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Kristen Schaal Talks to Jemaine Clement About His New Movie, Dancing, and Considering Quitting Acting

Jemaine Clement and Kristen Schaal Photo: Getty Images

It might be hard to believe, but it was nearly eight years ago when Kristen Schaal first played Mel, the stalker and only fan of the Flight of the Conchords, on the band’s now-classic HBO show. In the years since, Schaal has remained a fan of the guys (she is also their actual friend), so Vulture felt it would be perfect to have her interview Jemaine Clement about his new movie, What We Do in the Shadows, a comedy horror mockumentary he wrote and directed with fellow New Zealander Taika Waititi, which opens wide this weekend. Schaal and Clement talk about making the movie, dancing, and whether Clement should quit acting.

Kristen Schaal: So, hi, Jemaine.
Jemaine Clement: Hi, Kristen. I understand you’re gonna go very in-depth with this interview. It’s gonna be really hard-hitting.

That’s absolutely correct. It’s gonna be like that scene in Magnolia where Tom Cruise has to face the fact that his mom’s dead and he’s a fraud. So, are you ready?
Wow. Yeah. This might be the interview that ends it all.

But what a way to go! With your friends exposing you! My first question is, how are you?
Okay, I’m gonna be honest because that’s the kind of interview this is. I’m sick. I’ve had a fever for the last few days, and I’ve been doing press for this movie in a feverish state. My only rests have been in the car between interviews.

Who got you sick?
My son had a fever. I don’t have it as bad as he had it. He was hallucinating. I haven’t had any hallucinations.

Unfortunately. How much time do you spend traveling?
I think I’m away from New Zealand half of the year.

Do you have any free flights coming up?
If I put my points into action, I could get one.

Where are you gonna go?
Well, the day after tomorrow I’m coming to L.A. for this movie stuff. Then I’m just gonna hang out in New York, I think, for a while.

Why don’t you hang out in L.A.? There are more people you love here.
That does seem like a good idea when I’m sick, to be where it’s sunny. I can just lay there like a lizard on a rock in the sun, absorbing the vitamin D and replenishing my resources.

Let’s get to the real. Who was your favorite comedian growing up?
I don’t know if I had one, but there’s a few. Billy Connolly, the Scottish comedian.

I used to listen to a lot of his tapes before I knew about good music, because I grew up in a small town where there was only top 40. I used to watch a lot of British comedy like The Young Ones. It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was one of my favorites.

Have you ever met Billy Connolly?
I haven’t met him, but he came to a gig that Bret and I did in Wellington, when he was filming The Hobbit down there. I could see him right in the middle with his long, silver hair. It threw all of us, especially me. I couldn’t concentrate on the words of the songs because I could see him, and he came to our party afterwards, but I was too shy to introduce myself.

Ah! What?!
Well, you know. You don’t always want to meet your heroes. Once I went backstage at a Leonard Cohen concert. He’s not a comedian, but when they told us that we wouldn’t meet him, that he didn’t meet people after shows, I was so relieved.

Jemaine, you’re a real night owl. You have trouble sleeping, don’t you?
Sometimes I go through that, yeah. You’re saying that because we have online chats sometimes.

Well, that, but also I just remember I always wanted to go to bed when we’re out, and you always were out until five, six, or seven in the morning. You like to watch the sun come up.
That was a different me. A younger one.

What do you consider a successful night out?
Well, the old me — that would be the younger me — it would be just laughing and dancing. I like dancing.

Yeah, you really let yourself go when you dance.
It’s probably the only time, Kristen.

The only time what?
The only time when I’m truly free.

It’s true! Dancing’s kind of your drug.
That’s right. I don’t do drugs, but a friend of mine said I was addicted to dancing.

You’re good at it, too.
Oh, thanks. I’ve done it a lot. I’ll observe people and I mimic their moves.

What’s your favorite move?
Probably a kind of horse-style shimmy.

Oh, that’s my move!
Yeah. Similar to your move. Not exactly the same.

Remember when Dave Chappelle had a birthday party and then Erykah Badu came and she DJ’d the whole party?

Remember that?!
Of course.

Remember when we danced? And you used the whole geography of the room. You would go at a wall and just throw yourself off it in a real cool Flashdance move.
Yeah, I do actually lose myself a little. I love it. When I hear that description, it sounds terrible. I wouldn’t like to witness it, personally, even though it is me. Fortunately, I don’t have to witness it.

No, it’s something. It’s awe-inspiring, trust me. Let’s move on. What is your favorite memory from working on Flight of the Conchords?
Just getting to New York and working with friends and being part of this, whatever it was, whether it was a troupe or a group.

Who was your favorite cast member on Flight of the Conchords?
I see what you’re getting at. Well, I have a few. I love all my children.

All right …
You know, we’re good friends still, you and I. But when I first met you, I didn’t know if I was gonna get on with you, but mainly because you didn’t understand what I was saying because of our accents. You would just stare at me. [Laughs.] We didn’t know how it was gonna work. We cast you from a tape of you doing stand-up. We were about to start auditions for your character, and we hadn’t even done one, but we watched your stand-up tape for about 30 seconds and said, “Yes!”

