Taika Waititi

Taika Waititi

Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi's gift for uproarious and absurd humor served him well as director on such films as "What We Do in the Shadows" (2014), "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" (2016) and "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017), which freely mixed humor with horror, action-adventure and other genres. He was born Taika David Waititi in Raukokore, a settlement on New Zealand's North Island. Raised in the country's capital city of Wellington by a Maori father and a Russian Jewish mother, Waititi initially planned to become a painter or a deepsea diver, but fell in love with acting after appearing in high school drama productions. While studying theater and film at Victoria University of Wellington, he also began performing as part of a comedy group, So You're a Man, which also included Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords. The group parted ways after several successful productions in 1996 and 1997, but Waititi and Clement would reunite as a new comedy act, the Humourbeasts, in 1999. The duo's show, "The Untold Tales of Maui," proved exceptionally popular throughout New Zealand and earned them the Billy T. Award, given to up-and-coming New Zealand comedy talent, in 1999. The following year, Waititi co-starred in the dark comedy "Scarfies" (2000), which earned him an NZ Film Award nomination for his turn as a college student who becomes involved in a kidnapping plot. More supporting roles followed, including the road trip comedy "Snakeskin" (2001) and a male stripper on "The Strip" (TV3, 2002-2003). But he soon tired of playing broad sidekick roles, and made his debut as writer and director on the short "John and Pogo" (2002). He struck paydirt with his second effort, "Two Cars, One Night" (2004), a short about two boys and a girl in a parking lot that blossomed into an unexpectedly sweet fable. The film was a remarkable success on the festival and awards circuit, netting an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action short, among numerous other accolades. Waititi would direct several more shorts, including an early version of "What We Do in Shadows" (2005) with Clement, before making his feature debut with "Eagle vs. Shark" (2007). An offbeat romantic comedy with Clement and Loren Taylor as a pair of eccentrics who find love, the film won several festival awards, including Best Screenplay at the US Comedy Arts Festival, which in turn led to Waititi's inclusion on a list of ten "directors to watch" by Variety. After helming a quartet of episodes of "Conchords" (HBO, 2007-2009), he cemented that status with his next film, the comedy-drama "Boy" (2010), about an 11-year-old Maori boy whose elaborate fantasies about his ex-con father (played by Waititi) are tested when he turns up with members of his gang. A huge hit in New Zealand, it paved the way for a feature-length version of "What We Do in Shadows" (2014), a mockumentary-style comedy with Waititi, Clement and comic actor Jonny Brugh as mismatched vampires trying to co-exist in modern New Zealand. A cult favorite in the States and abroad, it later generated two spin-off series, including an American sitcom based on the film for the FX Network and co-produced by Waititi and Clement. Waititi's string of successes continued unbroken with his next film, "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" (2014), with Sam Neill and Julian Dennison as an outdoorsman and his juvenile delinquent foster son, who become the subject of a manhunt. Though Waititi had expressed reticence in working on a major studio feature, he won over Marvel Studios with a demo reel he created for its upcoming Thor feature. The reel's tone - a mix of special effects-driven action clips and comedy - won over Marvel, which tapped him to direct "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017). Waititi's approach, which freely mixed broad comedy and superhero action, not only revived waning interest in the Thor franchise, but also provided Marvel with a hit that pleased diehard fans and casual viewers alike. The success of "Ragnarok" - it was the ninth highest-grossing film of 2017 - opened numerous doors for Waititi, who responded with a slew of new projects, including the dark fantasy "Jojo Rabbit" (2019), about a young German boy whose imaginary playmate is Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi), and a live-action version of the iconic anime film "Akira" (2021). On the television front, Waititi was tapped to direct an episode of Lucasfilm's "The Mandalorian" (Disney+, 2019-), and a series version of Terry Gilliam's "Time Bandits."