Most people find vampires scary. Or sparkly cute. Not Jemaine Clement. As you can see in the exclusive trailer above for What We Do in the Shadows, the funnyman finds plenty of laughs in the Dracula set.
The film also marks the directorial debut for the 40-year-old Clement, best known for HBO’s Flight of the Conchords and as voice of the bad bird Nigel in the Rio films. He co-directed, co-wrote, and co-stars with fellow New Zealander Taika Waititi (also his co-star in 2007’s Eagle vs Shark). Shot in their homeland on a shoestring budget more than a year ago, the movie won early raves on the festival circuit and got the attention of Funny or Die's fledgling film unit, which is distributing the movie.
Clement plays Vladislav, one of three bloodsucking roommates trying to blend into modern society in spite of their centuries-old age.
He tells Yahoo Movies there was incredible creative freedom in making Shadows, in theaters Feb. 13. It was on his terms, with his posse, and without the watchful eye of a major studio. “It’s actually just like a reunion of lots of people that I would work with in New Zealand before I started going to the States and doing stuff there,” he said during a recent phone call. “So getting to work with those people again has been really fun. … Directing, I just think of it as acting, but using other people to do it.”
Here is the rest of our conversation:
I’ve always been interested in vampires, but I think the thing for us is more that there is this scale to everything that’s so big because they’ve lived for hundreds of years. All their dramas go over a longer period of time, and there’s not the urgency for them to work through them as a human might have because they’ve got forever.
Why a mockumentary?
We just wanted to be able to make a documentary about people you couldn’t actually document.
You wink at several classic horror tropes. Were there any specific films you targeted?
Taika and I knew a lot of vampire movies, [we] grew up with them. They’re kind of just sitting in your brain somewhere. There’s lots of things like The Lost Boys, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, and Salem’s Lot. These are all movies that we thought of when we were in there working on it, but it’s not like a spoof. It’s not like a Scary Movie-style.
How was making this movie different than a studio film?
With our budget, we could do whatever we wanted. It wasn’t a huge budget like you’d get with a studio film. We didn’t have to answer questions or make things the way someone else wanted it.
How much of the film was scripted vs. ad-libbed?
We wrote a script, but we just gave it to people as a guideline so we could get a more naturalistic performance, more like the clumsy way that people speak in real life, which is kind of hard to imitate when you memorize lines and then trying to make it seem like real life. It doesn’t always come out. So we’d just describe what happens in the next scene to our actors.
How many takes were ruined due to uncontrolled laughter?
Yeah. I’m pretty bad at that. There was one scene — when the cops come to our house to tell us off — which was very hard because everyone’s trying to be quite serious. I think that was the worst as far as laughing.
What was the biggest challenge?
We wanted to get this particular cast. So we had to wait till everyone was free. [And] editing because there was a lot of improvising. So we had a lot of footage to get down to a movie length. The shooting was really fun.
What drew you to directing?
I’ve always done lots of things. I started off in theater. So I’d do theater shows with my friends. Taika and I used to do a comedy show here [in New Zealand]. We did, like, three shows together and then about seven other shows with other people. I would actually direct then. I’m not that interested in it, but it’s just part of if you want to make something, someone’s got to tell someone what to do to get it made.
How involved have you been in the other aspects of this movie — the marketing and making of this trailer? Did you go full Kubrick?
With the editing, Taika and I would take turns. We’d get a month each working with the editors over a year. So there’s two of us. We share. I sometimes am involved with the marketing. Sometimes people are asking me what cinemas in their town it’s playing, and I will actually look it up and tell them. I’m fairly involved though I don’t want to make it the only thing that I’m doing. I mean, it’s taken up most of the last two years.
Do you have the urge to do more dramatic roles, like Steve Carell in Foxcatcher?
I’m not sure. It’s not unusual. I would find it more unusual I think if people went from doing dramatic movies and went to comedy. … That’s the way to go now. I want to see Meryl Streep do a big comedy movie.
She’s done a few.
But I want to see her in something like Anchorman. I think that would be a bigger challenge than the other way around.
Photo: Unison Films