‘We beat this together’: Jemaine Clement on Covid, crime and his friend Taika Waititi | Culture
IIt is a blustery night in Wellington and we are on the brink of the second national lockdown in the pandemic. There is a measured knock on my apartment door. Jemaine Clément warmly shakes my hand and takes off his boots. We meet in the wake of the worldwide success of his comedy series Wellington Paranormal and he’s in a rambunctious mood. He is also thirsty: tonight, the former door-to-door orange juice seller rather craves copious glasses of water.
Paranormal is one of two spin-offs from his vampire and Taika Waititi film, What We Do in the Shadows. It stars the police officers of Shadows Minogue (Mike Minogue) and O’Leary (Karen O’Leary), recruited for the paranormal unit by Sgt Ruawai Maaka (Maaka Pohatu). The trio and their colleague Const Parker (Tom Sainsbury) are oblivious, clumsy and affable. Clement explains the importance of Paranormal being a collegiate shoot.
“There are a lot of comedies where people insult each other all the time. It’s good to create a space where that doesn’t happen, ”he says. Like Cliff Curtis, Clement favors a collaborative style on set in the face of relentless pressure from America, influenced by the marae – or meeting places – which are at the heart of Maori communities. “It’s not that regulated. People share work and property.
TVNZ, the producers of Wellington Paranormal, notoriously turned down Clement and Bret McKenzie’s pitch for the Flight of the Conchords series – before HBO endorsed one of the hottest things in comedy for a few years. “Bret is too polite – I’d love to laugh at TVNZ for refusing us, that amused me,” said Clement, laughing, patting my dining table gently. “They were too scared to let anyone do anything.”
Speaking of the paranormal, Clément – now 47 years old – looks back on his first contact with law enforcement: when he broke into a seemingly abandoned building in his provincial hometown of Masterton as a teenager. “That’s part of the fun, and part of the risk, of a small town: you’re let loose. You don’t know the rules. It’s like breaking a little rule. And then it turns out you’re breaking a big rule, ”he laughs. “Who would have thought I would spend four years doing a crime show?” This is a warning to all Guardian readers who are considering engaging in vandalism.
One of Wellington Paranormal’s strengths is its inclusion of a Maori supernatural perspective, legends, and mythical creatures such as Taniwha. Sgt Maaka and his colleagues also talk a bit about Maori te reo. “The whole landscape of te reo has changed in New Zealand,” says Clement. He memorably voiced Moana Tamatoa’s crab in re reo and is encouraged by the progress.
“There are signs everywhere. People use it in everyday speech. Of course, when there is progress, it really bothers some people. This is the change. “We don’t like this new name. It has been around for a thousand years.
Growing up in Maori communities with his beloved grandmother Maikara, Clement was raised to appreciate Maori beliefs in the spirit realm, as well as comedy. “She [Maikara] was funny, sometimes on purpose and sometimes not. She had a vivid imagination. She could tell a story.
“The dream job”
Clement is in a creatively rich and varied space – partly inspired, he says, by his 12-year-old son Sopho Iraia. He is also visibly energized by the co-writing of three new projects with his old friend (and “creative native” colleague) Waititi. He gestures through the window, down the hill to the Conchords’ original bohemian apartment and the Bats Theater, where their collaboration began. “He’s my boss now. He’s the older brother, he tells me what to do. We know each other, have worked together for so long. We understand each other, know what the other means.
“We have the same language and the same way of thinking, the same references. We have a similar journey. We are also from the same place. He does not suffer from fools; although it is, in a different way.
The duo wrote two of 10 full-length episodes for their untitled action comedy adventure, which Apple TV will shoot in the first half of next year. “It really is the dream job. Clement reveals that they are also writing a semi-historical children’s adventure show with Iain Morris of the In-Betweeners. “It’s exciting for me to do something on a large scale. “
Unlike Waititi, who lives in Los Angeles, Clement is happy to be based in central Wellington, within walking distance. He lives with Sopho and his Greco-Kiwi actress-director wife, Miranda Manasiadis, whom he met while studying film and theater at Victoria University in the city. A longtime non-drinker who has nothing to do with the rock star’s lifestyle, his jet set has been grounded by Covid-19. “I was definitely flying and traveling too much. It was exhausting me. I feel younger and healthier than two years ago, ”he says, adding,“ I was basically in an endless work vortex.
No longer in charge of the punitive network programs of Wellington Paranormal and What We Do in the Shadows, Clement is eager to gorge himself on projects from his friends, like The White Lotus (“Loved the way Mike White m ‘led on Brad’s Status “) and Reservation Dogs (” I have good conversations with Sterlin [Harjo] on Indigenous Peoples and the Supernatural ”).
Clément also has a number of upcoming projects on the screens. As Dr. Ian Garvin, Clement filmed a major role in Avatar 2 and 3, with 4 and 5 productions continuing. The 2020 movie I Used to Go Here is released on various platforms, including Stan in Australia and Amazon in the US and UK. Kiwi indie Nude Tuesday, in which Clement plays naked hippie sex guru Bjorg, is over.
But as with Flight of the Conchords, the previously discussed special or movie isn’t even on the back burner – due to the band members’ busy schedules. He and McKenzie are working on separate projects with their Conchords co-creator, James Bobin. McKenzie’s features musicals hit by the pandemic and a serious album release looming. “We had lunch yesterday. We were offered a little concert in Tasmania. It might be fun to do that, if we can make the dates work. “
It’s getting late. My phone is ringing. “Maybe a booty call?” Before midnight! ”Clement bursts out laughing. So what does he think of the Covid? He stops, unusually, watching the lights of the capital about to go into instant lockdown. Then he talks about his anxiety over the pain, death and loss that people have suffered in places like the UK, America and Greece; and his desire that comedy could distract the housebound a little.
But above all, Clément speaks of hope. “The Covid has been quite unifying in New Zealand. The whole 5 million team – not that ‘it’s us and you’. We fight this together.