Published Jun 22, 2016From films like What We Do in the Shadows and Eagle vs. Shark to work on Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand actor, writer and director Taika Waititi has played a key role in developing the gentle, dry Kiwi comedy that the world knows and loves. Based on his on-phone demeanour, it sounds like the humour never really stops.
"I'm in Australia, and I'm about to eat some avocado toast," he says. "I don't know if you keep up with world news, but in The Guardian the other day it was revealed that there was a huge avocado shortage in New Zealand. There were avocado-related crimes — people committing crimes to get avocados."
He speaks with exactly the sort of dry, subtle delivery that characterizes all of his projects — including this year's fantastic Hunt for the Wilderpeople. The film follows Ricky Baker, a young orphan (played expertly by newcomer Julian Dennison) who winds up going on a wild forest adventure with Hector (Sam Neill). The film is based on the 1986 book Wild Pork and Watercress, which Waititi describes as "a really lovely little read."
That said, it's not just quirky dialogue and a heartwarming story, as Waititi has added some massive action adventure elements to the narrative. "I was really influenced by a lot of stuff that I grew up with — '80s films like Cannonball Run and New Zealand films which use a lot of car chases like Goodbye Pork Pie and Shaker Run," he says. "I really wanted to flip a police car in the film. There was a shoot out. I never thought I'd get to make a shoot out in a movie."
Waititi will surely explore even more action with his next feature-length project, as he's been tapped to enter the Marvel Universe and direct next year's Thor: Ragnarok. Keeping his cool, he explains that he pretty much views the project like any other. "I do think that it's obviously a bigger film [but] it's still a small film in the sense that there's a script which we're going to try and make," he says. "It all comes down to that. We're just going to try and get the words off the page, through an actor's mouth and onto the camera and then cut it together and tell a story."
In other words, it doesn't look like Waititi is going to ditch the quirky indie world altogether once Thor is done. "Evidently I'll always go back to the other films, because I've got four or five of my own scripts," he says.
The casual way in which he approaches his work stems from the fact that he's not necessarily concerned with becoming the world's next star director. "I don't really think about career very much," he says. "I don't care much about it because this isn't really the job I wanted to do in the first place, so I don't really mind how long it lasts. That's why I can hopefully and in a relaxed manner enjoy doing something like Thor. Because I want to make the best film possible, but also I don't have anything riding on it in terms of my happiness or my career."
His approach must be working, because Hunt for the Wilderpeople has achieved widespread critical acclaim and enjoyed the highest grossing opening weekend in New Zealand history.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople opens in Toronto on Friday (June 24), with plans to expand throughout Canada in July.