About seven minutes In my second conversation with actor, writer and director Taika Waititi, she confessed, a bit abruptly, that she doesn’t like being around people. There was “absolutely nothing loaded” in the comment, he assured me, but he also seemed to be serious. “It’s very exhausting,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. Even my family. But it’s definitely people I’ve never met before. “
It was a hard-to-believe statement. Outwardly, Waititi may seem extroverted to the extreme. It’s silly and old-fashioned, with a quiet familiarity and a seemingly bottomless amount of energy. During filming, he is known for keeping his sets lively: playing music, throwing himself into fragments of strange comedy, and sometimes making “costume changes” for the direction in which he disappears and then reappears in a different costume. Cate Blanchett once described the set of Thor: Ragnarok as “a long Mardi Gras parade.”
Like many performers, Waititi may be charming, but its default mode is more silly, in a way that feels obscurely flattering, like a private game you’ve been invited to participate in. It’s also good instinctively to read people and put them in any way they’re comfortable with. In interviews, I tend to be anxious and serious, and Waititi, in turn, became unusually calm and thoughtful. At the time, I thought that meant I was seeing something closer to “real” Taika: the person you become when you don’t feel compelled to be funny. The more we talked, however, the more it became apparent that Waititi was not being particularly real to me, or especially false. Each the person with whom Waititi spends time walks away feeling that she has a special connection. It is an imposing feat. As Waititi observed at various points in our conversation, “I just want everyone to be happy.”
Waititi grew up in New Zealand – her father was a Maori of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui descent, her Russian-Jewish mother – and spent her thirties making small, popular films for worship. Two of these, We i Hunting wild people, featured mostly Maori characters and actors and was set in poor rural areas similar to where Waititi grew up. Both films felt radical: unfamiliar characters and situations, the surprising mix of brutality and humor, but also sweetly affectionate, even loving. Waititi has said that he does not make “Cannes-style films”: the kind of depressing dramas where, as he once said, “everyone is a prostitute and in the end everyone dies.” But it also doesn’t make conventional comedies, with its two-dimensional characters and the constant rain of jokes. Instead, his films are at an intermediate point, or both at the same time: a sustained act where moods mix and change in a stimulating way. While dramatic films tend to build slowly, in a single dark register, Waititi’s films will often go abruptly from a slapping moment to a tender or heartbreaking one, with a devastating effect.
In the next six years Wild people, Waititi’s career has gone vertical. In 2016 he did Thor: Ragnarok, invigorating the obsolete franchise in part by mocking it. After that, he wrote, directed and starred in the Oscars Jojo Rabbit, about a lonely boy in Nazi Germany whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler, played by Waititi. Since then, Waititi has directed and acted in episodes of The Mandalorianproduced and starring in the HBO Max series Our flag means deathplayed the tech-bro villain We Freeand co-created: man works a lot– the FX / Hulu series Book Dogsa AtlantaStylish mood piece about four teenage friends on a Muscogee reservation in Oklahoma playing delirious with Native American troops as it cuts deep into the heart of dispossession and its effects.
This mercurial rank — and the chameleon’s change of tone and sensibility — seems deeply rooted in Waititi himself. He is someone who seeks company and attention, but quickly gets tired of both. He enjoys it easily, and yet he seems to get bored just as easily. In the conversation, Waititi may be open – he admitted that it is difficult for him to order from restaurants because he is very worried about making the wrong decision – but he also seems deeply vigilant; he generally dislikes talking about his feelings, even with friends, and tends to shy away from emotional issues, either by changing the subject or becoming detached and joking. More than once, he told me that he doesn’t trust adults and that he has a particular dislike for authority, even as a formidably big, expensive film director, including this summer’s one. Ragnarok sequel, Thor: Love and thunderand a new Star Wars movie, scheduled for 2025.