Taika Waititi on shaking up Thor and being a Hollywood outsider: ‘They take this stuff so seriously’

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The Hunt for the Wilderpeople director on to intervene in the Marvel universe, detesting biopics and his early script for Moana

When asked what fans can expect from the most recent instalment of Thor, director Taika Waititi somewhat unhelpfully says it will be Taika-esque.

Asked if he could perhaps describe it in literally any other route, he chuckles. I cant! Theres no way!

As far as whetting the cravings of Marvel fanatics goes, its a little counterproductive. Thor: Ragnarok is likely to be watched by many more people who are familiar with the franchise than those who know Waititis work but this may be the movie that stimulates the New Zealand director a household name.

The big-budget Thor is a far cry from the Flight of the Conchords, of which Waititi wrote and directed a few episodes, and from What We Do In The Shadows, the 2014 vampire mockumentary he made with Jemaine Clement. And its virtually the antithesis of Hunt for the Wilderpeople: the family friendly little-Kiwi-film-that-could, which was a astound hit at box office around the world last year.

But while the types of projects may differ wildly, his treatment of them the bit that builds them Taika-esque doesnt. Even Waititis government-funded anti-drug-driving campaign, Tinnyvision attained in collaboration with Snapchat in 2014 has the same warm, sly humour of his features.

And yet, after 41 years experience of being Taika-esque himself, he still struggles to describe it.

If someone asked, What are your films like ?, the best I can come up with is that theyre, like, a fine balance between comedy and drama. And they deal principally with the clumsiness of humanity.

Well, thats definitely true of Tinnyvision.

As evidenced by his decision to set Ragnarok outside the Marvel universe a ballsy move, given the size of the fandom and budget in question Waititi is one to do things his own style. And its paying off.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople reportedly made as much as US $23 m worldwide( with takings of more than$ 8m in its home country) and expended some eight weeks in the top 10 at the Australian box office. It placed among the top 100 cinemas of all time on Rotten Tomatoes, where it is 97% certified fresh from 171 reviews, and was the New York Times and LA Times critics picking, as well as Empire publications film of the year.

I knew it would play well with audiences, I only didnt know if anybody would have any idea how to marketplace it or sell it or get people in cinemas to see it … Its not like[ New Zealand is] known for churning out really big blockbusters every year.

At home, Waititi has run from hitting to bigger reach. His first feature film, the oddball romantic comedy Eagle vs Shark, was nominated for the grand jury prize at the Sundance film festival in 2007 as was his second, Boy, in 2010.

He may not be quite as big a celebrity as his long-time collaborator Clement, with whom he won New Zealands top slapstick award as the Humourbeasts in 1999, but hes close. And when Hunt for the Wilderpeople became the highest-grossing local movie at the New Zealand box office in May last year, it transgressed Boys record.( At the time, Waititi called it the happiest and saddest day of my career .)

A fine balance between comedy and drama: Taika Waititi. Photograph: Jeff Vespa/ WireImage

In late February, Waititi was named the New Zealander of the year. I ask where the honor ranks in among nominations at the Academy Awards and Sundance and wins at festivals in Berlin, Edinburgh, Hawaii, Melbourne, Taipei, Toronto and Warsaw.

Its up there, he answers. There are a lot of nominations for things I never won and this is something I actually did win it feels like Ive followed through on this one.

Waititis Academy Award nomination came in 2005 before any of his feature film for his 11 -minute short Two Autoes, One Night. He infamously pretended to be asleep during the ceremony.

That outsiders mentality has persisted, despite the success of the interim 12 years. The best picture fiasco of this years Academy Awards was great, he says. I loved it. I thought it was hilarious … They take this stuff so seriously, dont they? Its almost like launching a rocket into space.

Keeping a home far away from Hollywood has been grounding for Waititi; its hard to get caught up in all the glitz and self-importance from New Zealand, where he and his family are based. He has two daughters, aged four and one, and a stepson with his wife, the producer Chelsea Winstanley.

But another way to look at his geographical distance is as a buffer, or a safety net. You can always go home again and why wouldnt you, when youre already a massive success there?

Having had pretty much four successful movies at home, I know theres an audience for my work, he says. A plenty of people are trying to get out of their home country and think making it is if youre able to work in another. For me … Id be quite content to keep doing my own little movies down there for the rest of my filmmaking career.

The New Zealand Film Commission will be glad to hear that, I say.

Thats why I said it, he replies.

That may all change, with Thor: Ragnarok set to be by far the biggest commercial success of his career to date.( Thor: The Dark World induced $644 m worldwide in November 2013.)

With Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum and Wilderpeople star Sam Neill joining Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo, anticipation is high for the third instalment of the franchise not least because Waititi, with his background in indie slapsticks, was such an unusual pick.

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