Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and Taiki Waititi on playing a pair of bloodsucking roommates in What We Do in the Shadows
As if vampires Viago, Vladislav and Deacon don’t have enough worries with their need for a constant blood supply, flat-sharing together in a cavernous Victorian mansion in the New Zealand capital presents even more challenges, from household chore division to their wildly mismatched ages and a new tech-savvy initiate to the undead lifestyle who’s reluctant to play by their rules. Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords and Boy director Taika Waititi direct and star in hugely comical mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, out in the UK this week. We caught up with the long-time collaborators in London for the lowdown.
The film is about vampires struggling to live harmoniously together. Have you ever had any nightmare flat situations?
Taika Waititi: Oh, lots. I've lived in some skody flats with some skody people. In one flat, we noticed all the valuables were going missing, and we found out one of our flatmates was ripping everyone off. Another time I was in this place with eight guys all living together, with the rooms cordoned off by sheets.
Jemaine Clement: That already sounds like a nightmare.
Taika Waititit: It was like a shanty town in the middle of the city and was 30 NZ bucks a week, which is like £10 a week. We found this part of the flat that no one was living in where you could just fit a bed folded up at the end. We said to some guy he could have it for 20 bucks. He moved in and got some kind of crazy mould-like chest infection. I never really saw him again; the worst thing was nobody checked in on him.
Jemaine Clement: This sounds so bleak.
Taika Waititi: Every now and then we'd see him come down kind of clutching his chest coughing then go up again.
Jemaine Clement: Think about the savings he was making. One of my places, we had nine people in what was basically a room. We had someone under our stairs as well for a while, and it was like one of those cupboard areas, but he'd put pictures up there.
Taika Waititi: Bigger rooms, more room.
Jemaine Clement: Nicer scenery.
Taika Waititi: This other time one of the guys had a room right next to the lounge with a bit of wall that was made of jib-board, real thin. We were watching TV, and (starts laughing)…
Jemaine Clement: I'm scared of all these stories.
Taika Waititi: And suddenly his girlfriend's head bursts through the wall, boom, and just looks over. They were banging in the room and her head just went through.
Jemaine Clement: So embarrassing. Did you laugh, or…
Taika Waititi: Yeah, we were just like, 'Hey Asha', and she just went back in.
Tell us about your characters and how you developed them.
Taika Waititi: My character's like my mum mixed with Brad Pitt from Interview with the Vampire.
Jemaine Clement: I guess I wanted mine to be a cool vampire like Gary Oldman in Dracula.
Taika Waititi: There's also some C-3PO in mine.
What works so well between you is that you keep working together, is it simply a case of sharing the same sense of humour?
Jemaine Clement: No one else was really interested. We have a lot in common as far as the way we grew up. We find a lot of the same things funny. We're both part Maori, from single-parent homes, not particularly well-off. But both pretentious. We were both rare for poor people because we were pretentious. Delusions of grandeur as my mum used to say. Did your mum say that about you?
Taika Waititi: No, but she read a story I'd written when I was like six or seven at one of my birthdays, maybe my 21st, a creative writing story, about how the Earth was on fire being destroyed and everyone was burning including my parents and I was in the helicopter just watching and I was saved and no one else. That I'm more important than anyone else on Earth including my parents.
Jemaine Clement: I think we both had a similar idea of what success is. Which would be for me like wearing a red satin smoking jacket, that's how I viewed success.
Taika Waititi: And for me anything made of leather.
You’re two of New Zealand’s best-known faces abroad. Do you get a huge amount of attention at home?
Jemaine Clement: I kind of get the feeling that people really didn't watch Flight of the Conchords much in New Zealand. A lot of people just knew it from the news. People will talk to me about 'doing your sketch show', but I'm like, 'You haven't actually seen it have you, it's not a sketch show.'
But Taika's last film, Boy, is the highest-grossing New Zealand film back home, isn't it?
Taika Waititi: Even still, people are just like, whatever. A lot of people in New Zealand, even if they like what someone's done, don't want to acknowledge them that much. Success is not really that well-regarded there. The celebrities in New Zealand are rugby players and people who do up houses on lifestyle shows, and people who read the news.
Jemaine Clement: I remember an interview once in New Zealand and the woman said: 'It must be weird. I was across the road from you the other day Jemaine, you were at the music shop, and I watched you for about five minutes. I thought this must be nice how people aren't going up to him, it must be weird with people going up to him,' and I was thinking no, it's weirder that you were watching me for five minutes. It's way weirder.
What We Do In The Shadows is in cinemas Friday November 21