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Catching Up With... Jemaine Clement

November 4, 2009  |  12:17pm
Catching Up With... Jemaine Clement
Anybody who's been exposed to Jemaine Clement, also known as the Hiphopopotamus half of Flight of the Conchords knows that the New Zealand native has turned awkwardness into an art form on screen and MP3 alike. In his new film, Gentlemen Broncos, Clement joins forces with Napolean Dynamite and Nacho Libre director Jared Hess to form a perfect storm of self-conscious absurdity, playing an egotistical sci-fi author who flaunts a vestigial Blue Tooth and hi-jacks adolescent fiction about yeast-empowered space rangers. So what's next for one of folk comedy's international figureheads? Clement offered Paste a few lucrative hints about the future of Conchords, his Rock Band debut and his follow-up to Eagle vs Shark with director Taika Waititi.

Paste: How did you become a part of Gentlemen Broncos
Clement: I was in New Zealand, and it was in-between the first and second seasons of Flight of the Conchords. Occasionally, I get sent scripts and this one stood out to me as getting my sense of humor. So what happens in the process is, you read these things and if you like it, you can put yourself on tape--make a video of yourself and send away with it or you can meet with the director and have a conversation about it. I’ve had some of those things go very badly where I thought, I’m not right for this part, I think it should be an older guy. And I’ve had conversations with the director where I’ve been like, look, I’m not good. You should get Omar Sharif or someone like that. But Jared called me, and it was a low-budget film that was shot in a much shorter time span. So, the shooting would only take two weeks and I had that time off. 

Paste: Your character is very funny. I laughed quite a bit. 
Clement: It was really funny to do, you know? It would be hard to get through a line sometimes. 

Paste: Jared said that your voice is based on a British character from the 1976 Sci-fi film Logan’s Run
Clement: That’s partially true. But also I think of another guy I know in real life. He lives in New Zealand, but he’s from England and he was a professor at my college. He really commands an audience. It’s a mix between Michael York and this guy who’s a real life science-fiction author. 
  
Paste: One thing I thought was interesting is that you’re replicating a British accent and when you started in 2006 on some commercials for Outback Steakhouse, you had to do an Australian accent. So at this point in time, can you pretty much nail any British-derived accent? 
Clement: It was a bad Australian accent. To me, I was trying to make a joke out of the Australian accent. I just did what I find funny about their accent. New Zealanders and Australians find each others accents really funny, cause they’re almost the same and then they have these little things that are different. And for some reason it cracks both countries up. It’s like the way Americans think Canadian accents are funny, because they’re almost the same but then the way they say “about” will crack an American up. 

Paste: How much of the Native-American themed wardrobe was your and how much was Jared’s? 
Clement: Totally Jared. I wonder if any of his scripts have been published, because they cover the clothing very, very specifically. In this one, it stands out in the script immediately from others. It was like, “Dusty walks in wearing a purple mitt, skin-tight white jeans, and he has butt-rocker hair and a mustache. He has white high-tops and a digital watch.” That’s one thing that really stood out. Their best part of creating a character is mentioning what they’re wearing. 

Paste: I know you shot in rural Utah. Did you see anyone dress the way you did? 
Clement: I saw a lot of people wearing Blue Tooths. 

Paste: But unlike your character in the movie, Chevalier, I’m sure they actually use them. 
Clement: [laughs] I guess they use them; I never saw them use them.
 
Paste: Your character never uses it once throughout the entire movie, does he? 
Clement: No. It’s more of a status symbol. It’s like gold or a jewel. 

Paste: Switching gears to Flight of the Conchords, your album I Told You I Was Freaky came out not  long ago and I’d heard you were going to contribute a track to Rock Band. Have you decided which one to use? 
Clement: No, we still haven’t. But I’m sure I’ll get an e-mail, "Come on, you’ve got one day to decide!" and then we’ll quickly think of it. We’ve been doing a little lazy polling. 

Paste: How are you evaluating the songs to see if they might be a good fit? 
Clement: Well, some of our songs have talking in them, and I think if you’re playing a videogame, you just don’t want (to play) five minutes of talking. So, those are probably out. But people have to know it, I guess. But yeah, I don’t know. Catchy enough is probably good. I haven’t actually played Rock Band. My cousins and nieces really get into it. 

Paste: Do you play videogames in general? 
Clement: Eh, you know, not really. But I’ve been hooked on this game, geoDefense, on the iPod. It’s very addictive. 

Paste: Where do you and Bret stand on doing a third season of Flight of the Conchords
Clement: Well, you go through this phase, or several phases, where you want to do this thing. You do it for sort of a long time and you’re exposed to it too much, and then you hate it more than anything. And then eventually you get bored, then you have a few ideas, and then you do it again. I still think we’re in the hating-that-idea phase. We might do something. We haven’t really decided if we’re doing any more things. It could go either way, I think. 

Paste: So it’s still up in the air a little bit? 
Clement: I think it’s coming down, but within a month I think there will probably be an HBO press release to say either way if we’re going to keep working on it. 

Paste: Can you tell us a little bit about your movie plans for the future? 
Clement: I’d really like to go back to writing for a while. I’m writing a film with a friend of mine, Taika Waititi. He made a film that I did called Eagle vs Shark. But he and I used to do a lot of comedy gigs together in my other comedy tour. I was in two: one was Conchords, and the other was The Humourbeasts. It was quite physical. It was different, quite big and ridiculous. 

Paste: What’s the movie about? 
Clement: I don’t want to say, but it’s vampires [laughs]. We made a short film about five years ago for funding to make a picture. We got funding, but then other things happened; I got my show and I started making other films. We had to put it off for a long time, then in the meantime vampires became the most oversaturated character in Hollywood. So that’s what it’s about at the moment. It could change. It’s another take on vampires, but there are so many, we might have to reconsider the creature we do.

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