If you haven’t come across the biographical drama miniseries on Hulu or Disney+ “Welcome to Chippendales”, then here’s your holiday binge lined up. The recently released series focuses on the founder of the iconic Chippendales, Somen “Steve” Banjeree (played by Kumail Nunjiani), and the rise and subsequent collapse that follows.
In addition to Nunjiani, the iconic cast includes Murray Bartlett (“The White Lotus”), Juliette Lewis (“Yellowjackets”) and Annaleigh Ashford (“Masters of Sex”) – to name but a few. Behind the bar is the reliable and adorable Bobby the Bartender, who is played by Darren Lipari. Apart from being a friend of Moviehole, Lipari has a growing career, starring in movies like “21 Bridges” and TV shows including “Girls” and “Mr Robot”.
We caught up with Darren recently, and had a great chat about “Welcome to Chippendales”, his upcoming projects, and how the pandemic has had a huge effect on the industry.
“Welcome to Chippendales” is now showing on Hulu in the USA, and Disney+ in Australia, with episodes being released weekly.
Moviehole: Thanks for chatting to us today, Darren! We’re big fans of Murray Bartlett, who you worked with in “Welcome to Chippendales”. It is so cool that you got to work with him.
Darren: Well, that’s the crazy thing about this business is that, a year earlier, I was watching “The White Lotus” in a pandemic. I knew this guy was a working actor, but he had a break, and then a year later hanging out with him for a few months.
MH: Is he a really nice guy?
D: I know it’s cliché, but he is an extremely nice guy. I think, overall, in general, the business doesn’t want to deal with anyone who’s not cool, because who wants that? But he is a very warm, friendly guy. And I think the fact that he got his big break at 50 years old, recently, I think everyone is extremely grateful to just be working and have a career because the business is difficult, like any business. Even being friends with him on Instagram and when he likes my posts, I’m like, “Oh, my God, Murray Bartlett liked my post.” He’s great.
MH: He’s incredibly versatile, but it’s inspiring as well that someone gets their break a bit older. There’s always opportunity to.
D: There is, there always is. I think if you have a passion for what you do, and you want to do it, and then whatever field you choose, something eventually will give. There’s 100% chance of not nothing happening if you don’t do it anymore. So, even with me, obviously I’m not going anywhere, but as the years go by, it’s like wow, if I packed it all up, I wouldn’t have ever got this opportunity or this opportunity.
MH: Absolutely! We really enjoyed “Welcome to Chippendales” and I really liked Bobby the Bartender—such a cool little role. How did that come about for you?
D: Yeah, so, as you probably know, the pandemic, basically what happened was everything was self-tape, every theatrical audition, TV film, it’s all like this. So I moved to Los Angeles from New York City right through the pandemic, and through self-tapes I got this audition.
Ironically – it’s not much of a secret – but most actors have a lot of experience bartending, passing food, waiting tables. So, I have a bar actually, which I’m sitting on right now in my apartment. And I said, what the hell? We are in self-tape land, let me set up the audition with me bartending, I have the equipment. I put on some Bee Gees music, I had a moustache that I’ve never had in my life at the time. I even did the whole bow tie thing.
Two weeks later, I got a call from my manager and he said, “Hey, they just want to know if you really know how to bartend?” And I laughed, because, I’ve been bartending for over a decade. So, I said, “Sure.” And then I got the part. It was originally just two episodes, but then they brought me back for five more. In the later episodes I’m on a scene here and I’m on a scene there as far as I know. It was great.
MH: It’s such a cool series as well. If you watch it without knowing a lot about the story, then you learn a lot about “Chippendales” throughout. It’s fun to watch it all play out. The cast is also great, such as Kamail Nunjiani. Has it been great working with them?
Darren: Yeah and that’s the great thing – you get the job and then you kind of know who’s attached here and there. Then again, the show-runner was Rob Siegel, who wrote “The Wrestler” with Darren Aronofsky. He did “The Founder” with Michael Keaton. And then the last thing he did was “Pam and Tommy”. So, I knew of him and Jenny Connor , who was also a showrunner where I did a small part in the show “Girls” on HBO. So, you kind of start to see the pieces, the writers, the directors, the actors, you kind of have an idea… let’s say, look, I don’t think we have any idea of how it’s going to turn out but at least I knew there were people that I was fans of, and I knew it was going to be a solid project, at the very least it was going to be entertaining, it was going to have some fun things.
So, you get to set and you take it in because I think we’re all fans. I think at the heart I’m a fan. We grew up watching film or entertainment or TV. But you then like, “Okay, this is my job. This is my work. This is my scene partner.” But I think it’s important to take it in and be like, “Wow, this is really cool.”
MH: How often were you on set? Were you on set when they were doing the dancing?
Darren: I think all in all, I was probably on set maybe like 20 to 25 days. And my home was Chippendales. That was home. I was either in the locker room or behind the bar, or on the floor. So, anytime they did a dance number, anytime they had bar stuff, I was there. That was all just like a set somewhere in the valley.
