Jemaine Clement Is Dr. Ronald Chevalier
The Gentlemen Broncos star on sci-fi, Conchords and gonad merchandising.
by Fred Topel
Nov 03, 2009
Jemaine Clement was supposed to do interviews for Gentlemen Broncos a week and a half before the film came out, but an unforeseen visa issue kept him out of the states until last week. So Gentlemen Broncos opened but we didnâ€™t have time to present Clementâ€™s roundtable interview until now. At least now youâ€™ve seen Ronald Chevalier in action, and of course itâ€™s all Conchord-y.
Q: Did everything work out with your visa from last week?
Jemaine Clement: Yes. As you can see. I didn't have to smuggle myself in.
Q: Have you had any horror stories of traveling from New Zealand to the U.S. over the years?
Jemaine Clement: I always get stopped in Canada. But I did try to sneak in there once, kind of, so they always check it out. When I came for Gentlemen Broncos, I had quite a thick beard. I grew it thick so they could shave it down to whatever and so, I got searched on every possible point there could be. I don't mean bodily, I mean through the journey.
Q: Jared Hess said you patterned your voice on Michael York from Logan's Run. Is that something you wanted?
Jemaine Clement: Yeah. I love that film anyway, so I watched it again. But also I had a lecturer, who was a sci-fi writer, a professor. And he spoke with a very deep voice, so I kinda mixed Michael York's accent with my professor's tone. That's how you make a voice.
Q: Have you ever encountered anyone like your character?
Jemaine Clement: Um, well, I mean, the lecturer I was talking about was an author and he would talk about his ideas. I even kind of changed one of his short story ideas a little bit when my character is talking on the phone about his other ideas. I used one of his ideas. He's quite a nice guy, though. I don't know if it got in the film, haven't seen it yet. It was about a time-traveling bakery. Was it in there? It'll be on the DVD, probably.
Q: Are New Zealanders as obsessed about science fiction as Americans are?
Jemaine Clement: The sci-fi convention kind of thing just started up in the last few years. When we were shooting Concords, there was this world trade event, sort of convention. We were doing a show about one, so we went in, had a look at it. And right next door, there was a sci-fi convention and you'd see storm troopers just walking into the hotel, next to some Asian business man. You never see things like that in New Zealand.
Q: Your character had a flamboyant flair to him. Where did that come from because it was a whole part of his persona?
Jemaine Clement: I don't know. A little in the way they wanted the character and a little what would be fun for me to do it, I suppose.
Q: You are admittedly a sci-fi geek.
Jemaine Clement: Where is everyone getting this?
Q: You have admitted in the past to liking space and rockets.
Jemaine Clement: A little, a little.
Q: Is it more than a little? Was that part of your enticement in taking this role?
Jemaine Clement: I liked some sci-fi films. I had a couple of posters of sexy robots on my wall. But other than that, I wasn't that dedicated.
Q: When you read this script, was there anything that struck you as too out there, like maybe the fascination with gonads, yeast lords? Anything hit you like, 'How is this going to work?'â€
Jemaine Clement: Well I think of it as justified by the science fiction storyline, the gonads, because it's Bronco's. But I didn't think about that. I'm not in any of those [scenes], I don't think, so I didn't really have to deal with gonads. As much.
Q: What do you look for in a part, because this is far different from Jarrod in Eagle vs Shark?
Jemaine Clement: First thing I look for is whether I know the director, if they are a friend of mine, so it's possible they might give me a part. What stuck out with this script is it didn't follow the Hollywood rules. I like Hollywood films, too, but this is different from that. I think there should be alternative stuff if you want to see a comedy film, even an American comedy film. It doesn't have to be about, uh, a man and a woman having friction and they come together in the end. I like that this is different.
Q: The Hesses are establishing themselves with a certain brand of comedy. Do you feel like you're part of a dynasty, so to speak?
Jemaine Clement: I like that idea. I don't know, I guess time will tell. I definitely feel something in common with those guys. When I first saw Napoleon Dynamite, I hadn't heard of it, just a friend took me when we were doing some Flight of the Concords gigs. To me, I felt like, â€œOh, someone else is doing what we're doing in New Zealand,â€ saying weird things and being totally serious about it. And yeah, I relate to the comedy.
Q: Jared does a dead-on impression of you, by the way.
Jemaine Clement: I know he does everyone else. Whenever he tells a story about someone, he does their voice. I was wondering, â€œDoes he do my voice when I'm not around?â€
Q: How does the line of fans dressed as â€œCyborg Harpiesâ€ compare to the throngs of Flight of the Concords fans that line up for you?
Jemaine Clement: I guess there's a similarity I hadn't really observed before. But, yeah, occasionally we'd get people dressed up as robots at events. I mean, I'm glad that there are those people, makes you feel good to think that you affect someone's life in that way, that there's some really dedicated people.
Q: Napoleon Dynamite had lots of success with merchandising. Do you have any dream Broncos toy for the holiday season, a Chevalier action figure?
Jemaine Clement: I noticed in the other room they had a jar with the gonads in it. Maybe someone could possibly buy those.
Q: With the Flight of the Concords' new album, movies, how are you balancing it all and what are we looking at from you in the future? Are you more drawn to films now?
Jemaine Clement: Yes, because it's less work. TV is really hard. I've done a few different jobs and TV is definitely the hardest. Just in the hours and the amount you have to come up and do. But with films, you've got two days here, a few days off, do a couple of days there. It's really different.
Q: Are you guys not going to do a third season?
