Those who haven’t followed Jemaine Clement’s career closely may simply think of him as that goofy funnyman who lights up scenes in major films, such as his voice role as the shimmering-gold crab monster in Disney’s Moana. But Clement is much more than Hollywood’s go-to comic-relief pitcher. In fact, you might say he’s something of a modern-day renaissance man, spreading his talents across a host of unique and vibrant projects.
Actor, musician, writer, director, and (increasingly) producer, Clement’s ever-widening body of work ranges from his on-again/off-again role as co-frontman of Flight of the Conchords (alongside Brett McKenzie) to his co-creation of the brilliant, cult-classic vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows.
Clement most recently starred in the oddball comedy An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn, and is currently hard at work in Toronto on a TV spinoff of What We Do in the Shadows for FX (which just released two hilarious first teasers). We recently spoke with Clement about his projects past and present, his collaborations with red-hot director Taika Waititi, and what’s on the horizon for the hard-working kiwi comedian.
Digital Trends: I want to start with your latest movie An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn. This is one of the most unique and interesting movies I’ve seen in years. It looked like a pretty fun film to make — did that translate on set?
Jemaine Clement: Yeah. We were in, you know, we were in a small town in Eureka, North California. It’s quite fun, you know, going somewhere to do a project like that where you can just concentrate on the job and not have the distractions of your normal life.
I wanted to transition and talk to you a little bit about New Zealand. It seems like New Zealand entertainers are really having a moment right now. Flight of The Conchords (both the show and the band) was sort of the breakout, which was then followed by your solo careers, and [Conchords and Thor: Ragnarok director] Taika Waititi is now a huge name in directing. Do you guys feel like sort of ambassadors for your country at this point?
I think for a while I did feel like that, but now I don’t feel that pressure. Just happen to be from New Zealand.
The Conchords recently got back together for a tour with new music. Are there any plans right now for another season on HBO?
No, we aren’t planning any more seasons. We haven’t really talked to them about that. We just did the special for them [Flight of the Conchords: Live in London]. … Every time we do one thing, then we let it rest for a while, and we’re in that dormant stage now. (Pauses) Like a volcano … . Might blow again, might not, I don’t know.
Well we’re in Portland, Oregon, the land of volcanoes, so I get the reference more than most. We talked to Rhys Darby a while back about the [werewolf mockumentary] We’re Wolves … which is a spinoff of What We Do in the Shadows. Any idea what’s going on with that project?
We haven’t done anything on that project. Because Taika has mostly been working heavily, and I’m in Toronto right now filming the American adaption of What We Do in the Shadows, the TV show.
We had no idea we were going to end up doing two spinoffs from What We Do in the Shadows.
Yeah, that was actually going to be my next question.
Yeah, I’ve been working on that. And I did another show in New Zealand, which is also related to What We Do in the Shadows. We had no idea that we were going to end up doing two spinoffs from that film. We thought we would do one sequel, and then we’ve ended up doing two other things that kind of took us by surprise but have been really fun.
I mean that’s one of my favorite mockumentaries. I think it’s the best one since Spinal Tap.
Absolutely. Are you guys still planning a sequel?
We haven’t really been planning anything. I’ve been working on – so Taika and I made a pilot at the start of the year for the American version … which I’m really happy with. I wrote it and Taika directed it. Now I’m directing a few episodes of this and … we’ve kind of been working separately on the same thing. We haven’t had time to do any planning on that film idea.
Gotcha. But you are going to be in the TV show as well?
It’s possible. I’m not telling. (Laughs) The TV show’s not about our characters, it’s about different characters that live in America.
Well, that worked out for The Office so that sounds like a good idea.
Wellll, The Office is kind of the same characters, just with different names.
(Laughs) That’s a good point.
(Laughs) I think we’ve put in a little bit more thought than The Office did. … It’s like, “Uh, what should Tim be called? Oh, Jim!” (chuckles) I like both those shows, though.
(Laughs) True. I wanted to ask about [FX superhero series] Legion. Your character, Oliver, got a huge bump in the second season, and I have two questions: One, was this always planned or was it your “Ice Cube” scene that nailed it? And two, do you know which turntable they used in that scene?
I didn’t, I didn’t read what the model was.
I didn’t know what Legion was when I signed up, I just knew I liked Noah Hawley.
