Fantastic Fest Interview: Ride with ‘Broncos’ Star Jemaine Clement

By  · Published on November 4th, 2009

Press junkets can tend to be a drag. Having said that, we were particularly excited to get to interview Jemaine Clement, most notable for his hit band/television show “Flight of the Conchords.” Clement was in Austin for the premiere of Gentlemen Broncos at Fantastic Fest, where he steals the show as Dr. Ronald Chevalier, a critically acclaimed science fiction author that has run out of fresh ideas.

Chris Tilly from IGN UK and I teamed up during a chat outside to talk with Clement about the film, the pressure that comes with working on “Flight of the Conchords” and the recent news that FOTC will be featured on a Rock Band game in the future. Along the way, we ran into a scheming crow while the humble and always clever Clement let us into the world of Dr. Chevalier.

Chris Tilly: What was it like seeing the film last night?

I didn’t see but about the last twenty minutes. We all went and had a dinner reunion because we all live in different places

[As Jemaine speaks, a crow approaches the table.]

Look at this ominous crow just spying. He’s probably from The Omen. He does have a beautiful color though. He’s sort of blue. I don’t know why he’s so angry.

Adam Sweeney: He’s probably going to steal all of the good parts of this interview. [Laughter]

Yeah, he’ll take it to a witch. [Laughs]

AS: How did you prepare for this role?

I spent a lot of time looking at pictures of authors because the words are already there in the script. You’ve got how they talk, how they walk and what they were. Jared and Jerusha [Hess] are so specific about the characters. All I could decide was my hairstyle and my voice, just a little bit.

CT: As a Brit, I was hearing a little bit of James Mason and Michael York.

Michael York was a big influence. I am pretty sure Jared wanted Michael York to play the part. When you read it, it describes Michael York. He’s a guy in his 60s with silver hair in the script. So I didn’t really envision myself playing it when I read the script.

CT: Is it hard to do the voice?

Yeah, I could hardly do it last night at the screening. I was like, ‘how does it go?’ You have to imagine a plum is in your throat.

CT: Were you looking for something different than your “Conchords” character?

I guess so.

CT: What was it about this script that particularly drew your attention?

Well, do you read scripts?

CT: Yeah.

Then you’ve probably read scripts of movies that are made. There’s another level of scripts that aren’t being made and they’re quite bad. But I don’t think I read them well. Sometimes I think they’re going to be terrible, and they’re excellent. This one was just really different in their detail for the characters. I know this style of filmmaking isn’t for everyone. It’s in a different universe. The characters aren’t quite real. I really liked that. So many films are just boring real life versions. This takes real life and adds to it. But some people say, ‘That’s not real. It wouldn’t happen.” But that’s what makes me like this script.

AS: They tend to highlight the eccentricities of people.

Right but they’re real. Like the guy who makes the films in the movie. Jared has a friend who does that stuff. He makes these films with terrible lasers. He does hundreds of these things. A lot of real life is in there. Some people think it’s too much. I think it’s perfect.

AS: You’ve written before. Do you have any plans on writing a screenplay in the future?

Yeah. I am working on one right now. At the time, I could really relate to Chevalier because we were right in the middle of Conchords and writing for the next season. I was like, ‘I have to come up with twenty more songs and ten ideas!’

CT: Was it nice playing such a bastard?

Yeah, it was fun. I try to make him sympathetic. I wanted him to just be a guy who tries to make people inspired. But it was really fun picking on the kids in the class.

CT: That look you gave the girl was great.

You mean the troll girl? [Laughs]

CT: Yeah. You could feel the tragic side of him. Could you do a spin-off of Chevalier?

I don’t know. [Speaking in the Dr. Chevalier voice] It would be very interesting. [And back to normal] But I’d like to see a Bronco and Brutus one. Those guys would be great to team up.

CT: Well, we know Sam Rockwell can handle two characters.

Right, Moon. I haven’t seen that yet. I am so interested in it that I couldn’t help but read things about it. They were hidden things.

AS: How have you dealt with the success of “Flight of the Conchords” given that the joke is —

That we’re not successful?

AS: Right, but then you have a party at The Highball for this film and you’re doing a reading at Book People.

Isn’t Book People a really small store? [Laughter] I wouldn’t take that as a huge success to be in a small store, right?

AS: Well, I am sure it will be packed, right? [Laughter]

I was actually quite nervous doing the reading last night. I haven’t done anything like that since school plays.

AS: If it goes bad you can start reading from The Crucible.

[Laughs] Only certain people watch the show, but I mean, I can walk around this place and nobody will recognize me. It’s only a small subsection of the TV watching populace.

CT: What’s the status of the “Conchords?”

We don’t know yet. We may do a short season or a sort of special. Like a Christmas special sort of thing. Maybe nothing.

CT: A friend of mine was interviewing Rhys Darby the other day in London and he was talking about the possibility of a movie.

He’s uncontrollable. [Laughter] We created a monster. But we’ve been thinking about a movie. But it goes in stages. I’ve been doing this for five years and there are times where I say, ‘I am never going to do this again. I’m not going to sing another silly song!’ Then time passes and we say, ‘ya wanna do another? Hmm, maybe…’ It goes on, I do it and enjoy it, hate it. Never going to do it again. Do it again. I think of Larry David and how each season of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ you have to take it one at a time because a hundred episodes is daunting. Right now I am in ‘I’m not going to do it again’ mode.

CT: I think of all the directions you could take into a film.

By all means, email them to me. [Laughter]

AS: Would you consider a dramatic role?

I love comedy but it’s more as a fan of comedy. That’s how I got into it, watching it. But I like taking on challenges. I wish I had come up with a more interesting word than challenges. [Laughter] But when you’re scared of something, you have a reason to do it.

AS: It motivates you.

Yeah. You take steps to get over it. But yeah, I would do that. I haven’t been actively looking for a dramatic part though.

CT: I had a question about Rock Band. You guys are going to be on Rock Band in the future, right? Do you know what songs are going to be on there?

We’re open to suggestions. I’d love to see what the results are. I hope they don’t choose obscure ones. But I would love to get the payout for the “Stairway to Heaven” royalties.

AS: We will talk to Jimmy Page about giving you that part.

He has enough money already.

AS: Well, thanks for the interview.

Sure thing.

Be sure to check out our interview with Dr. Ronald Chevalier himself.