I still have trouble understanding you, but I’m just better at faking it now.
You’re much better. Maybe you don’t have to understand someone to be friends with them.

No! Of course not. They just have to show up. You were also a bit of a mumbler back then, too. You’re not as mumbly anymore.
There’s a guy on the cast of this film, Cori [Gonzalez-Macuer], who mumbles. Probably like I did, maybe a bit more mumbly. We had him at a Q&A the other day, and clearly people couldn’t understand him, and I thought, I was probably more like that, but I’ve learned to enunciate a lot better.

Yeah, we need that here. Speaking of the movie, you co-directed the movie What We Do in the Shadows with Taika Waititi. Who was the McCartney and who was the Lennon in this relationship?
McCartney is the more musical one, but Lennon was the more emotional? I don’t think either of us were a Beatle. If anything, we were probably more like a George and Ringo.

Ah, good answer! Did you enjoy working on this movie with Taika?
Yeah. Filming it was really fun, because it was just a month of improvising, making up things, playing around with special effects. Editing it went on for over a year. You visited during that time. That was quite tedious. It went from fun to tedium.

I was privy to a very rough cut. It was still funny, even then.
Yeah, you had an influence over the film. Your comments.

Yeah, I had some notes.
We took them seriously.

You did! Yay! Thank you. Not a lot of people take me seriously. I appreciate that.
Well, I know to. I know to. I was all ears.

You get to act as a lothario in a lot of your movies. Why is that? Is it fun?
I’m not sure, but I used to be cast as a nerd when I started. It’s a relief to be out of that role. I’m trying to mix it up.

What is your dream role to play?
I’m not sure. It’s been a long time since I wanted to be an actor. It’s something I enjoy and it’s really fun, but I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t keep doing it, I don’t think.

What would you do instead?
Anything. I’d have to find something that’s true. I don’t know what that is yet. Do you have a feeling that you haven’t found the job that you’re supposed to do?

Oh, like I’m in the wrong career?

I had that when I was waiting tables.
You thought, This is not me. Maybe I should be waiting tables. I haven’t tried that.

You’re definitely in the right career. Are you kidding? You’re one of the most entertaining people on the planet!
I feel like if I found something else I was really good at, I’d be so pleasantly surprised and probably just do that no matter what it was. If I made the best yogurt that anyone had ever tasted, I would go on and do that. But I haven’t found what the thing is. So I’ll keep doing this.

Are there any new movie projects that you wanna write? Stories that still need to be told?
I’m not working on any movie scripts or anything, really. I’m working on a TV idea with Taika. It’s an anthology series that may never be made. Then, yeah, doing some other acting things.

I’m still thinking about that yogurt.
It sounded delicious, didn’t it?

It did sound delicious. I’m just trying to figure out what you’re gonna do to make it so special.
Jemaine’s Yogurt.

I do understand that frustration, though. Acting is intimidating, I’m sure.
Sometimes when I take it really seriously, I’m worried that I’m not doing a good enough job. But then if I’m enjoying it too much, I’m lazy. Sometimes it is easy to enjoy it. It’s great. It’s such a fun job. It’s almost too fun. It’s suspiciously fun.

Agreed. You feel guilty.
There are parts of it that are not that great, but the acting job is pretty fun.

What about your music? Do you ever wanna do more of that?
Yeah, Bret and I are touring later on in the year, so I’ll get my fix of that. You know what I really enjoyed doing? When we did a radio play for BBC that was a really fun format to work in. They basically only happen in England, but that’s a good place to work because you can create anything from nothing.

Yeah. Use your imagination. I’ll put a good word in for you on “This American Life,” if you want. I know some people. [Laughs.]
They don’t really do radio plays that much. Sometimes they do.

Yeah, but they could start! Do you feel that you got over the flu during the course of this interview?
Talking to you is like a shot of vitamin C. Right in my buttocks.

You know, I could keep you on the phone, I love this. I never get to just bug you with questions. Do you have to go?
Uhh, I guess I should go sometime and pay attention to my family. Do you have any more questions?

I was gonna ask if you prefer poop jokes or fart jokes.
Good question. Poop jokes or fart jokes. I don’t feel like I’ve gone for that a lot, but I’d probably go for a fart joke. The Inbetweeners 2 had a really intense scene where a guy was chased by a poo. He’s chased by a poo down a waterslide, and that’s probably the most tense I’ve been in a movie, watching that scene.

All right, well, that’s all of my questions. I’ll let you get back to Soph [Jemaine’s 6-year-old son].
He’s here.

Tell him hello!
Soph, do you wanna say hi?

Sophocles: Hello! 

Hi, Sophocles! It’s Kristen!
Sophocles: Hi. 

Hello! How’s New York?
Sophocles: It’s good. 

You are such a jet setter.
All right, I’m taking the phone again.

You can email me follow-up questions if you have any.

[Laughs.] All right, talk to you guys later. Bye!

Kristen Schaal Talks to Jemaine Clement