I don’t know if it was always planned. I actually didn’t know what Legion was when I signed up for it, I just knew I liked [Legion producer] Noah Hawley. It wasn’t even called Legion when they sent it to me. … they give it to you with a code name, so I didn’t even know that it was a Marvel property or anything like that.
It’s super fun, the character that you bring to the table, because he doesn’t really know what’s going on and you get to kind of put your spin on it.
It is fun, yeah. And it’s always fun, that show, because they are always trying to surprise people. You turn up to work and it’s some crazy, visual image that they’ve created, and you are wandering around in it.
Do you know if you’ll be in season 3?
Yeah, I’m curious to know — if you find out, let me know?
(Laughs) All right, I’ll talk to my people. So, getting back to Beverly Luff Linn, you’re used to playing a lot of extremely funny, oddball characters. But in this film, every character is so strange it feels like Colin, while really funny, sort of comes off as like the only normal person. Was that kind of a nice change of pace?
In any other film, he’d be that weirdest character.
(Laughs) Yeah, you know I didn’t really think about that when we were doing it. I was just trying to be Colin. And in a normal movie, he wouldn’t be the most normal person, just in that movie he is. In any other (laughs), in any other film, he’d be that weirdest character.
You and Brett are probably my favorite “novelty musicians.” Who inspired you guys? Was there some Weird Al back there, some Tenacious D, or were you just kind of doing your thing?
Yeah, I definitely like those. When we started, I hadn’t actually seen Tenacious D, though they’d been going for a while. But I remember seeing them after we’d started and thinking, “Oh, wow! Like, they’ve got an album out!” (laughs), in a similar thing to what we do. I think Bill Bailey, the British comedian, we saw one of his shows and that was a big inspiration. If you look up Human Slaves in an Insect Nation, that had a big impact.
The fact that you hadn’t heard of Tenacious D before you started is pretty impressive.
… They’re pretty amazing, I’ve been to their concerts a couple of times, and their singing and guitaring is pretty impressive (if guitaring is a real word).
Would you guys ever think of touring with them?
Yeah, we went and played a festival, Supreme is it called? Supreme?? (laughs) In LA. And Weird Al was on there as well. It was really fun. We didn’t actually play together, but it was good to hang out with them
Yeah, that sounds awesome. The Flight of the Conchords’ Bowie parody song, Bowie’s In Space, is one of my favorites. Like most people, I’m a huge Bowie fan. I was wondering, what inspired the song?
Yeah, that’s an easy one. We were trying to learn some David Bowie songs in our flat where we lived in New Zealand, and they were too complicated for us. They have a lot of changes and bridges and key changes. So, we kind of made our own version up that had all those things – that we could remember.
They’re very, very tricky, Bowie songs, for pop songs – some of them. All those little things are hard to get for beginning guitarists, which we kinda were when we wrote it.
So, can you tell us about any projects you’re working on now?
I did do the voice of a dog … a possessed dog.
It’s all What We Do in the Shadows at the moment (USA version). But I did make a show back in New Zealand called Wellington Paranormal. … another season has been ordered, so I wrote and directed on that. And I did do the voice of a dog … a possessed dog.
I haven’t seen that one yet. Is that available in the United States?
I’ve seen trailers for it and it looks really interesting. You guys really lean into the supernatural these days. It seems like pretty much everything you’re doing right now has some kind of supernatural element.
Ha, I know, yeah, I know. It’s certainly something I’ve always been interested in and sounds fun. I didn’t expect to be doing two supernatural comedy shows.
Yeah, you’ve got a lot of hybrids going on, which I love. What We Do in the Shadows is a hybrid of many things. It seems like there’s a lot of hybrids out there, but that’s sort of like uncharted territory. All these different comedic things going on with the supernatural.
Yeah, trying to put the supernatural and the natural together, or trying to put naturalism and supernatural together. And comedy.
So, do you and Brett still hang out, do you guys still talk to each other on the regular?
When you make something to do with vampires, you’re just working all night.
Yeah, but I’ve been in, when we finished our tour, I’ve been over in Canada most of the time, so I haven’t really seen anyone much of the time (laughs). … When you make something to do with vampires, you’re just working all night, so sometimes we’ll finish at 2 a.m., sometimes it’s 6 a.m. Just gotta finish before the sun comes up.
An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn is out in select theaters and on VOD now. Flight of the Conchords Live in London is available to stream now on HBO, while the American What We Do in the Shadows TV series is set to air on FX in 2019.