You might not know his name (yet), but you sure know this films. From indie hit Hunt For The Wilderpeople to box office smash, Thor: Ragnarok, this Kiwi director is about to become a Hollywood hot property
Taika Waititi profile
Taika Waititi has been making movies in his homeland of New Zealand for years. But he only recently decided it was time to give the Hollywood blockbuster a whirl. He started out in 2007 with offbeat romcom Eagle Vs Shark, made What We Do In The Shadows – a mockumentary horror comedy about vampires in Wellington – and last year topped many critics' best of the year lists with his loveable and quirky chase comedy, Hunt For The Wilderpeople.
But it was his second movie, 2010’s Boy, which really grabbed the attention of Marvel Studios, ultimately earning him his huge breakthrough gig on Thor: Ragnarok and the adoration of film fans, Marvel maniacs, Lycra-lovers and Hollywood heroes. And watching it, you can see why. A coming-of-age tale about an 11-year-old Michael Jackson fan living in New Zealand’s Waihau Bay in 1984, Boy is as amusing as it is affecting, and features a star supporting turn from Waititi himself as the main character’s flawed father.
So the time is ripe to bring yourself up to speed on New Zealand’s most exciting export since The Lord Of The Rings, and we’re here to help, with these 11 indispensable Taika facts…
1. He's of Maori and Russian-Jewish descent
Waititi is a native of New Zealand’s North Island, whose dad hails from the Maori iwi (meaning tribe) of Te Whanau-a-Apanui, while his mother’s ancestors are Russian-Jewish. He used his mum’s maiden name, Cohen, as his own surname on some of his early work.
2. He used to be part of a comedy duo named The Humourbeasts
Unsurprisingly, Waititi started out in stand-up, teaming with fellow Kiwi comedian Jemaine Clement as The Humourbeasts. Together they won New Zealand’s Billy T Award (for upcoming comedians), but though they remained collaborators, Clement went on to form a far more successful comedy duo, Flight Of The Conchords.
3. He was Oscar-nominated before even making his first feature film
In 2004, Waititi made his first short film, Two Cars, One Night, about an encounter between two boys and a girl in a rural pub car park. It was such a good showcase for his talent, it earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short Film the following year.
4. He's got previous superhero experience
Surprisingly, Thor: Ragnarok is not the first time Waititi’s played around in the superheroverse. He actually popped up as Ryan Reynolds’ nerdy best friend Tom in 2011 flop Green Lantern, complete with big hair and thick-rimmed spectacles.
5. He once created a work of art using used Nespresso capsules
As well as being a filmmaker, Waititi is also a photographer and artist. In 2013, for the launch of the Nespresso Boutique in Wellington, he created a collage out of used Nespresso capsules, showing he also has a very creative approach to recycling…
6. He directed the most epic safety video ever made
And it's called The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made. In 2014, Waititi was asked to make an information film for Air New Zealand, and did so using locations from The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit movies – all found in New Zealand – with help from Elijah Wood (aka Frodo Baggins), Sylvester McCoy (aka Radagast The Brown) and Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson. Waititi himself understudied Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf. It's glorious!
7. He once borrowed Peter Jackson's house for a movie shoot
While making his 2014 vampire mockumentary, What We Do In The Shadows, Waititi needed a creepy-looking house for his bloodsucking main characters to live in. It turned out that Peter Jackson’s old office fitted the bill perfectly, and the Oscar-winning director was happy to let Waititi use it – along with a load of film-making gear, too.
8. He's broken box-office records
Waititi’s last movie, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, was the first homegrown film to ever top 1 million New Zealand dollars during its opening weekend in the country, and it went on to become New Zealand’s highest-grossing movie.
9. He plays a rock monster in Thor: Ragnarok
Waititi can seemingly never resist appearing in his own films, but thankfully he never disappoints when he does. In Thor: Ragnarok he appears – albeit unrecognisable, smothered in visual effects – as a surprisingly polite gladiator named Korg. He’s a Kronan, which means he is, as he puts it, “a being made of rocks”. He gets some of the film’s funniest lines, too.
10. He was 2017's New Zealander Of The Year
At an annual awards ceremony in February, Waititi was named as “New Zealander of the Year” for his services to the nation’s cinema and culture. Sadly, he was so busy making Thor: Ragnarok in Los Angeles, he couldn’t turn up to accept his award.
11. His next movie is about Michael Jackson
As you’ll probably notice when you watch Boy, Waititi is a big fan of the former King of Pop, and alongside co-director Mark Gustafson, he’s tackling him directly for his next film, Bubbles. Well, not quite directly. In fact, as the title suggests, the film’s really about Jackson’s pet chimpanzee, Bubbles, telling the story from his perspective. And it’s going to be stop-motion animated, too…