Exclusive Interview — by Cynthia Vinney
Brazilian born and raised Darwin Del Fabro arrived in New York just four years ago with the dream of building an acting career in America. He'd been performing since an early age, but didn't speak fluent English. Luckily, Del Fabro's drive and confidence served him well, and today, he's celebrating his first Hollywood role in the gay conversion camp-set slasher film "They/Them."
The movie, which was written and directed by John Logan, the Oscar-nominated scribe of "Gladiator," takes the tropes of slasher films set in summer camps, like "Friday the 13th," and turns them on their head to create a scary yet surprisingly uplifting tale of LGBTQ+ empowerment. Even as the bodies pile up, the campers rise above the horror by accepting themselves for who they are.
Among them is Del Fabro's Gabriel, who the actor makes sympathetic and mysterious all at the same time. It's a stand-out turn that's sure to get viewers talking. Del Fabro radiated an infectious joy and excitement during a wide-ranging conversation with Looper in which he shared his thoughts on "They/Them," talked about his journey to this point in his career, and discussed what's coming up for him in the near future.
Finally seeing himself onscreen
"They/Them" takes the conventional slasher movie template and uses it to comment on the horror of gay conversion camps. What did you appreciate the most about the film?
There's so many good things to appreciate in this movie. It's never just one thing, but the most important thing that really attracted me to this story specifically was having queer kids as a center of this story and treated as protagonists. We usually see queer actors [playing] the best friend, or those small roles [where] sometimes you do not care as much. John Logan made this beautiful movie where we were being celebrated, and that's something that really attracted me when I read this script.
The movie is really empowering for the LGBTQ community. What did that mean to you to participate in something like that?
I'm originally from Brazil, so I always wanted to make an international career as an actor, but I never saw myself here, portrayed [in a Hollywood film]. The inspirations were not there. I'm a big fan of horror movies, [and having] a big chance right now to be in John Logan's movie, with him making his debut as a director, and Blumhouse, Kevin Bacon and this cast means that there's hope in this industry for uniqueness and the celebration of that. That's what I hope for in my career, but also I hope to serve as inspiration for others that, like me, will grow up now in Brazil and have the thought of, "This is possible. I can do it because Darwin did it."
Heartbreaking confessions and shocking twists
Your character, Gabriel, is in a montage early in the film with the other characters where he makes these heartbreaking confessions directly to the camera about the homophobia he's encountered. It's a very heartrending scene. Was that a challenge for you to film?
We were so prepared, and we were so surrounded by, the majority of our team [who] were queer, and I've never seen that in a set. I felt very protected and very loved there. We were so excited about the message that we were telling that it was not a challenge for me. I was there having so much fun. Going to work, now, I need to play this character, and I wanted to honor John's writing and send the message because there is a growth in this movie where, at the end, we have a good message.
We have a journey that we have to tell, so no, it was not difficult for me because it's acting, and at the end of the day, we [are] going to send an empowering message to who's watching this movie.
There's a big twist involving your character.
We won't talk too much about it, but how did knowing that impact your performance?
I try not to, that's the thing. I hate to see a performance where the actor is showing the end of the movie. I like to live in the moment and go piece by piece [through] the growth of it. It basically goes to being truthful to that scene and the dialogue that you are [speaking]. It's never thinking about [it] ahead of time, because then you get lost or you give too much in the beginning. Like everyone else, we have a journey as human beings. Part of Gabriel's journey, it's very truthful and mysterious. I was trying to go to that path more than tell what is coming next.
The message Del Fabro hopes They/Them conveys
You're involved in some really scary scenes in the film, but you're also part of a sex scene. Which kinds of scenes are the hardest for you to film?
Again, I was in a dream shooting this movie. Nothing was difficult. The energy of this family that we created together in Georgia was so magical that there's no bad day there. I had so much fun shooting the sex scenes, because also, the way that John wrote those scenes, I wish the audience were able to read the descriptions of the sunrise, and how he wanted to celebrate gay sex and beauty in a way that I often do not see.
When [others would be] portraying a gay sex scene, in our case [of gay characters], it's always usually with shame or something else. John wants to make [it about] the beauty of it, the celebration and the power of two men having sex. I was very happy reading that. We should have more of that in our industry. We should see more gay sex [portrayed] in a beautiful way.
One of the cool things about the movie is that it is so positive in certain ways. What do you hope viewers take away after watching the film?
I hope people understand that your uniqueness is your strength, that there's nothing wrong with you, that you're powerful just the way you are, and this is not a choice. We're born this way and we're beautiful the way we are, and we need to celebrate that as much as possible. If I can, [through] my art, remind you [of] that and help you keep on track ... it makes my day. I hope people get inspired in seeing those kids. I hope they have the chance to remind themselves that there's nothing wrong with them, and the opposite. Everything is wonderful and you should be celebrating.
Working with Kevin Bacon
I have to ask, this movie stars Kevin Bacon and he's been acting for decades now.
I know. You were one degree away.
Did he give you any advice or share any stories from his career that were particularly memorable?
Watching him perform is a masterclass. It's that memory of me in Brazil watching "Friday the 13th" with him doing his first movie, a slasher movie in a summer camp. Now, me here with him in the summer camp doing my debut in America in a slasher movie is a dream come true. Life is too good.