Jemaine Clement: Yeah, we probably won't. It would be a hard decision to make, and we haven't totally called it off. We'll be deciding in the next month, but it doesn't seem like it. After the pilot, we couldn't imagine doing a season, and when we got the season, it's was like the worst news we could get. We got to make more of these? It's sooo hard to get through one because you have to record two albums worth of material, and write a sitcom at the same time it would take to do an album. And the next time, we have to write the songs as well, it's even harder. So, I don't know, it doesn't seem worth it for us, I guess. Because if we do a really great job on the third season, it'd be like, â€œThe Concords are back on form!â€
Q: You'll keep doing music though?
Jemaine Clement: You mean with Bret? I suppose so. We don't really have long-term plans, it's just whatever the next thing is. We've never been able to answer that question.
Q: How does your success with Concords and everything affect you in New Zealand? Can you walk down the street? Are you and Peter Jackson held up there?
Jemaine Clement: I live in a very small city, about 120,000 people, and Peter Jackson lives there as well. I never, ever see him. He just hides away, and sometimes I feel that way as well. The first review for The Concords came out, and it was quite an average one in the States. But the main entertainment news in New Zealand is â€œConcords show fails in America!â€ We are in the news a lot, especially when the show is going. I don't enjoy that part of it, but I still love the country.
Q: Did Jared give you any latitude in terms of ad-lib and the creation of the character?
Jemaine Clement: Yeah, we'd always do some ad-libbing. And I'm so used to that from The Concords. I'm not used to having to learn lines because on Concords we make up the lines, so no one is going to tell us what it's supposed to be. I'm just used to remembering the idea of the scene, cause that's what we all do on Concords. We always tell our actors not to learn their lines, not properly. I'd probably do that out of habit, just wander off on some tangent. It would be hard to stop me from doing that.
Q: You just had a son, have you made any Concords lullabies in conjunction with Bret, since he's a new father as well?
Jemaine Clement: We've made lullabies before, but not for kids.
Q: How about a Concords album for kids?
Jemaine Clement: That would be a fear of mine, that's something we would do.
Q: Anything coming up for you that we should know about?
Jemaine Clement: I'm doing a little writing. Also doing a small part in Despicable Me, which I'm sort of in the process of doing. The first time I did a session, they didn't even have a script. They just told me what was happening, it was really weird. I was in a room by myself, with headphones on, and this tiny little camera that films you which they use for reference. It was quite strange, really different.
Q: What other American comic actors do you admire?
Jemaine Clement: Larry David, I love Curb Your Enthusiasm. He says he's not going to do it again, but he keeps coming back and doing it. And I totally relate to him. He always talks about like he hates it, and like him, I do hate a lot of it. But it is fun as well, sometimes, and has some rewards. So yeah, I admire him. I also love Garry Shandling and anything he does. Loved The Larry Sanders Show and It's Garry Shandling's Show and also Dave Chappelle's show.
Q: Did you always be an entertainer or was there a plan B to be a doctor or teacher?
Jemaine Clement: I thought I was going to be a computer programmer for awhile. But I also always wanted to do something creative. Because of my interest in computers, I realized computers would be able to do so many things but they wouldn't be able to create something. Even writing a computer program, it's conceivable computers will be able to do that better than people one day, you know? I didn't know I'd be acting, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do.
Q: Is the music on the new album all from the show?
Jemaine Clement: Yeah, it's basically a soundtrack.
Q: How come they never put the songs from the new episodes on iTunes the day after it aired?
Jemaine Clement: We tried to do that. There's usually two songs in the show, and we'd tried to put one on. But it was hard to get it ready because there's a different mix for TV, that might not be good enough for stereo.
Q: Glee is doing it now and I always said that's what Concords should have done.
Jemaine Clement: We should have. We thought of it and we tried to do it but it was pretty challenging for us. But I'm sure the guys who wrote the music for Glee aren't also acting in the show and doing the show. We had all these things to do, so it was really difficult.
Q: Growing up in New Zealand, seeing movies as a kid, do you remember the first movie you saw where you went, â€œI gotta do this!â€
Jemaine Clement: Hmmm, I never thought â€œI gotta do this!â€ but they did really stay with me and I had to go see a movie every weekend, no matter what it was, I had to go in there and see it. I think the first might be Watership Down.
Q: Do you have a book, science fiction or otherwise book that really shaped you as an adolescent like the lead in this movie or an author?
Jemaine Clement: Oh, I see. Um, I think my favorite book in that phase was May Week Was in June by Clive James. Do people know him here? It was his autobiography, or one of his. There were three parts, but that's the one I really liked. But it didn't have anything to do with sci-fi, sorry.
Q: Has anyone ever plagiarized from you?
Jemaine Clement: I'd say yes, but you know it's hard to say. I used to work in advertising a little for a radio station and a big advertising company copied one of my ads. I went in and played them this ad I made for them, that they had me to write for them, but it didn't work out. Then the ad they did make up for the thing was just like mine, like my ad. Like some executive could see a short film or a music video no one has heard of and copy it. That just happens. But you can do it accidentally. For instances, I used to write sketches and I remember one sketch I handed in, about these these old people complaining about all these things they had to do and how hard it was and it was based on my parents and uncles talking when I was a kid. The producers said that it was just like a Monty Python sketch and I'd never seen Monty Python, so I checked it out and it was pretty much the same. I then realized that when I was a kid, my aunties and uncles and mom were probably quoting Monty Python, so I accidentally plagiarized Monty Python.