Interview: Jemaine Clement

By Words by Natasha Dragun

Interview:  Jemaine Clement
New Zealand comedian, actor and musician Jemaine Clement’s latest movie sucks – literally.

Wellington, it seems, has a dark side – a real dark side. So dark, in fact, that it’s the subject of a new horror-comedy mockumentary, conceptualised by half of the team behind award-winning comedy duo, Flight of the Conchords.

Jemaine Clement teamed up with Taika Waititi to write and star in What We Do In The Shadows, which sees Viago, Vladislav and Deacon – three vampires who live together in the Wellington suburb of Te Aro – haunting the streets, looking for sustenance. “One of my earliest movie memories is seeing Scars Of Dracula on our black-and-white TV when I was five,” says Clement of where the film’s premise came from. “I have had vampire nightmares and fantasies ever since.”

Despite the vivid memories, Clement and his team put a lot of effort into researching the genre. “Did you know that in Eastern European folklore vampires can take the form of a pumpkin? Seriously. Also, a way to get rid of a vampire is to put garlic into its sock and throw it in the river. I imagine that might be difficult to do in such a
high-stress situation.”

Having studied drama in Wellington, Clement based many scenes in What We Do In The Shadows on some of his favourite late-night haunts as a youth. “When I was younger, I was addicted to dancing. I’m not saying I am an amazing dancer – if I had a style, it would be described as contemporary-clumsy-freestyle. The place I would do this the most was called Barney’s. It appears in the film with its more recent name, The Big Kumara. Sadly, it closed recently.”

Some of Vladislav’s (Clement’s character in Shadows) bad flatmate behaviour also no doubt came from Clement’s own experience of living away from home in New Zealand’s capital city. “I had a flatmate who told other people that I’d cut my toenails in the sitting room and they’d found one in their drinking glass,” he says. “That’s not an easy rep to have around town.” 

As much as Clement loved playing a vampire – “Don’t we all feel like we could use more time to get stuff done? What would we do with all that time?” – there’s no talk of a sequel – not yet, anyway. Instead, the 40-year-old has less gruesome, but equally quirky, film projects in the works.

“I play an Israeli archaeologist/goatherd in a new film [Don Verdean, also starring Sam Rockwell] and an American graphic novelist/teacher in another. Bret [McKenzie, Clement’s co-star in HBO series Flight of the Conchords] and I are considering touring Asia next. Touring is a great way to get a quick overview of a place and get ideas of where you’d like to come back to. Whenever we tour we write some new material, but we haven’t planned any recording yet.”

What We Do In The Shadows is now showing in New Zealand and is in Australian cinemas from September 4. 


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