- - Sunday, August 16, 2015

As the bespectacled half (aka “the one with the glasses”) of the comedy-folk duo Flight of the Conchords, Jemaine Clement helped transform an underground comedy team into a multi-Emmy Award-winning TV show and Grammy-winning recording artists. 

While his Conchords co-hort Bret McKenzie was off writing Oscar-winning songs for two recent Muppets movies, Mr. Clement has carved out an impressive career doing voice-over work in animated films (“Rio” & “Rio 2”) and commercials, as well as creating scene-stealing characters in feature films like “Dinner for Schmucks” and “Men in Black 3.”

For his latest project, the bloody good “mockumentary” “What We Do in the Shadows,” Mr. Clement serves as the star, co-writer and co-director. The darkly delightful comedy follows a group of vampire roommates trying to fit in and find love in the modern world. The result is a hilarious mix of “The Office” and “Jersey Shore” — with better accents and blood. Lots and lots of blood.

And, thankfully, no Snookie.

Mr. Clement called in from his home in New Zealand to discuss how the film came to be, the future of Flight of the Conchords and the best (and worst) parts of being a fake vampire.

Question: How did “What We Do in the Shadows” come about?

Answer: Taika [Waititi, the film’s co-writer/co-director and co-star] and I played some vampire characters in a comedy club once. There was something funny about these people who held grudges and had problems that lasted centuries.

We made a short film in 2005 as a kind of test to see if a documentary following some vampires would be funny. It wasn’t until years later that we got everybody in the short together again with a crew and filmed it.

Q: Did you enjoy playing a vampire?

A: As you can imagine, it is pretty fun, yes.

Q: Do you think you could be a vampire if such a thing were real?

A: Before filming I might have said yes. But the filming was either at night or in a studio pretending it was night. A month with no sunlight really made me miss the day. So, no.

Q: What aspect of “vampire life” was most appealing to you?

A: The flying and the capes. And the combination of them.

Q: What was the toughest part of making the film?

A: Editing. Taika and I didn’t let the other actors see the script. Instead we let them improvise the lines within the parameters of what we wanted to happen in each scene. Because of this we had about five days of footage, 120 hours or so, which we wanted to fit into an 86-minute film.

Q: How did you end up as the voice of a talking horse in the Direct TV ads “Hannah & Her Horse”?

A: A friend, who was also the producer of the Conchords music, told me a friend of his wanted me to be the voice of a horse in an ad. I think that was what swayed me in agreeing to do that. And, of course, I believe in being able to have lots of TV channels or whatever it is those ads are about.

Q: You’ve also voiced an evil animated bird in the films “Rio” and “Rio 2.” What animal is easier to play?

A: To tell you the truth, they are both quite easy.

Q: As an actor, have you ever turned down a role and regretted it?

A: No. But I will admit that I didn’t predict “The Hangover” would be a big hit when I read it. It was about the third script about dudes going to Las Vegas I’d seen in a row.

Q: Will there ever be a new Flight of the Conchords CD and U.S. tour?

A: Ahhh … it’s feasible.

Q: What else are you working on?

A: I am working on a new show for HBO. Actually two. Acting in one and writing another.

“What We Do in the Shadows” is available on DVD and Blu-ray.


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