Taika Waititi’s movies have been playing at Rooftop Films’ screening series for years, but the New Zealand native has never been able to attend any of the New York-based company’s outdoor showings of his own films. Waititi did make it to New York last week, however, to accept one of the two 2017 Rooftop Films Honors alongside fellow recipient Kirsten Johnson (“Cameraperson”). The awards were given at the company’s first ever gala at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan.
Waititi is currently editing the director’s cut for Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” which wrapped production in Australia last November and will be in post-production through November of 2017. All four of Waititi’s previous feature films were shot in New Zealand, but the writer-director has barely set foot in his home country since taking on “Thor.”
“I bought a house in New Zealand two years ago and I’ve spent about 35 days in it,” he told IndieWire shortly before the Rooftop Films awards ceremony. We discussed Waititi’s future directing plans, what it was like to make his first Marvel movie and whether President Donald Trump makes him nervous.
Were you very into Thor and comic books as a kid?
Yeah, I collected a lot of comic books and put them in plastic bags with cardboard backing and everything. I had them all in sections and stuff and was fully into it, so I’m not like coming out of nowhere and completely clueless as to what comics should be like.
What has it been like working on “Thor: Ragnarok”?
It’s been great. It’s going really well. We’re all very much on the same page in terms of what kind of movie tonally we wanted to make. And that was the biggest thing for me. I don’t care if someone wants to change their costume or wants the set to be blue instead of red. I’m more interested in whether we can do stuff with the performances, sensibilities and tone that is interesting and fresh and feels more like what I would normally make. And I feel like I’m achieving that.
Why was it a tough decision to take on a superhero movie for a studio?
People had warned me and I had also just heard stories of people who didn’t enjoy the process or didn’t end up making films with good studios. Also, there’s the pressure that’s on you with these sorts of films. I thought, okay, well I like the challenge of that, but I also want to do something different that’s outside of New Zealand and different from my usual films.
What’s good about Marvel is there aren’t many people who give notes. I was really lucky because I had a lot of creative freedom on the shoot. But it’s not like I’m coming in as this guy from New Zealand who’s going to reinvent Thor or comic book movies. Marvel has proved that they know what they’re doing with the last 12 movies or however many they’ve made.
How did directing “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” prepare you for this experience?
Having a car chase was definitely something I’ve always wanted to do, and I feel I’m just exercising those muscles and stretching them. Challenging myself is what I’m really keen on doing with all my movies. I want to keep trying to do something different and new and a bit scary for me, so doing a car chase and going on to do a Marvel movie — they’re all challenges. You’ve got to be restless and a little bit uncomfortable all the time.
You’re supposedly doing a werewolf-centered sequel to “What We Do in the Shadows” called “We’re Wolves.” What are the odds that will get made soon?
Yeah, eventually. It’s going to happen. Jemaine [Clement] and I are always so busy and he’s doing another movie and trying to do a bit of TV stuff as well so it’s a little hard because we can never get in the same room together. We email a lot about what should we do with this film.
You wrote the first draft of Disney’s “Moana.” Do you want to direct an animated movie yourself?
Yeah I’ve got plans on doing that. I love stop motion and I also love classic Walt Disney animation, even though it takes way too long. I just have to find a story and a project.
Would you ever be interested in making a dark drama, or something with no comedy at all?
Nah. Zero interest. So what I’m saying is I never want to go to an awards ceremony.
Does having Donald Trump as president make you want to leave the U.S.?
I think it’s a really interesting time to be here. I’m one of the luckiest people in the world because if I get deported, I go to New Zealand, which is a great place. But I want to be here. I love working here and the people are amazing.