Jemaine Clement on Loving Bowie, Hating L.A., and Needing Some Space From Bret
Written by Seth Abramovitch | 30 Oct 2009, 10:45 AM
As the hornier, less-sensitive half of New Zealandâ€™s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo, Flight of the Conchordsâ€™ Jemaine Clement has earned legions of loyal fans. He also happens to be the best thing about Gentlemen Broncos â€” the latest love letter to adolescent social retardation from Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess. In it he plays science fiction author and lecturer Dr. Ronald Chevalier, a deliciously self-regarding buffoon who wears a Bluetooth earpiece, high-waisted jeans, and answers the phone, â€œCheVAAHlier.â€ Movieline spoke to Jemaine about his own nightmare mentors, the status of FotCâ€™s third season, his love/hate relationship with L.A., and his predilection for wearing really, really short shorts.
JEMAINE CLEMENT: Iâ€™m like the chicken sandwich at the end of the day at this point.
MOVIELINE: How so?
Iâ€™ve been doing this all day now. Youâ€™re pretty late. I think you might be the last.
We could just talk about whatever. You donâ€™t have to answer any of these.[Laughs] No, thatâ€™s all right. You can ask your questions.
OK. Your movie Eagle vs Shark reminded me a lot of Napoleon Dynamite. Was that a coincidence?
Perhaps itâ€™s not, because I talked to Jared about that when I first talked to him. And I said, â€œI starred in this movie called Eagle vs. Shark that was compared a lot to Napoleon Dynamite.â€ And he went, [Napoleon Dynamite voice:] â€œNothing freakinâ€™ like it.â€ And thatâ€™s how we feel about it, too, so I was glad to hear him say that. But I think he got interested in it because so many people had told him, â€œThereâ€™s this movie out of New Zealand thatâ€™s a lot like Napoleon Dynamite.â€ So thereâ€™s a possible connection.
How much of the look and sound of Dr. Ronald Chevalier was your own creation?
It always starts off with the script, and theyâ€™re quite specific in their scripts about how their characters are. Theyâ€™ll talk about the kind of sweaters they wear and how their jeans are and what the wash is. Theyâ€™re really specific.
I did have a few experiences like the writersâ€™ camp when I was younger. I used to write for radio and radio advertising, and I went to this radio workshop. And the guys there were jerks. Just egotistical jerks who were unbendable about how you write a 30-second ad for toothpaste. Theyâ€™d say things like, â€œNever be an inanimate object. I read an ad the other day that started off going, â€˜Iâ€™m a tooth.â€™â€ And like â€” whatâ€™s wrong with that? You could make that into something. Chevalier is strict on his rules, and I think that can come from when people have been doing something for a long time.
He reminded me a bit of those screenplay gurus.
Yeah. Theyâ€™re like that, too.
Were you a sci-fi head growing up?
Well, I grew up in the â€™80s, which was a really massive time for sci-fi. The Empire Strikes Back, E.T., D.A.R.Y.L., War Games â€” all massive. So I was, but our generation was, really. There was a lot of sci-fi marketed to kids â€” The Black Hole. Which I didnâ€™t see but I had the coloring book.
I was wondering if your song â€œBowie in Spaceâ€ was in some ways your tribute to sci-fi?
Not really. It was more a tribute to Bowie. He has so many songs about being in space. The day we wrote it, Bret [McKenzie] and I were driving around getting stuff ready for a gig, and we just started talking like that. [Bowie voice:] â€œIâ€™m David Bowie, man.â€ And there was a radio competition on the student radio station. It was a show called Brown Paper Bag, and you could win some wine or something like that. The question was, â€œWhat would you keep in a brown paper bag.â€ And weâ€™d call up and go, [Bowie voice:] â€œWeâ€™d keep David Bowie in a brown paper bag.â€ Theyâ€™d go, â€œWhat?â€ [Bowie voice:] â€œWeâ€™d put Bowie in there, man.â€ [Laughs] I wonder if those were recorded. It really would be so funny to hear that."We know Ricky Gervais a little bit through the comedy world, and those two are friends. I donâ€™t know if itâ€™s true, but Ricky said itâ€™s on [Bowieâ€™s] iPod."
Has Bowie ever contacted you about the song?
