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Taika’s Tinseltown takeover

Taika Waititi never lets an opportunity to be funny pass him by.
Taika Waititi

When the Weekly calls to chat to the acclaimed director, actor, writer and comedian about his latest gig hosting the 2015 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards, he answers the phone by pretending to be his assistant Polly.

“Did you really believe it was Polly?!” he cackles, when questioned. “Awesome!”

It’s an entertaining start to an interview with a man who wears so many hats, it’s hard to know what to call him. But with films, Taika is definitely on a roll. He’s written the first drafts of the upcoming Disney film Moana, and he’s rumoured to be taking the helm of the next Thor movie – though he’s keeping mum on that one.

“You can ask about it, but I’m not allowed to answer!” he says, laughing.

But while Taika (40) tastes success in the United States, he remains as Kiwi as they come – with a down-to-earth answer on how he’s come to do so well at so many things.

“I do have a lot of hats,” he admits, “but I just made them up for myself! That’s what success is, I think. Tell people what you want and go for it.

Taika starred in Team, Ball, Player, Thing with a plethora of famous Kiwi faces from sports, TV and music, as well as children, who contributed to the “interesting” lyrics.

“My attitude is, no one will remember any of us in 100 years. Except for Richie McCaw. So who cares what people think – do whatever you want!”

Telling New Zealand stories is incredibly important for the East Coast native. Taika is currently directing an adaptation of a Barry Crump novel, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, starring Sam Neill and Rhys Darby. He’s recently fronted Cure Kids’ fundraising single, Team, Ball, Player, Thing in aid of curing Late Infantile Battens Disease and supporting the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup.

“That was really awesome,” he says. “It was great coming up with that stuff with the kids.”

Although the last time he could rightfully call himself a musician was “many years ago”, when he was in a ska band, Taika admits he keeps returning to music.

“We all have a soundtrack to our lives,” he tells. “When I was in high school, I was listening to a lot of Metallica. In university, it was people like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, and then Nick Cave. It changes all the time… It becomes part of your narrative.”

Jerome Kaino sported some flowing hair in his role as a Viking.

Taika’s own narrative is certainly causing a stir overseas. After his Academy Award nomination in 2003 for short film Two Cars, One Night, his star began to rise. ln 2010, at the Sundance Film Festival, Boy, now a cult classic, premiered to critical acclaim.

“That’s the project I’m still most proud of, I think. It reached a broader audience than I imagined… People from all walks of life loved it. It was cool and kind of weird!”

Although he’s still based in New Zealand with wife Chelsea Winstanley and daughter Te Hinekahu (3), he travels to the US constantly, which he’s not a fan of.

“I hate the travel,” he says bluntly. “I don’t enjoy going through airports, carrying bags, being on a plane, being tired, and I especially don’t enjoy customs.

“In America, they make you wait in such a long line as a foreigner, and then in New Zealand, Americans often get through faster than the Kiwis! That really annoys me. Don’t get me started on immigration,” he finishes, chuckling.

Lorde wasn’t too busy to lend a hand (and a voice) to the Kiwi charity single.

Though, he does enjoy teasing Americans about their out-of-date banking systems.

“Did you know they still use chequebooks?” he asks, clearly incredulous. “In New Zealand, the only ones we see are in museums! I’m weirdly patriotic when I’m overseas.”

Despite the hectic schedule, Taika’s just managed to have a break to celebrate his 40th birthday with family and friends in Hawaii.

“I prefer calling it my second 20th… Hawaii was really great.”

And he is now looking forward to the music awards – a big gig considering it’s in its 50th year.

“It is a huge deal,” he agrees. “But I have no fear. My fear of anything died years ago. I’m a fearless husk!”

So does he have a plan for the night?

“In my experience,” he begins, thoughtfully, “the best plan is to have no plan. Some people might say that I’m too lazy to write anything down, but I like to think of it more as spontaneously opening myself up to the universe.

“I’m not going to be jumping out of a cake or anything. But it’s going to be really fun,” he tells. “I’m confident. Not in the arrogant way – well, maybe just 80% arrogance. It seems to go really well in my dreams, so I’ll copy that!”

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