Jemaine Clement talks 'People Places Things,' 'The BFG' and the future of 'Conchords'

Photo Credit: HBO
August 13th, 2015

Jemaine Clement is known around the globe as one half of the comedy duo Flight of the Conchords and, in my opinion, is one of the funniest people in show business today. If you’ve never watched the glorious HBO show I highly, highly suggest you rent both seasons and prepare yourself for non-stop laughter. Since the show's ending, Jemaine has been busy acting in major films like Muppets Most Wanted, Rio 1 and 2, Men in Black 3 and is in 2016‘s The BFG directed by Steven Spielberg. His latest film, People Places Things, pits Jemaine as a middle age graphic novelist writer forced to piece his life back together after catching his wife cheating. We were able to sit down with Jemaine to discuss his new film, working with Spielberg and news about the future of Flight of the Conchords.

Nick Leyland from I feel like we should start the interview off with a role call, Jemaine?

Jemaine Clement: Present.

TMN: Nick, present.


TMN: My first topic is, when did you become an adult? I mean, your character Will had some serious adult problems in this film.

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, yeah. It's something that I've not had to deal with on film before, but in real life, in real life I've been dealing with adult problems for, for quite a while. I think there's a bit in this story that you don't see, he breaks up, he gets dumped and then you see a year later. So you haven't see what the year looks like. It was probably a pretty rough year that you missed out seeing.

TMN: I saw you in What We Do in the Shadows, which I loved as well and I missed the opportunity to talk with you then, but I get to talk to now with People, Places, and Things. It comes out this week on the 14th. I thought it would be a little weird to see you in a dramatic role, but you fit so perfectly. To me you're naturally funny, and you could make me laugh even when you're crying on screen to be honest with you.

Unison Films

(Jemaine Clement in What We Do in the Shadows)

Jemaine Clement: Well, I didn't think of this as strictly a drama. It has a lot of comedy in it.

TMN: I can't see you having any problems with the genre change, did you?

Jemaine Clement: No, I wasn't too worried about the genre. I was a little nervous about being a lead though. I've never done a lead role in a film before.

TMN: Is there anything about a script that truly interests you? Is there one thing you look for in a script that really catches your eye?

Jemaine Clement: I think something about this which is surprisingly unusual is that it wasn't mean-hearted. I do like some movies that are sarcastic or have mean characters, but what I wanna see in a script is why it exists. What makes it a new story or a different point of view on a story.

There's lots of relationships stories about, a relationship breaking down and many of them are realistic, but they're not focusing on what's funny about that, my reflection of what's funny about that for instance. So this does have some of that.

TMN: Do you have more confidence in your role when you've written it? Because you've been such a great writer, or do you have more confidence when someone else has written it?

Jemaine Clement: Probably when someone else has written it. Because it's not my responsibility. And also, I can concentrate more on just one part of the job.


TMN: Yeah, if it stinks you can just blame it on somebody else, right?

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, exactly. Pass it off to someone else.

The Film Arcade

(Jemaine Clement in People Places Things)

TMN: I love the graphics in the film. I'm guessing that you faked it, or unless you have some amazing talent that I didn't know about?

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, the cartoons were done by a guy called Grey Williams, the black and white cartoon. I did a couple of the drawings in the movie, though. I drew on the kites for the kids and I drew the graffiti that's on the wall. I don't know if you remember that it was a pretty small moment.

TMN: Oh yeah, yeah, I remember that.

Jemaine Clement: That took me a lot of time. It took me a long time graffitiing all those posters that night after filming.

TMN: I like how you kept your New Zealand heritage in the film as well. Were there comics in the New Zealand papers growing up?

Jemaine Clement: Yeah a lot of the same ones. We had our own ones, too, they were quite popular. There was one called... Bogor and Footrot flats were two New Zealand ones which were probably the most popular. But also, we had Garfield as well and Wizard of Id and Dilbert and things.

TMN: I told your director Jim Strouse that this was an easy way to kind of get into the main character's mind with imagery. What do you think?

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, especially 'cause the character doesn't always express himself and what he's feeling. Like real people. One thing that I found unusual and I liked, I found in a relationship comedy, the main character has a best friend, which they discuss everything with, and that's were we hear their thoughts, and this character didn't have that. We don't always have someone to talk about all of our problems with. And this, there was another way of seeing into his head.

TMN: Like you said it is a comedy, it's a darker comedy. With the way that you are, did your director ever say to you, "Jemaine, don't be so funny in this scene?"


Jemaine Clement: I don't remember. I don't remember him saying that, but I have had that before on other things. But, yeah, I don't remember him saying that, but if anything he probably told me not to play it so dramatically, and not take myself so seriously, 'cause I think, you know I might have sometimes thought, "this is a drama, I've got to go for this." And it's probably more likely that he told me to lighten it up sometimes.

TMN: I can't even imagine how fast a film like this goes. It's probably a whirlwind, huh?

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, it was fairly quick, yeah, yeah.

TMN: Do you just kind of cross your fingers at the end and say, "Here's hoping"

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, it's like that every time. Even something that takes a year to film. You never know.

TMN: You're an excellent musician along with an actor. Do you consider yourself more of a musician or an actor or an in between, kind of an actisian?

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, definitely an actisian. A musor.


TMN: What's your favorite instrument you own?

Jemaine Clement: I have a lot of cool instruments. I've got one, a ukulele bass which is pretty cool.

TMN: Oh those are cool, yeah.

Jemaine Clement: It's not much bigger than a ukulele, but it has, it makes the sound of a bass. So it's like really deep, these special rubber strings that make it play really deep.


TMN: You just did a film with Steven Spielberg I know. The BFG, is there anything you can tell us about that besides the name of the film and the director?

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, so Bill Hader and I and a big bunch of guys are all these evil giants that eat children. So we worked motion capture six for three months doing that. And I think it's gonna be pretty great. I can't wait to see it. I think the graphics, they were doing some interesting things that sort of merging the graphics with real life, that were really interesting, so I think it will be really cool.

TMN: You mixed with Spielberg is gonna be quite the great film for me, I'll tell you that.

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, well, yeah, he's... It was amazing just seeing him in front of me for sure.


(Jemaine Clement in Flight of the Conchords)

TMN: Well, the film comes out August 14, and Jemaine I just want to thank you for taking the risk at failing miserably in such a competitive business, because you've become such a significant cultural figure for a lot of people. Flight of the Conchords was one of the greatest comedies I think in TV history, and I do hope that one day to see the duo again, but as of right now I really appreciate your time.

Jemaine Clement: We're working on some stuff. We're working on some stuff.

TMN: What are you working on?

Jemaine Clement: We've just started, after talking about it for years, we've just started writing a film.

TMN: Amazing.

Jemaine Clement: I don't know if we'll ever get to make it, but we started writing finally.

TMN: Do you think everyone will come back for it?

Jemaine Clement: It's not based on the show, but we are hoping to get the same cast, yeah. But none of the premises we've been talking about involve picking up from when the show ends, but more similar kinds of characters that sing and we're hoping for the other cast.

TMN: That's so incredible. That is great news. I can't even imagine how awesome that would be to have that done.

Jemaine Clement: Yeah, let's hope we finish it, huh.