The Big Issue : Edition 467
32 THE BIG ISSUE 12 – 25 SEP 2014 COUNT MOCK-ULA IT’S INESCAPABLY NOISY in New York when Jemaine Clement calls to chat about his new movie, What We Do in the Shadows. One half of New Zealand’s musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, the actor and comedian ducks into a cafe to escape the traffic. “You know those kind of articles that describe what a person does all the time? I’ll describe to you what I’m doing,” he half-jokes. Apparently Clement is “looking quite dishevelled”, even sporting three-day-old facial hair – perfect celebrity-profile fodder. “You can put that in your article,” he instructs. Much like Clement as an interview subject, What We Do in the Shadows is a smart, self-aware comedy with heart. That’s not to suggest its heart is beating: this mockumentary – which Clement co-wrote, co-directed and co-stars in with long-time colleague Taika Waititi (Boy) – follows the exploits of the undead. The film follows three vampire flatmates who are just trying to make it through modern life. Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Vladislav (Clement) may have lived for centuries, but that doesn’t mean they live together harmoniously. When 8000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham) turns their dinner guest Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire, too, the guys have to stop squabbling over the dishes to teach Nick about life as a creature of the night. This low-budget film takes obvious cues from the likes of This is Spinal Tap (1984), satirising vampire lore rather than musicians. But Clement also cites more subtle influences, including the History Channel and “shared national treasure” John Clarke, the New Zealand-born satirist best known for his long-running current affairs spoof, Clarke and Dawe. Shot in Wellington (where Clement is based) the film relies on a talented brood of local comedic actors and even features a brief appearance by Rhys Darby (who plays manager Murray in Flight of the Conchords) as a well-mannered, anti- cussing werewolf (“not swearwolf”). “The hard thing about the Shadows movie was the editing, because we improvised most of it,” Clement admits. “We wrote the script. We wrote the dialogue, but we didn’t show the actors because we wanted to seem off the cuff and natural... We had about 150 hours of footage, which we had to get down to 85 minutes.” They’ve managed to whittle it down to a concise, feature-length comedy that’s proven quite the festival darling, playing to packed cinemas at Sundance, as well as the Sydney Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival. Clement says Sundance, held in Salt Lake City in the middle of winter, was a really fun experience: “Like a school ski camp, which I’ve never actually been on, but there were Kiwis everywhere.” Close to a decade in the making, Clement says he witnessed a range of reactions to their vampire movie pitch over the years: ‘Vampires? I think the world is ready for vampires’, ‘VAMPIRES ARE SO HOT RIGHT NOW’, ‘Vampires? (eye roll)’ and now it’s ‘Vampires? They were big three years ago, kinda cool’. This slightly out-dated vibe is quintessential to the wry tone of the movie. When the guys hit the Wellington night-life dressed in anachronistic furs and leather, they discover a party scene as dead as they are. But those suffering fang fatigue needn’t worry: this film perfectly satirises the genre. Nick revels in his new-found immortality, cashing in on Twilight’s popularity as a pick-up tool, while Deacon clearly channels some rebellious The Lost Boys (1987) nostalgia. An endearing dagginess has been key to Clement’s performances across his career. He’s often cast as a highly sexed weirdo, from his 2007 breakout film role as socially awkward misfit Jarrod in Eagle vs Shark (Waititi’s directorial debut) to eccentric artist Kieran in Dinner for Schmucks (2010). The sexually precocious Vlad, an 867-year-old still prone to naivety, doesn’t feel like a huge departure. Is Clement worried about being typecast as a sexy dork? “I guess I used to be just cast as a dork,” he says. “So it’s a bit of an improvement.” Such relentless, dry self-deprecation suggests Clement is just as fun offscreen as you’d expect from his HBO comedy show Flight of the Conchords. Since he and co-star Bret McKenzie called it quits on the absurd musical sitcom, they’ve stripped the act back to its original form. “By that I mean we do tours and gigs occasionally. Very occasionally we talk about making a musical movie, but not nearly as often as we are asked about if we will make a movie,” he teases. Clement is now in New York working on what he terms a break-up ‘coma’ (aka comedy-drama). “He’s not really very sexy. It’s more back to just dork,” he laughs. “I’ve got quite the range.” The multi-talented artist may be self- effacing, but he isn’t fooling anyone. With several projects on the burner with Waititi alone – across theatre, television and movies – he’s living proof that there’s no rest for the wickedly funny. by Stephanie Van Schilt » What We Do in the Shadows is in cinemas now. NEW ZEALAND HAS A STRONG TRACK RECORD OF PRODUCING BLACK COMEDY FILMS. ITS LATEST EXPORT, STARRING JEMAINE CLEMENT, HAS A BLOODY TWIST.