What's very interesting for me is seeing those big actors when you're not shooting — when they're behind the cameras, and how they behave, and how they treat others, and their preparation. Seeing Kevin, you understand why he has been in this business for so long, because he's such a pro. He treated us so well. I'm starting well, having those examples of masters like him, like John Logan, giving us a good example. We need that, especially in this industry.
Like you said, this is your first Hollywood film. Are you hoping to do more work on the big screen? Do you have anything coming up?
Yes. I do hope. New York now became home for me. I moved from Brazil four years ago to stay, and I'm glad that things are starting to happen now. I'm doing [another] movie with John Logan, so continuing my partnership with him, but I will be a producer as well. That's another thing. I always produced in Brazil, and I'm very glad that now I'm having the chance to start producing here.
Connecting with They/Them director John Logan
As you mentioned, you started performing in Brazil. What was the catalyst for making the move to New York?
I worked with music. I started with music when I was four years old, and I did my first musical when I was 13. I came from an artist family. My father was a model and became an actor, and my stepmother, who raised me, was a big model and then went to television, had her own show in Brazil. Art was always part of my life. I directed a little. I did a little TV [and] theater. I love doing theater. I miss doing theater.
I met John doing theater. We did a play in New York before the movie. That's how I met him. I called him out of nowhere. I created a play in Brazil when I was 14, and then I moved to New York. I was doing a play, and I was like, "Oh, I want to do an adaptation of this play that I created in Brazil." I called John and said, "Hey, John Logan," out of nowhere, "my name is Darwin and I have a play that I want you to adapt. I will do a workshop only for you in New York. Can you come to New York to see this and see if you have interest in doing this play?" Surprisingly, he said yes.
I did a whole workshop for him and he accepted doing the adaptation. We start working together, but we had to stop because of the pandemic. I was like, "I've lost my opportunity to work with John Logan. When's going to be the chance again of a big writer like John [accepting] something like this?" He called me three months later saying, "I wrote a movie, I wrote a role for you, and I want you to be part of this movie." The movie is "They/Them." That's how it all happened from the transition. It's a beautiful story.
Learning English and loving the energy of New York
How have you found the transition from Brazil to America? Are there a lot of differences between the Brazilian entertainment industry and the American industry?
The biggest thing is the language. English is not my first language. I learned English four years ago, basically. It's the challenge of the language. I always sang in English, I always traveled, but I never actually studied English, because ... I don't know why. I chose Spanish in school, and that was all I did. I graduated in Portuguese literature in Brazil, and [Portugese] was always the fascination and I was always intrigued by that. Language is a challenge, but I love a big challenge.
The difference is culturally. There's so many elements that make the material of a specific country change. Brazil is famous [for] their soap operas. They're long, six months or a year of doing the soap opera [while] here we are doing more movies, and the streaming [services] now are following that same path. It changed a little for sure, but at the end of the day, it's: What is the message, what moves you, and how truthful can you be? That's my goal always, besides being happy.
Have you enjoyed New York since you've been here? Have you experienced any culture shocks outside of the language?
There are little things here and there. [In] New York, there is a fast pace. There is an energy of "go, go, go" in New York that I really love. I love to work with people. I was working in London for six months, before the pandemic, that [has] that same seriousness of work. I love to work with [fast] directors. John is very fast as a director. It's three takes, four takes, and that's it. This is so rare. I love to work with that. I'm like, "Do you have it?" When you know how clear the director is with his vision and what he wants, it makes everything easier.
Expressing himself through songs and style
You've also recorded several albums. Are you planning on going back to singing at any point?
I'm trying to survive this two weeks of press [for "They/Them"]. I was in L.A. three days ago, and now we did the premiere here in New York. I just recorded an album after "They/Them." That is "Darwin Del Fabro Revisiting Jobim." Jobim is a composer from Brazil who recorded with Frank Sinatra. Frank Sinatra called him in '69 to record an album, and they did this album in Los Angeles in two weeks.
It's one of my favorite albums. I took six of those compositions, all English compositions by the composer, Tom Jobim, and I revisited that and I gave a little more of a young, fresh idea for that album. I'm planning to perform soon. I don't have dates yet because it depends [on], "Can I have time for it in my schedule?" But I love music. I love to do live shows. Soon, but I don't know when yet.
You have this great personal sense of style. Why is expressing yourself through fashion important to you?
It's in my blood, it's in my family. There's so many elements to it. It's a form of expression. It's a celebration of yourself. You show so much [about] who you are by the way you dress, and I always had a family who supported me to be who I am and celebrate every inch of that. I feel so privileged to have them wanting to find my uniqueness. I find my uniqueness towards my art [applies] to [how] I dress, and that's what makes me happy.
Picking a favorite horror movie
I want to wrap up with one final question. You mentioned you're a fan of the horror genre, and with "They/Them," you've now made a horror movie yourself. What is your favorite horror movie?
There's so many. I'm a big fan of horror movies. That's the hardest question ever, and everyone has been asking me that and I'm always like, "I don't know." I love "When A Stranger Calls," the '79 version. That's so brilliant. That cast and director and everything so perfect. I'm in a "Friday the 13th" mood right now. I cannot escape from that. I love, especially, the first one. It's so remarkable, that time, and that idea of summer camp, that I will go with "When A Stranger Calls," the '79 version, and "Friday the 13th."
And "They/Them." Come on! It became my favorite because I'm there and it means a lot. I hope people, when you are asking this later on, could say, "Well, my favorite horror movie is 'They/Them.'" That's the goal.
"They/Them" will premiere on Peacock August 5.
This interview was edited for clarity.