Hunt For The Wilderpeople's Taika Waititi Talks Buddy Comedies and Taking On Thor
"The one thing that everyone relates to the most? Family dynamics. I don't relate to bank robbers."
Eleven years ago, Taika Waititi was a writer for hire, working on an adaptation of a beloved New Zealand book. Today, he's about to leap into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the director of the forthcoming Thor: Ragnarok. Progressing from the former to the latter hasn't been easy; however as Waititi's career has continually proven, he likes to stray off the beaten path. Indeed, before he embraces the superhero realm, he's bringing a dose of adventurous anarchy to cinema screens courtesy of his fourth feature, Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
After exploring unconventional family dynamics with Eagle vs Shark, Boy and What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi ponders similar territory again. But this time, he's telling the tale of city kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), his cranky foster uncle Hec (Sam Neill), and their attempts to escape an over-enthusiastic child services officer (Rachel House) by trampling through the New Zealand wilderness. And, he's actually returning to that project he started scripting more than a decade ago.
Expect plenty of humour and heart, Terminator references, a dog named Tupac and Rhys Darby as an eccentric conspiracy theorist — all in a movie that has "synthesizers and a score from the '80s, and car chases and flipped police cars and all that stupid stuff," as Waititi puts it. There's a reason Hunt for the Wilderpeople has become New Zealand's biggest homegrown box office success of all time (knocking the filmmaker's own Boy off the top spot, actually). With the film's Australian release under way, we spoke with Waititi about great buddy comedies, getting annoyed at New Zealand's landscape and not being able to connect with bank robbers, and about the movie of the moment, of course.
ON WHAT ATTRACTED HIM TO THE WILDERPEOPLE
"I think it was just that I loved the idea of this character being on the run, sort of like Thelma and Louise or The Fugitive or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. All those kind of buddy flicks that, even films like Up, have two mismatched characters who are thrown together and stuck together. It's always been a winning combination in cinema. Paper Moon, 48 Hours, the list goes on. So I love that style and I thought it'd be a cool thing to see."
ON WORKING WITH NEW ZEALAND'S UNPREDICTABLE WILDERNESS
"We were shooting on locations, and we didn't really have much of an idea where we were going to shoot things, and what the weather was going to be like. We ended up in a whole lot of really remote places in New Zealand. At one of them ... we had a huge dump of snow. We had to kind of regroup that morning as the snow was falling on us, and we were like an hour from the main road, we had just driven deep inland. It was too expensive and it would lose the whole day moving everyone out of there.
So we just basically decided to shoot and to set a part of the film in the snow. And that's when we got that cool 780-degree shot that turns around and around — we shot that, and spent a few hours shooting that ... While we were doing that, I was trying to figure out what we were going to do for the rest of the day. Now the film has this whole breadth of seasonal change through it. And it makes it even more epic, the fact that it has snow and it spans months and months."
ON CELEBRATING THE FILM'S NEW ZEALAND HERITAGE
"I'm very proud of where I come from, and I think [New Zealand's] a very beautiful place. Sometimes we take it for granted, how beautiful the land is. I think we get pissed off with it. It's like 'god you can't look anywhere without seeing some beautiful landscape'. And you forget that no one in the world has seen stuff like that.
I think that's it's not often nowadays that we make films that celebrate what New Zealand looks like or like, the culture, the people, and how crazy we are. I wanted to do that. I wanted to use so much of that in there. So many parts of the film are inspired by '80s New Zealand films and Australian films. We used to make so many car chase films with people trying to drive from one end of the country to the other, and we stopped doing all that stuff. I think we started taking ourselves too seriously, and I don't do that."
ON MAKING FILMS ABOUT UNCONVENTIONAL FAMILIES
"Well, my family is crazy. I'm from a very crazy family — but I actually think every family is crazy. I think every single person has some insane part to their family. Every family, there's a criminal somewhere in there, there's a crazy person, there's someone who has just found religion, there's someone who's just left religion, there's someone who's been divorced, there's someone who has just fallen in love. Families are just really messed up, and they're a macro representation of earth, really. All parts of humanity all crammed into a couple of households.
And it is the one thing I've found that everyone relates to the most: family dynamics. I don't relate to bank robbers. I've seen a lot of those films, and I get really bored. I don't care about the stakes, and I don't care about what they're trying to do, and I don't care about bank robbery, so I lose interest. But if you set it around a bank robber who's trying to get together with his ex-wife, at least there's something to hold on to there."
ON JUMPING FROM INDIE FILMS TO DIRECTING MARVEL'S FORTHCOMING THOR MOVIE
"There's not a huge difference really, to be honest. There's just a little bit more time, and you get a few more opportunities to do things that, in the normal indie world, you'd have to find cheaper ways of doing or you'd just have to have a character talk about rather than actually showing something blow up. So parts of your imagination, you actually get to shoot — and that's quite cool.
It also could be dangerous to give people that much freedom, creatively. But it is very similar to the indie world in terms of it is still a bunch of people wanting to make a really good story and to make a good film."
Hunt for the Wilderpeople opens in Australian cinemas on May 26.
Published on May 26, 2016 by Sarah Ward