Even hard-to-please Marvel fans loved what Kiwi outsider Taika Waititi brought to Thor: Ragnarok—a joyously irreverent approach to the comic-book character, that married a keen eye for the absurd with an emotional and affectionate grounding. Waititi’s long-term admirers felt vindicated; the director of such wonderfully low-fi New Zealand-set gems as the literally batty 2014 vampire docu-comedy What We Do in the Shadows and 2016’s charming Hunt for the Wilderpeople, about a boy on the run with his foster father, proved that he could stamp his identity on a film costing $180m as easily as he could with one costing $1.8m. His latest, Jojo Rabbit, is an incredibly timely attempt to unpick the sudden rise of religious and racial intolerance across the globe, as seen through the eyes of a naïve young German boy.
MY FIRST FILM LESSON
Don’t listen to other people. When you’re first starting out, you’ve got to figure out your own voice, and find out what’s different about the way that you want to tell stories… On my first film, Two Cars, One Night, people who’d made a lot of films before would tell me that certain shots would be better this way, and certain edits would be better that way—and they were wrong. It wasn’t my style. My instincts were to go another way, but because I’d never made anything before, I didn’t know whether my stuff would work—I just had an idea in my head of what it could be like. And the more I learned about the filming process, the more I realized that all of those ideas would have worked. So I stopped listening to other people from then on.
THE BEST ADVICE I EVER RECEIVED
I think you can imagine what my answer’s going to be. The thing I’ve come to realize is that no one really knows anything. It’s just all a big charade. You just have to be convincing. When you’re on set, you have to show no weakness, you have to really protect yourself, because if the crew smells weakness it can derail the whole thing. The aspect of directing I find really funny is that often you make decisions just because you don’t want to be seen to not know what you’re doing.
MY TOUGHEST ROLE YET
Well, it wasn’t Hitler in Jojo Rabbit. The hardest part about playing that character was just having to dress up like that and put a moustache on my face. It wasn’t an authentic representation, it was just a goofy, ridiculous character who dressed like Hitler. He doesn’t share any of Hitler’s real qualities. So that took the pressure off myself and made it easier. Maybe the hardest character for me was the character I played in Boy, which was the main character’s father. He was based on a bunch of people I’d grown up with. For me, it’s the most personal of my films. It was hard to capture that kind of character. He’s a sh*tty father, a tragic character, and yet you cared about him.
THE ROLE I’D KILL FOR
I want to play a doctor. All my parts are based on me thinking, What have I not I done yet? I know: a vampire. I like things like M*A*S*H. I love the scenes where they’re standing around an operating table, talking. I just like the idea of classic costumes, like a police outfit or a doctor’s outfit. A sexy librarian—that’d be something I’d be quite good at. I’d have a pencil behind my ear and some horn-rimmed glasses. Someone would bring in a book, and I’d say, “It’s late!!!!” They’d say, “But I don’t how to pay my late fees.” And I’d say, [seductively] “I think I can come up with an idea.”
THE THEMES I RETURN TO
It’s not really a stretch to see that usually my films are about family and abandonment, and children’s relationships to the adult world. I don’t particularly care very much about working with children or exploring those things, but I guess it’s the only thing I know now. The thing that draws me to family stories is the dynamic within families. It’s always inspired me, because within the family system there are heroes and villains, and there’s suspense, drama and comedy. Every part of humanity can be seen and experienced within a family unit. I’ve only ever really hung out with my family and best friends, so I’ve been very observant of behavior within the family unit.
THE MOST FUN I’VE HAD ON SET
The most I’ve laughed on set was doing What We Do in the Shadows, because it was just me and my friends fooling around, just coming up with ideas and jokes, improvising. The film I’m shooting right now is a lot like that. It’s called Next Goal Wins. It’s a film about football that I’m making with Michael Fassbender. Every day is a joy. On all my films, I love coming to work. But this one in particular. Maybe because I’m shooting in Hawaii. The crew are really into it—they care about the characters and the story. On some films they’re just there for the paycheck—they haven’t read the script at all.
MY DREAM PROJECT
I like making films about things I don’t really care about. Like, I was never really that into vampires, so maybe that’s why that film was good. I don’t really like soccer, but I’m making a soccer film right now. So maybe I’d do a musical. I don’t really get that excited about musicals. It would force me to try to understand why people like musicals. When I was growing up, musicals were quite a white style of filmmaking. So maybe an indigenous musical would be cool.
THE FILMS THAT MAKE ME CRY
Kramer vs. Kramer, E.T.… You know, it’s true what they say about crying on planes—that you cry easier because of the oxygen and the altitude. When I’m flying, I could probably see the new Jumanji and cry at that.
DESERT ISLAND MOVIES
Master and Commander. That’s not a joke. I love that movie. I love Peter Weir. He’s the master of the zoom. I call him The Zoom Master—I use zooms often in my films. The Graduate. How many am I allowed? Five? OK, Stalker by Tarkovsky, E.T. and Jaws. Jaws in particular, to remind me not to try to swim off the island.
MY KARAOKE PLAYLIST
My karaoke playlist is pretty small. It’s Prince songs, and then it’s Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”.
WHO’D PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC
Me. Has there ever been a biopic where a person has played themselves? That would be a weird ego boost, to write, direct and star in your own biopic. It’s a bit creepy, but I quite like it. I don’t know. Who looks like me? Russell Crowe. I want Russell Crowe to play me.