With anything, regardless if it’s like cheering or not, they’ll do a whole full thing with the music. Then they’ll do one without the music. I’m sure they have many technical reasons, but it’s good to have the music for the dancers, even though they can do without it, and screaming and shouting, things like that or the woman and things like that. It was a fun set, obviously, it’s worked too. Fortunately, I can bartend, but there’s a thing you know, you’re going on set, you know your lines and there are the cameras.
MH: So, you said you’ve bartended before, what would be your favorite cocktail to make?
Darren: Well, I won’t say I’m a purist but I like, I think, some of the simplest things in my opinion are the best, even comes with food. One of my favorites is an Old Fashioned. I appreciate many, many cocktails. The Long Island Iced Tea, I don’t appreciate that much anymore. Because I am from Long Island and it’s a pain in the ass to make. Anything with like, three or four steps, you know? You don’t want to get too crazy.
In the very first episode, we did this whole thing when Dorothy Stratten and Paul Snider come to the bar and they want a Tom Collins and Pink Squirrel. So, they shot this whole thing where I was doing all of this and actually making the drinks. A lot of those drinks back then were like a lot of heavy cream, like a Grasshopper, Pink Squirrel, and White Russian. White Russian is good, actually.
MH: I’ve never actually tried one of those!
Darren: It’s just like heavy cream, like a coffee liqueur and vodka. It is like a coffee milkshake. You like coffee? I’m sure you like coffee.
Katie: I do. I like espresso martinis. They are so dangerous because they taste good. And then you down like five of them.
Do you prefer filming TV or movies? Is there a huge distinction between the two?
Darren: Yeah, I think so. Well, obviously, you know, I mean, now it’s like, TV is insane. Just even watching the video production value. I think I enjoy working on television that isn’t network. I enjoy working on a show like “Chippendales” or even something like “Mr Robot”. Film is a bit bigger, but there isn’t as much a difference as far as, like really prestige TV and film. I don’t think you don’t get to explore, and improv as much with network TV – they want you to stick to the script more and it’s definitely quicker. If I shot an episode of “Law and Order” or something like “The Blacklist”, you shoot that episode, and then that episode is already ready to go on air in like three weeks.
So, I prefer something like this Hulu show, something that’s streaming and film. I do prefer that. I think you just have a bit more room creatively as an actor and more space to create more and I think just the way they shoot it is a bit more artistic in my opinion. In the case of “Mr Robot”, there are people on network TV that do great stuff.
MH: is there a dream role for you or someone that you would love to work with?
Darren: I’m a huge fan of David Lynch. I also love what Danny McBride is doing, “Righteous Gemstones” all that stuff. And the guys from “Wet Hot American Summer”, I love that concept of comedy. As far as dream roles for me, my thing, my niche, my brand would be kind of a character that would be going through more of a crisis. It can be funny like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day”. If I was going to pick like an action hero role that I would love would be like a John McClane from “Die Hard”. This kind of ordinary guy, but under these extreme circumstances.
He’s making jokes. He is just pleading with the cops. “I don’t want to take care of this” and he kind of saves the day but is also going through an identity thing. Another example is a Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook”. That’s kind of my thing.
So, the thing with Bobby, he was a bit more lighter. I usually play a lot of cops or just something that was a bit more fun, which was nice. So, I think this role is going to lead to something more kind of push a little more to my comedy. And some of this stuff, particularly in the next episode, I kind of have a funny scene with Juliette Lewis that we improv. I think it’s in there.
MH: Do you find out basically what’s been cut and what’s coming just as you watch it?
Darren: I think if you want to be executive producers like Kumail or one of the leads, like Murray Bartlett and Annie Ashford, you get to probably see a lot of stuff. As far as where I’m right now, I shot enough I know I was going to be in stuff, obviously. One of the things an actor kind of finds out if they are in or not, at least like it’s a guarantee is one may call you to do like ADR and looping. So, I got to see the first few episodes. I went to the premiere, which was like a week or two ago and on the red carpet, the show-runner Jenny Connor, she like, “Hey, you’re really in the show. They really kept you in a lot. It’s amazing. Oh my God.” I’m like, “Oh, cool. That’s great.”
Or if someone was like, that was a great thing that you did. I was like, “Oh, cool, that I’m still in the show.” You know what I mean? You just don’t know. There were times on the set where I was behind the bar and things were happening or sometimes something was on the page and I would just improv, but then they will give me a mic and some of those lines will be added. Something I learned on this job is you always just go for it. And the worst thing that can happen is a director or someone comes over and say, “Hey, that was a great idea. That was a great thing. I love what you did but let’s just do this instead.” That is the worst thing.
MH: When they started, they moved from the Backgammon Club to the Strip Bar. They took your shirt off, and then you had a vest on. I suppose that works with the character. But was that just part of the script?