No, he hasnâ€™t. We know Ricky Gervais a little bit through the comedy world, and those two are friends. I donâ€™t know if itâ€™s true, but Ricky said itâ€™s on [Bowieâ€™s] iPod. I guess it was an ambition of mine when we wrote it, but in that dingy flat in Wellington, it was unimaginable that anyone outside of the bar where we would play it would ever hear it.
He seems like the kind of guy who would actually collaborate with you.
[Laughs] Well, actually we did ask if he would play himself [on the show]. He had just done Extras, and I guess heâ€™s a busy guy and we donâ€™t know him. So who knows if he ever heard the request.
Whatâ€™s going on with Season 3 of Flight of the Conchords?
Uhâ€¦ Bret has a, um, a sex operation, and it really changes the dynamic between us.
Does it enhance him, or change him to a different sex?
Itâ€™s just the same sex, but more so. No, weâ€™re thinking about it. I think youâ€™ll know more in a month. Weâ€™re going to have a meeting about it when weâ€™re all in the same country â€” thatâ€™s me, Bret and James [Bobin], the director. We have to think about what we want to do, if anything."I think of Bret as one of the nicest guys in the world. Honestly, one of the humblest, nicest guys in the world. But at the end of a thing like that, I canâ€™t stand him more than anyone else. Iâ€™m pretty sure it goes both ways."
So thereâ€™s a possibility you might not want to do anything?
To be honest with you, every time I finish something â€” look, I think of Bret as one of the nicest guys in the world. Honestly, one of the humblest, nicest guys in the world. But at the end of a thing like that, I canâ€™t stand him more than anyone else. Iâ€™m pretty sure it goes both ways. Itâ€™s just a really intense thing to do. Iâ€™m sure thereâ€™s lots of famous examples of that.
Are you guys best friends?
Iâ€™ve got one â€” no, Iâ€™ve got two better friends than him. Yeah, but heâ€™s up there.
Interesting. Is it a grind writing a seasonâ€™s worth of songs like that?
Itâ€™s a grind trying to do that simultaneously with writing a show. If it were one or the other it would be great, it would be fun. Maybe. It makes it really hard, because you have to decide what to prioritize. We split it up a little bit, and Bret did more of the production and I did more of the rewrites. But I didnâ€™t rewrite everything â€” usually I would just rewrite the scripts by other writers. And that happens on every show, apparently the showrunner will usually go over everything. But we just didnâ€™t have time to do that, so sometimes a very unpolished would hit the stage, and weâ€™d work on it while we were shooting it. But itâ€™s very difficult.
Are you living in New York while youâ€™re shooting the show?
How do you like that?
I love that place.
But you usually live in â€”
In Wellington. Well, actually I usually work more than I donâ€™t work. So Iâ€™m usually in America, for the past three years.
What do you think of L.A.?
What do I think of L.A.? Itâ€™s boring, with some amazing nuggets. Like there are some parts of it that are great, but by and large I think itâ€™s quite boring. Is this the L.A. Times? Los Angeles magazine? [Laughs]
No, itâ€™s not.
Just, itâ€™s so badly planned. But there are some great things about it, as well. Like, you go to Venice Beach. Itâ€™s amazing every time. And downtownâ€™s really cool. Iâ€™ve lived here, if you added it all up, probably a year, and the whole time I was terrified of going downtown, because people here are terrified of going downtown. In the daytime, anyway, itâ€™s pretty good. And thereâ€™s even some good bars and stuff down there. I donâ€™t know â€” itâ€™s love/hate.
A friend of mine told me he spotted you at an outdoor cafÃ© in Silver Lake wearing very, very short shorts, and was wondering why. Can you answer his question?
Sometimes I dress because I find it funny. But now that people watch what I dress I probably do less so. But in New Zealand in the â€™70s and â€™80s â€” and I think to an extent here, but not the same tightness as New Zealand â€” it was considered very manly to wear tiny shorts. Which is the most ridiculously gay thing, from this chronological vantage point. It just makes me laugh.
So you werenâ€™t shooting a movie or anything.
Yeah. It just reminds me of stuff Iâ€™d wear as a kid and makes me laugh. But itâ€™s true. He caught me!