IIt is a stormy night in Wellington and we are on the brink of the second national shutdown of the pandemic. There is a measured knock on my door. Jemaine Clement shakes my hand warmly and takes off her boots. We are reunited in the wake of the worldwide success of his comedy series Wellington Paranormal and he’s in an exuberant mood. He’s thirsty too – tonight, the former door-to-door orange juice salesman is asking for copious glasses of water.
Paranormal is one of two derivatives of his vampire movie and Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows. It stars the Shadows police officers Minogue (Mike Minogue) and O’Leary (Karen O’Leary), recruited into the paranormal unit by Sergeant Ruawai Maaka (Maaka Pohatu). The trio, and their colleague Const Parker (Tom Sainsbury), are unaware, clumsy, and personable. 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 is good to create a space where that is not happening ”, he says. Like Cliff Curtis, Clement prefers a collaborative style on set over relentless pressure from the United States, influenced by the marae, or meeting places, which are at the heart of Maori communities. “It is not so regulated. People share work and property. “
TVNZ, the producers of Wellington Paranormal, notoriously declined Clement and Bret McKenzie’s speech for the Flight of the Conchords series, before HBO sanctioned one of the world’s hottest things in comedy for a couple of years. “Bret is too polite, I would love to make fun of TVNZ rejecting us, I was amused,” says Clement laughing, gently tapping my dining room table. “They were too scared to let anyone do comedy.”
Speaking of Paranormal, Clement – now 47 – reflects on his first brush with the police: 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: they let you loose. You don’t know the rules. It feels like you are breaking a little rule. And then it turns out that you’re breaking a great rule, ”he laughs. “Who would have thought that I would spend four years doing a police show? That is a warning to any Guardian reader who is thinking of engaging in acts of vandalism. “
One of Wellington Paranormal’s strengths is the inclusion of a Maori supernatural perspective, of legends and mythical creatures like Taniwha. Sergeant Maaka and his colleagues also speak some Maori tea. “The whole te reo landscape has changed in New Zealand,” says Clement. He memorably voiced Moana’s crab, Tamatoa in reo, and is encouraged by the progress.
“There are signs everywhere. People use it in everyday language. Of course, when there is progress, that really annoys some people. This is the change. “We don’t like this new name.” That 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 spiritual realm and comedy as well. “She [Maikara] it was fun, sometimes on purpose and sometimes not. He had a really vivid imagination. She could tell a story. ”
‘The dream job’
Clement finds himself in a rich and creatively varied space, partly inspired, he says, by his 12-year-old son, Sopho Iraia. He’s also visibly energized by co-writing three new projects with his old friend (and fellow “native creative”) Waititi. He gestures through the window, downhill to Conchords’ original bohemian flat and the Bats Theater, where their collaboration began. “He is my boss now. He’s the older brother, he tells me what to do. We know each other, we work together, so long. We understand each other, we know what others mean.
“We have the same language and the same way of thinking, the same references. We have a similar background. We are also from the same place. He does not suffer fools; even though he is one, in a different way. “
The duo have written 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’s the dream job, really.” Clement reveals that they are also writing a semi-historical children’s adventure show with The In-Betweeners’ Iain Morris. “It’s exciting for me to do something on a large scale.”
Unlike Waititi, who lives in Los Angeles, Clement is happy to be located in the walkable center of Wellington. He lives with Sopho and his wife, the Greek-Kiwi actress and director, Miranda Manasiadis, whom he met while studying film and theater at the city’s Victoria University. A lifelong non-drinker who is not about the lifestyle of a rock star, his jet-set has been punished by Covid-19. “He was definitely flying and traveling too much. I was wearing myself out. I feel younger and healthier than two years ago, “he says, adding,” I was basically in a vortex of endless work. “
Clement, who is no longer in charge of the punishing schedules of Wellington Paranormal and What We Do in the Shadows networks, is eager to get through his friends’ projects like The White Lotus (“I loved how Mike White directed me about Brad’s Status “) and Reserve Dogs (” I have excellent conversations with Sterlin [Harjo] on indigenous peoples and the supernatural ”).
Clement also has several projects on screen. Like Dr. Ian Garvin, Clement has filmed a major role in Avatar 2 and 3, with 4 and 5 continuous productions. The 2020 movie I Used to Go Here is streaming on various platforms, including Stan in Australia and Amazon in the US and UK. Kiwi indie Nude Tuesday, in which Clement plays nude hippy sex guru Bjorg, is over.
But as for Flight of the Conchords, the special or movie that was discussed above isn’t even on the back burner, due to the band members’ hectic schedule. He and McKenzie are working on separate projects with his Conchords co-creator, James Bobin. McKenzie includes pandemic-affected musicals and an imminent serious album release. “We had lunch yesterday. They gave us a little concert in Tasmania. It might be fun to do that, if we can make dating work. “
It’s getting late. My phone rings. “Could it be a booty call? Before midnight! “Clement laughs out loud. So what do you think of Covid? He pauses, unusually, looking at the lights of the capital poised to go into instant lockdown. Then he talks about his anxiety about suffering, death. and the loss that people have gone through in places like the UK, America and Greece, and their wish that comedy could distract those at home a bit.
Above all, however, Clement is about hope. “Covid has been quite unifying in New Zealand. The whole 5 million team, not this ‘it’s us and you’. We are getting through this together. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism