Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement
Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have come a long way since their student days at Victoria University of Wellington, where the New Zealand natives formed the award-winning comedy duo The Humourbeasts.
For two seasons (2007–09), they collaborated with fellow Kiwi Bret McKenzie on HBO's Flight of the Conchords. Since then, they've worked separately and together.
After writing and directing the two most successful movies in New Zealand film history (Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Waititi directed Marvel's critically acclaimed Thor: Ragnarok.
Meanwhile, Clement has appeared in dozens of TV shows (The Simpsons, Legion) and movies (Men in Black 3, Dinner for Schmucks), plus What We Do in the Shadows, a vampire mockumentary he cowrote, codirected and costarred in with Waititi in 2014.
Now the longtime friends are expanding that feature into a series that premieres on FX March 27.
They discussed the new show with emmy's Bob Makela .
Q: Do you remember the moment you decided to do a vampire project?
Jemaine Clement: We once did a thing in a comedy club where we played vampire characters; it was maybe 2000. One of us was a vampire comedian who gets up onstage and is telling vampire jokes. The other one gets up and starts heckling. The first vampire says, "You've been heckling me for hundreds of years. You've followed me all through history."
Taika Waititi: But there was a point in the late '90s, early 2000s when vampires got very uncool. I loved the first Blade. Prior to that, my interest waned a bit. Then I got back into them from re-visiting the old films I'd watched growing up. That was about the time Jemaine and I came up with this idea to do a film.
Q: You first made it as a short, right?
JC: We made the short film, but about the time it came out, we were thinking that maybe there were too many mockumentaries.
TW: And when we set out to do the short, in 2003, the vampire genre was at its lowest point and no one was doing it.
JC: Then it was a process of getting the money to make the feature. We got the money — but not enough. But we didn't know, because we'd never made a film at that stage. But Taika was nominated for an Oscar for his short film [Two Cars, One Night], and Conchords started to get [attention] in America at the same time. So we put it off for a long time.
Q: Ten years later you made the movie.
JC: Yeah, 10 years later we found some time to get everyone who was in the short film. We filled out the world and the characters more.
TW: After Blade, you had Underworld, Twilight … All of those films came out, which was another worry to us: "No one's gonna want to see another vampire film." It actually worked out better because we had a lot more things to draw on — between pop culture and vampire culture and how the world saw vampires at the time.
Q: Jemaine, I recall you stressing out about writing season two of Flight of the Conchords. Were you reluctant to turn your successful vampire movie into a TV show?
JC: I guess the idea was that someone else would make it. But at the same time, I wanted to do some writing. I was thinking of pitching something anyway. So it was a perfect time to do a project that was likely to go — instead of doing something that probably wouldn't go.
Q: Did you learn any lessons from Conchords that you'll be using this time around?
JC: Yeah. Don't write it, do the music and be in it.
Q: How different will the TV show be from the movie?
TW: Well, there's different characters. And we're not in it. It happens in the same universe as our film, at the same time the show is being documented, but our [movie] characters are still in New Zealand.
Q: And the series is set in Staten Island, of all places. Why?
JC: We considered a lot of places. We talked about New Orleans, and we loved Detroit. We were set to go with Pennsylvania, because [the vampires] might've thought it sounded like Transylvania. But then we thought Staten Island might be a place where immigrants who came to America hundreds of years ago would've gone.
Q: Conchords fans need to know: where's Bret?
JC: We tried to get him to do a part in the movie, but he was writing music for one of those Muppets movies. He's writing more music at the moment for another film with James Bobin, who directed The Muppets movie [in 2011 and also co- created Flight of the Conchords].
Q: What's the biggest challenge in doing a vampire TV show?
TW: Having to shoot everything at night. You sleep in the day and you become a vampire.
JC: Yeah, you can never go out. There are never any scenes hanging out at the beach in the sun.
This Q&A was edited and condensed.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 2, 2019