Interview with Jemaine Clement for What We Do in the Shadows
This is an excerpt from a feature published in The Big Issue.
It’s inescapably noisy on the streets of New York City 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 decides to duck into a café to escape the audible 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, tongue-in-cheek.
Much like Clement as an interview subject, What We Do in the Shadows is a smart and self-aware comedy with heart. That’s not to suggest its heart is beating though: this mockumentary, which Clement co-wrote, co-directs and co-stars in with long-time collaborator Taika Waititi (Boy), follows the exploits of the undead.
What We Do in the Shadows documents three vampire flatmates who are just trying to make it through modern life. Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Braugh) and Vladislav (Clement) may have lived for centuries, but that doesn’t mean they live together harmoniously. When 8000 year old Nosferatu-double 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 the newbie about life as a creature of the night.
This low-budget mockumentary 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.
Set and filmed on location in Wellington – where Clement is based when not travelling for work – the film relies on a talented brood of local comedic actors and even features a brief stint by Rhys Darby (who plays the band’s bumbling manager Murray in Flight of the Conchords) as a well-mannered, anti-cussing werewolf (“not swearwolf”).
“The hard thing about that 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.”