The New Zealand comedian is poised to take over America this summer
Jemaine Clement is poised to become a cult icon this summer. First, he stars in the critical darling, and winner of Sundance's Grand Jury Prize Eagle Vs. Shark. At the very same time, Jemaine's television series Flight of the Conchords is premiering on HBO.
In Eagle Vs. Shark, Clement plays Jarrod, an adult who still holds a grudge against his high school nemesis. Jarrod's revenge scheme gets in the way of his relationship with a fast food employee. In Flight of the Conchords, he plays one-half of a Kiwi Digi-Folk band that moves to New York to find success. Both projects are very funny. And they will surely turn Jemaine into a underground comedy stalwart.
Jemaine called me from New York this morning. I knew beforehand that interviews make him a little uncomfortable. He always feels like a dork when answering questions. While talking to him, I didn't get that impression, though. I enjoyed our chat quite a bit.
Here is that interview:
Hey, how you doing?
Jemaine Clement: Great. How are you?
I'm doing pretty good. I gotta say, I just got off the Internet, and I'm totally shocked. I just watched the first episode of your series Flight of the Conchords, and I wasn't expecting that.
Jemaine Clement: What were you feeling?
Your character is so unlikable in Eagle Vs. Shark. But you do a complete three-sixty turn here, in this HBO show. Your character is both likable and cool...
Jemaine Clement: That's interesting that you say that. I've heard people say that the two characters are very similar. I lot of people think I'm just playing myself. One person described me as in Ogre. Maybe it's my accent, you know?
I thought the two characters were living on completely different sides of the spectrum. It was kind of cool to see that show. I wasn't expecting that. My first question about the movie, Eagle Vs. Shark, is...Your character, Jarrod, does some pretty despicable things. Do you feel that, at the end of the movie, Jarrod has any redeeming qualities as a human being?
Jemaine Clement: Well, I think of the character as a guy putting on a character. At the end of the movie, he reaches this point where he's ready to stop. I think of him as a guy who was a really nice kid that got picked on, and picked on, until he put on so much of a front, or a shield, to protect himself that he became unrecognizable. His whole life, he has been doing that. Through what happens in the film, that persona gets broken down. It really brings the true person out of him. Do you see what I mean?
Yeah, totally. That makes the character a lot more interesting. I'm wondering, do you think that's why Lily stayed with this character at the end? Because she can see the real person hiding behind this mask he's kind of wearing?
Jemaine Clement: Yeah, I do. I mean, for me, I guess I think of it as a character on the page. There's a fifth wave element, and when I looked at the character while reading it, it was so obvious that everything he was doing was a lie. For me, it was probably for the best that he put up this shield. He was a kid that got beaten up, beneath everything. If he were a real person acting like that, you probably wouldn't get to know him very well. But if you realized it was just an act, you might be more accepting of him.
Do you think his inner hatred of himself is what keeps him from being with his daughter? Cause the guy is kind of a deadbeat dad.
Jemaine Clement: Yeah. I think he was worried about hurting her. I can't remember if that was in the script or not. I think he is worried about everything he touches. He had this fear that it would all turn bad.
Who's idea was it for your haircut in the film? Was that your idea, or was that the director's idea?
Jemaine Clement: We spent about a half an hour drawing up different faces with different haircuts. And we went with that one. The mullet came, making it on a few of them.
Have you ever known anybody that has worked in one of these gaming stores? Your portrayal of that lifestyle is pretty authentic from the couple of gaming clerks I've known.
Jemaine Clement: I haven't hung out in a lot of gaming shops. But in studying the character, I went into a lot of these gaming shops, and listened to the way they talk. You known that animal party in the first part of the film? He's sort of the coolest guy there, Jarrod is. The people I would meet in these video game stores talked just like that. He's a guy who might be thirty surrounded by eleven year olds. And they are the same in the realm.
You got to work with all your friends on this movie. How was that experience?
Jemaine Clement: That was really fun, yeah.
I heard you had some problems keeping your mole in place?
Jemaine Clement: Ha, yeah. That wasn't a problem for me, that was a problem for the make-up people. I think it did fall off a couple of times.
Do you share any similarities with this Jarrod character in real life?
Jemaine Clement: Well, I guess I can relate to getting beat up, and things like that. In a way. I know that when I talk to someone I want to impress, I talk completely different than I would normally. And sometimes I'm colder or ruder than I would naturally be. Because I'm trying to seem excited or vulnerable. I guess, it's a big reaction. Something like that.
This movie is getting a lot of critical praise. And a lot of my friends have been talking about Flight of the Conchords...Are you prepared to become a cult icon this summer? It looks like that might happen?
Jemaine Clement: I don't know. I hope both of them take off positively. It would be terrible to be just annoying people.
What is Humorbeasts? That's something you do with the director of the film, Taika Cohen, right?
Jemaine Clement: Yeah. We've done a few theater shows, which were like...Um, I'm not sure what they would be like in America. I'm sure they'd be like something. Like, we did sketches, and plays. We did big comedy, I guess. We started doing that in 1996, I think. The first thing we did was a parody of the Star Wars movie. There was physical comedy, and characters, and comedy. That sort of thing.
Can you tell me anything about how Flight of the Conchords came to HBO?
Jemaine Clement: We would do mostly pubs, and theaters, and stuff in New Zealand. Then we went to a festival in Scotland. And one in France. And then we came to the states and played another comedy festival, which happened to be the HBO Comedy Hour. It was up in Aspen. And we got to do a special for them. Then we did One Night Stand. From that, it developed into a series. Does that make sense? Did I leave out anything? I think my phone line is breaking up.
I understand that Flight of the Conchords has put out a live album. Is that going to be available in the US anytime soon?
Jemaine Clement: We're actually going to put out a studio album.
When can we expect that to happen?
Jemaine Clement: I'm not sure. I think it might be in August...Oh, no...It will be later than that. I guess it will be maybe a month after the TV show is finished.
How many episodes are you guys doing for that?
Jemaine Clement: Twelve.
Are you guys still in the middle of shooting that?
Jemaine Clement: No, we finished on Saturday.
What's coming up next for you as far as movies?
Jemaine Clement: Taika and Me are working on a film. I'm not sure if I should call it a film, or just a project. At the most it's going to be a watchable film. At the least, it's just going to be some guys messing around with a camera.
A lot of people have compared Eagle Vs. Shark to Napoleon Dynamite. And the HBO show to their Tenacious D show from a few years back. Are you tired of hearing those comparisons, or are you okay with them?
Jemaine Clement: I don't know. I see it with the Eagle Vs. Shark. I mean, I don't know. A lot of people think its like Napoleon Dynamite, and a lot of people don't. Everybody has their own thoughts on that. I'll let them sort it out. With Tenacious D, I think we have such a different type of humor. The bands are kind of the same. You could put it like that. But I think the humor and the stories are different. They are treated differently. But I don't mind. People can say that. I actually think we are more like The Monkees. But The Monkees were forty years ago. As opposed to ten years ago. So people will forget that.
Are you guys planning a feature film with this project?
Jemaine Clement: With Flight of the Conchords? Uh? I don't think so. Maybe I'll do something that is a musical, but not anything that has to do with the Conchords. No.
Well, great. That's it for me. I really appreciate you talking to me this morning.
Jemaine Clement: You're very welcome.
I wish you all the success in the future.
Jemaine Clement: Thanks very much. You too.
Eagle Vs. Shark opens June 15th in Los Angeles and New York. It goes wider on June 29th.
Dont't forget to also check out: Flight of the Conchords