Actor Arman Darbo talks his new film ‘Greatland,’ how he’s been keeping busy during the pandemic and working with visual effects.
How did you get involved in this very creative fantasy?
After my role in And Then I Go, I was actually asked to participate in writing the character of Ulysses in order to play it once the movie would go into production. I could really make sure he would sound and react in a way that’s authentic to a 15-year old kid who grew up in a crazy country like GREATLAND. Btw, my middle name is Ulysses, that also helped to become one with the character.
Being so involved from the get-go did you notice the script changing a lot between the first draft and the shooting script -if so, how?
In fact, apart from my tweaks to Ulysses’ dialogues, there were only minor changes to the script, mostly for practical reasons. We spent lots of time rehearsing with my awesome co-star Chloe Ray Warmoth and the other actors. It was essential in order to get the acting tone right since this dystopian world is so bizarre.
Could you relate to your character?
Definitely! Although he lives in a totally imaginary and messed up country, I can totally understand his rebellion against an absurd society full of fake. He has feelings for a girl but the rules of GREATLAND forbid him to follow his heart. Society tells him that what he feels is wrong and he should marry a tree instead. In order to follow his love, he has to break away from the system and even bring it down. Then, there is his relationship with Mom (even though she’s just a watch, she’s real to him) and with his long-absent Dad, and he goes through the motions with both of them. Playing Ulysses was almost like going to family therapy (laughs).
How was it working with all those visual effects!?
Pretty cool and challenging at the same time. We had several scenes where I had to interact and fight with an invisible man. That’s when acting becomes very technical because you really need to hit your marks and keep conveying emotions in front of a green suit guy😊who will be deleted in post-production.
Did you get to spend a lot of time working with veteran actors like Eric Roberts and Bill Oberst? What did you learn from them?
They are all super pros, they come to set 100% prepared and really know how to bring a character to life. And they’re so good at catching the light and the right camera angles. But they’re also very comfortable with improv. Eric taught me to never do the same take twice. Bill was also an inspiration: quiet and humble out of frame but bringing crazy intensity on camera to become the sickest weirdos! I spent the most time with Nick Moran though, since we had lots of scenes together including a key scene with 9 pages of dialogue. You could tell everyone was anxious how we could even pull it off within schedule. We planned to hit certain marks in the script but also allow ourselves some improvisation room and it worked really well.
Is there a particular moment in the film you really, really enjoyed shooting?
I liked filming my stunt scenes very much, falling off a bike, shooting a rifle or jumping on a boat. I had a stunt double for some of those but the whole process of creating the transitions between me and the double was a blast. And since my first film in China that was full of fights and wire work, I’ve always enjoyed hanging and working with the stunt team, they’re definitely the coolest guys on set!
What’s next for you?
Right now, everything movie is kind of on a hiatus because of Covid, so I am focusing on my other passion, music. I’ve been playing the piano since I’m 4 (lol). For GREATLAND, I had the opportunity to work with the score creator Matthew Chilelli and composed the Philanthropist theme for Bill Oberst Jr.’s scene when he’s in a bathtub full of blood and talking to cockroaches… The production wanted something dark and heavy, but I thought it would weirder and less on the nose if the music in this scene was eery and a bit viscous, just piano, classical in its simplicity. I’m very proud of that music but right now, I am making beats and composing music for video games.