SUCCESS, TITLES, AND NEGOTIATIONS WITH KERMIT by paul • September 14, 2012 • Arts & Entertainment, Edition 7, Features • 0 Comments
Fresh from his recent success at the Oscars, star Bret McKenzie spoke to Paul Berrington about working with the Sarkies brothers in their latest movie Two Little Boys, his not-so-dramatic rise to success, and how it feels to have such an important title.
A film about two bogans from Invercargill whose world is turned upside down by the accidental killing of Norwegian tourist may not seem like comedy gold, but in the hands of Duncan Sarkies, and starring Bret McKenzie and Andy Blake, Two Little Boys takes that premise and delivers a bellyfull of laughs.
The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year and received positive reviews from many critics, the Hollywood Reporter cited the film as “one to watch out for” at the famous cinema market place.
Given the closeness of the New Zealand comedy community it comes as no surprise that McKenzie had worked with the Sarkies brothers before Two Little Boys.
“Yeah, I’d worked with Duncan before at uni. We were part of a group at Vic Uni that included Jermaine and Taika, and had worked on a play he had written called Bodyplay. In the show we wore flesh-coloured suits which allowed us to appear nude on stage and featured such props as detachable penises.”
“I also helped Duncan develop some of his short stories for a national tour. I feel like I’ve worked with him a lot as part of the Welly community. Robert came into the scene a little later, yet I have worked with them both when they were developing the Scarfies script.”
In Two Little Boys, McKenzie is Nige, a uniquely Kiwi character. “Well I thought the script was hilarious, and dark, and very different from the other scripts I was being offered at the time, which were mostly Rom Com’s that I was not excited by at all. I read the script at a time when I was touring America and thought it was a perfect contrast to that style of comedy.”
Duncan Sarkies has described his characters as representing the ‘great southern bogan’, something many New Zealanders can relate to, but something which McKenzie confesses he’s never been. “No, not a bogan, I grew up playing jazz and doing theatre, about as far away from a bogan as you can be.”
Yet he was enthusiastic about the experience. “It was fun being exposed to a really different culture. I remember the stunt driver took me out to teach me handbrake turns in the Mazda 323. We found a quiet street in Invercargill, which wasn’t hard, and got to work.
“Working with Hamish was hilarious”, McKenzie says of co-star Blake. “We hadn’t worked together before so it was all new and fresh. To be honest I wasn’t particularly familiar with Hamish and Andy, so it was exciting and a lot of laughs because we were both from comedy duos. Hamish made a great joke about how we were having an affair with another comedy duo.”
Two Little Boys balances slapstick comedy against something far blacker and satirical, pushing the genre into something more interesting. “I hope the film engages the audience. I think it succeeds in this way by existing in its own world and this helps the viewer to engage with the story and characters. I think too many comedies are often built upon sketches and ignore narrative.”
McKenzie is now in such high demand that he must balance his time between the glamour of Hollywood and laidback nature of New Zealand. “First of all, making films is relatively new thing for me. Yet I am excited by it and find it really interesting. I think film is a great format to explore so I am keen to do more. Besides that, though, I would say I balance my time between NZ and the US by half and half. It is important to me to find that balance, and I will always share my time between the two.”AS FOR OTHER NEW ZEALAND COMEDIANS
looking to follow in his footsteps, “you need to develop your material in front of audiences, which can be hard in New Zealand. Testing your material on a range of audiences is really important. “Besides that, you need a lot of stars to align, an element of luck. Having done Flight of the Conchords has really opened the door for me.”
He sees it as essential that locals push themselves outside their comfort zone. “First of all, go overseas. New Zealand is a great place to develop material, it is small and manageable, and you get an honest response. You’re away from the spotlight and you can make mistakes, which helps you to improve your routine before taking it overseas.
“You have to be really into it. Early on, touring with Jermaine was hard. I remember at our first international show at the Canadian Fringe Festival, where we were billeted. There was one person in the audience. But that gives you a thicker skin”, he says, debunking the myth of his dramatic rise to success.
“We were playing the same songs then as today where we might get 10,000 people at a show. Another time in Edinburgh we had to crash at a friend’s apartment. Jermaine had to sleep in a cupboard, and to makes matters worse, there was a wasp infestation.
“When we first went to Los Angeles we were told it was a car city but neither of us had a car. It was a four-hour walk to the shop and back, sometimes without any footpaths. One time we were walking home and somebody yelled to us, ‘get a car’. At the time these sorts of things can be depressing, but in reflection they make great material.”
After achieving so much over the past couple of years, it might be difficult for some to remain inspired, but McKenzie is still hungry to use that success. “I guess I’ve ticked a lot of the boxes really. I’d like to try to make stuff in New Zealand using my experience and the contacts I’ve made. I am really hoping to bring a big project here, with some big names involved”.
So, given this stance and his ability as actor, musician, and comedian, it is interesting that he is most comfortable as a musician. “I grew up playing in bands and touring, so it is natural to me. Yet as I’ve got more roles I started to really enjoy acting as well.”
And how has he avoided this success going to his head? “Partly by coming back and forth from New Zealand and the USA. LA is strange – the longer you’re there the weirder you become. The whole place is industry-obsessed and is all about becoming a star.”
An example of this was his recent return to New Zealand for Red Nose Day. “I loved it and we had a real blast, the kids were amazing. We interviewed kids from inner-city schools in Wellington and Auckland. Some kids were really shy and others incredibly open and funny. The whole experience was a real honour.”
He was also honoured by his recent addition to the New Zealand Order of Merit. “I was actually really proud to be considered. I am scheduled to have lunch at Government House with the Governor-General, which I think is really cool and a privilege.”
Rumours of a Flight of the Conchords film are unfortunately just that, with McKenzie confirming there is nothing set in stone.
“Well, we have been throwing around ideas about the possibility of a film, but there has been nothing definite.” It seems he is due for some down time. “I am personally taking a bit of break at the moment … and I’m also in negotiation with Kermit.”