Darren: Yeah, that’s cool that you bring that up. That was a character choice. But also, I think the director for the first two episodes we kind of chatted about and he kind of preemptively to do like a vest, and meet them halfway in that sense. So, I did that. I was kind of a guinea pig for the Chippendales look, but then it was a thing where it’s like, maybe Bobby had a talk with Kumail and like, “Hey, can I just wear the vest?’ And it was also a thing about me separating myself too, in the sense that I was kind of the head bartender, that was my scene, I started with Kumail in the beginning and I was the head bartender, and I kept that look. They had some more muscular guys behind the bar with their shirt off, which was the appeal, but that was the thing, where I was like, you know, what, boss… and also in the script – “I feel ridiculous”. The look gets a little more refined and classier as the show went on. There’ll be like a black vest you’ll see in other episodes and things like that.
MH: I see that you’ve got a lot of support back home, lots of people watching and spotting you in the show. That’s really cool.
Darren: It’s great. It just helps a lot. It’s very sweet and it all is just very touching. Again, it’s a cool role. There are these moments that you remember that I was like there’s opportunity here. I saw Bobby had some fun moments and I was like wow, the show is being watched. Hulu is really great – there’s 20th Century and there’s Disney and all that, but they’re really putting a lot of promotion into it.
MH: When you see something a bit more unique or that we haven’t seen before and you know with a good cast as well, people want it. So, using that sort of platform and promoting a new show like “Welcome to Chippendales”, I think is working for them. So, it’s good for yourself to be involved as well.
D: I auditioned a lot and I’ve auditioned for some great stuff. To get to be a part of this was a dream come true. Just because I knew it had a lot going for it, checked off a lot of the boxes as far as… again, when we talked about a great cast and you had just good people on it. I mean, Juliette Lewis too, and the true crime element.
Another thing I appreciate is the episodes are like 40 minutes or a little bit over and they’re trying to tell as much story as they can which is good. They’re not rushing. Maybe we could have done 10 or not, but I think it still covers a lot of stuff that’s important to the story.
MH: Are there any roles that you’ve missed out on before that you really wanted or a movie that you would have loved to be involved in?
D: Yeah, definitely. There’s a few. I just auditioned not too long ago for this Judd Apatow movie called “Dumb Money”, which is about the GameStop stock. So, I was auditioning for this GameStop manager, was really funny and almost like an “Office Space”-type guy. That one I really wanted to get. Then there was another movie I auditioned for that was this kind of eccentric detective, the movie is being directed by Michael Keaton, that’s called “Knox Goes Away”. I auditioned for “Pam and Tommy” and a lot of that character got cut, but he was working for the video company. They went with a Kurt Cobain-looking guy whose name is Spencer, really good actor. But I wanted that role just because it was a really cool character. You’re working with Seth Rogan and the director of “I Tonya”, Craig Gillespie. So, there’s always something. But then the same people in “Pam and Tommy” were the same from “Chippendales”. So maybe if not this one, maybe it is the next one.
MH: Do you have any cool projects coming up?
Darren: I just finished a few actually cool, short, independent films that I played another bartender, a different guy. I’ve got short film “Bonding” coming up in 2023, directed by another Aussie – Luke Rex.
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I’m auditioning, and it’s like, what comes next? What comes next? But I’m always really trying to work on something, whether it’s through a friend, or if someone reaches out. But I truly believe that with this show is definitely going to open some doors that I might start to work a little more frequently.
MH: Obviously, without going into it too much, the last couple of years has been weird, to say the least. And has changed things. It has have an impact on the industry and being able to work. Do you find that being able to do zoom or video is helpful, or a blessing and a curse, or both?
D: Yeah, it’s a blessing and a curse. So, again, I moved from New York City to LA February of 2020. What I want to say is one of the big cons of the self-tape is not going into a room and meeting a casting director or director face-to-face and getting an energy and essence about the person. You don’t have that thing, where it’s, “Oh, Darren was really cool. I don’t think he’s right for that role. But I really liked his vibe, I liked his energy.” In a self-tape, you don’t get that opportunity. You also don’t get that opportunity to collaborate with the casting director or anything. If you go to an office with the cast director, you know you’re being seen.
The pro is that it’s very flexible. I don’t have to drive around LA or this and that here and there. And it’s also benefited me in the sense of the “Chippendales” audition, or even other auditions because now it’s like, well, if you’re going to put me in my office, in front of a screen, or in front of a backdrop, I’m going to change it up, I’m going to try and paint the picture more, I’m going to put myself behind a bar.
If I’m going to be a detective that’s looking on a body outside, I’m going to go in the back alley, I’ll put a mic on. So I think there is an advantage of that – I think you can stand out a bit more in that. But to be honest with you, I would like to start going in person again. However the fact that I was able to come out here and within a year be able to book the show off a tape, I was very pleased about that.
MH: Thank you so much for your time today Darren. It’s always a pleasure catching up and we wish you the best!