By SAM ILIEV

 

Who else offers advice to the big wig of America, and hangs out with The Flight Of The Conchords, takes a break from editing movies in LA for this phone call, all while appreciating the true qualities of a banana? 

Take a moment out of your Monday to eavesdrop on a conversation with the humble, gracious Taika Waititi.

Recently named New Zealander of the Year, this comedian, writer, director and artist reflects on what really makes Kiwis unique. Aside from our accent, it’s the way we view life, he muses. “We’re quite motivated people and we don’t tend to like to talk about ourselves or talk about what we’re gonna do; we like to just show people what we’re going to do by doing it, you know. That’s what I really like about New Zealand. We don’t make a huge fuss, we just get to work and get the job done.”

Getting the job done is one thing; I suppose there’s no harm in scooping up an award while you’re at it…

But let’s get down to the bones of this guy’s success. It wasn’t handed to him on a plate – he worked for it. “I’ve always tried to create my own pathway.” Talk about leading by example!

Taika educated himself in the rules of film-making, building on the talents he already had and the fruits of his past practical experience. “My advice is to always try [and] learn on the job, you get far better at something by practising it, by doing it again and again as opposed to learning about it in a textbook.” 

But he still stresses the importance of also reading: “You can learn a lot by going to the library, so to speak, but there’s no substitute for practical experience.”

If you don’t know who I’m talking about by now, think Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Boy, and Moana; all films that most Kiwis can relate and connect to.

Aside from working with the more experienced of the New Zealand film industry, such as Cliff Curtis and Sam Neill, Taika has brought the talents and personalities of several young Kiwis to the screen. Both Julian Dennison and James Rolleston will be faces you’d recognise walking down the street, thanks to their respective starring roles in Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Boy.

While Taika values the experience and depth that only comes with many, many years of experience in acting, he also sees a different kind of depth that the younger emerging generation has to offer. “I work with kids who aren’t experienced. I prefer to cast kids who have never acted before because I feel like their performance is somewhat pure and unrestrained by rule, by a lot of the things that can clutter up an adult’s mind. I feel that when you work with kids, they give you who they are, so it’s a lot more pure.”

So this may leave you wondering, would he rather be acting in a film or directing it? Well, hear it from the man himself: “I think I prefer directing because, for me, I can be a bit more creative. You get to control a lot of things that are going on. With acting, it’s a lot more fun because you only have to concentrate on one thing. With directing, you’re concentrating on many, many different things all the time, you’re juggling a lot of different things, and there’s a lot more pressure.”

Taika doesn’t just preserve his creative quips for his comedy gigs and screenplays; a little blue bird notifies me every once in a while on my phone. The world wide web is all a twitter with smart remarks, Instagramable moments and posts to a wall instead of a mailbox. It seems that social media isn’t just a data-crunching pastime reserved for the average teenager after all… I mean, who advises the President about the Syrian Refugee Crisis?

Or offers an opinion on the workmanship of Chinese Stonemasons?

Taika is no stranger to using what’s available to him as a tool to get what he needs to get done. He can use Twitter to instantly reach millions of people with an advocating message about his charity work with children, or a simple mention of his scrambled egg recipe in the new New Zealand charity cookbook, Cooking 4 Change.

I inquire if his tweets had had any consequences on his current commitments in LA, editing Thor for release in a few months time. Not yet, but he assures me; he’ll keep tweeting and see what happens.

I wasn’t going to finish my yarn with this creative powerhouse without sliding him a loaded question, which went something along the lines of this:

If you could choose one grocery item to describe your personality, what would it be and why?

“Well I’ll tell you what I mostly identify with; I’ve always been a fan of the banana. Throughout the years it’s been a good friend, it’s reliable, it comes in its own package, so you know you’re not going to get anything more than just a banana. It’s colourful and it seems like a happy fruit. You know, it looks like a smile if you hold it the right way… I feel like it’s very much like me. I feel like I’m bright, and I’m generally a happy person and sweet on the inside. And… you can do a lot of stuff with a banana, can’t you?!”

When can we expect to see this sweet smiling tweeting banana in New Zealand? Before the end of the year. After he’s wrapped up editing Thor in Los Angeles, he’s planning on shooting another film back home. He’s not sure what that will be about exactly, but he wants to do it back on the home turf.

So, while there are others also doing great things with their lives, I’m sure you’ll agree that Taika represents the epitome of what it means to be a four-limbed Kiwi, and he deserves every inch of the New Zealand of the Year Award.

And next time you reach for that healthy yellow snack, think to yourself: What else could I be doing with this banana? Make sure to #tweet your ideas and tag @tearawaymag and @taikawaititi so we stay in the loop!


You might also like:

Julian Dennison: Never Doubt Yourself

In Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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