head to a cool bar, you know one of those American style situations where you can sit and order food at the bar. Then you look okay. People assume you’re from out of town. Of course I’d wear an outfit that says ‘I’m from out of town.’

‘Hey man, are you from out of town?’

‘Yes I am.’ I’d reply.

Then I’d order the local dish.

‘Mmm this is different!’

‘Mr. Darby, we know you live down the road.’

Oh bugger.

17. If you find yourself nose to nose with a shark, the only thing to do is to…

Lick it on the schnozzle. Tickle it’s pointy cone. Wave your hands and roll your eyes then subtly leave the zone.

The Great White Man-Eating Shark by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jonathan Allen (J.M. Dent, 1982)

18. MM: ‘If things were fair, all stories would be anonymous…set free from the faults that go with its author’s name.’ Would you set your stories free in the name of anonymity?

I let ideas go all the time. Yes, I think as we breathe and spout off, we’re just intellectually and creatively processing our thoughts into the universe where they are captured by invisible nets and retransformed into other ideas, landing softly in other places. We’re all the same. Some shout louder and clearer. Who cares who says what? (please quote me on this and send the cheque to my agent.)

19. You’re at a party and someone finds out what you do. What is the question they invariably ask?

‘Do you mind moving your car?’ and/or ‘What’s it like working with Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson?’ followed by… ‘Cool man, so can you move your car?

20. Who do you go to be entertained by linguistic pyrotechnics? Or entertained by sonsense nongs?

That time Spike Milligan opened for Def Leppard.

21. Which way does your heart lie: between the stars or anchored to the trapeze?

My heart is so far out there in space that anchors haven’t been invented yet. (I believe we all come from the stars and creative writing is an attempt to get us back there.)

The Wind Between the Stars by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Brian Frood (J.M. Dent, 1976)

22. Would you rather be followed home by hippos or giraffes?

Well, I was followed home by a giraffe once. I say home, but really it was a hotel in Livingston, Zambia. Quite the spectacle I can assure you! Stay clear of hippos, that’s one of my firm rules. That and don’t park your car in anybody’s way at parties.

23. Never mind a baby in the bubble. Would you rather – rice bubbles, bubble gum, Bubble O’Bill ice cream or Michael Bublé?

Bubble O’Bill Icecream all the way. These days with bubbles meaning so much more: Safety, health and security. Bubble’O Bill is all about those things. He’s like the dairy ranger. Stay safe kids!


The Top Secret Intergalactic Notes of Buttons McGinty

by Rhys Darby

Published by Scholastic NZ

RRP $18.00

Buy Now

Rhys Darby

Rhys Darby is an internationally recognised actor and comedian from New Zealand. He rose to fame as the lovable but inept Murray Hewitt on HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. He has gone on to star in films like Yes Man, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and his kids’ favourite, Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Rhys is a regular feature on a number of animations, from Barefoot Bandits, Voltron: Legendary Defender, Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Boss Baby, Spirit and many more. Kids might have seen him on the big screen this year in the animated films Mosley and 100% Wolf. Earlier this year he explored Japan in his TVNZ show Big in Japan.

He is an amateur cryptozoologist and in his spare time hosts a podcast on the subject, The Cryptid Factor. He also has Spotify exclusive podcast about aliens, Aliens Like Us.

Rhys is never far from his stand-up comedy roots and still treads the boards, bringing his energetic storytelling style to stages all over the world.

Having lived in Los Angeles for many years, Rhys is currently back in Auckland, where he grew up, with his wife and two sons, who love Buttons McGinty!