In the film industry, it’s called “pop.”  For those not Hollywood inclined, it’s akin to “when it rains, it pours.”  Taika Waititi would know all about “pop,” judging by the outstanding year he’s been having.

Taika Waititi as Tom Kalmaku in Green Lantern

The actor/director had his world premiere for his film Boy at Sundance.  The film, the highest-grossing local New Zealand film in history, also won the Generation Grand Prix at the 2010 Berlinale, and awards at the Maui, Sydney, Melbourne and AFI Film Festivals.  Waitii also wrote and stars in the film.

Boy is his second feature, following Eagle vs. Shark, which he also wrote and workshopped at the Sundance Institute Directors Lab.  The film, about two misfits and the unusual ways in which they find love, was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

Waititi, of Te-Whanau-a-Apanui descent, grew up on New Zealand’s east coast and in Wellington.  He was nominated for an Academy Award with his 2005 short, Two Cars, One Night.  It was his first film, and Waititi said he was completely surprised.  Another of his short films, Tama Tu, made the Oscar shortlist, was shown at Sundance, and garnered many festival prizes worldwide, including the Panorama Special Jury Short Film Award at the Berlin International Film festival.

Alongside his independent film success, Waititi plays Tom Kalmaku in the mega film Green Lantern (which opened June 17).  The character, taken directly from the comic books, is of Inuit heritage and is one of the few non-superheroes to know of Hal Jordan’s secret identity as the Guardian of Sector 2814.  An airplane mechanic, Kalmaku was called a racist nickname by the pilots and even his best friend, Jordan.  Thankfully, the comic books and film leave that firmly in the past.  In fact, the film has jettisoned any hint of stereotype and depicts Waititi’s character as just the trustworthy pal of the Green Lantern sans any demeaning accent or emasculated emphases.

Waititi said that he wasn’t aware from the script of Kalmaku’s heritage until he researched the character. In order to get a wider breadth of understanding, Waititi spoke to a Inuit friend who helped him develop Tom.

In true tradition of Hollywood kismet, Waititi came to director Martin Campbell’s attention via the casting directors and not established connections.  At first overwhelmed by the magnitude of celebrity-wattage of his co-stars, Waitii says he ultimately had a Kiki laidback mentality and realized that they were just people like everyone else.

Waitiiti has directed the pilot for MTV’s InBetweeners, a series set in high school.  He says his dream project would be directing a live-action anime adaptation.  Asked about the Akira remake losing its director, Waititi says that he respects the original immensely, and that that respect would inform his work if he were given the chance to direct it and give it justice.

Imagination and will are integral components of bearing the Green Lantern wing.  In one storyline, Tom Kalmaku was offered the ring but turned it town.

Would Takia Waititi do likewise?

“I don’t think I would have enough will to keep the ring,” Waititi says.

Judging from the creativity of BOY’s trailer and his career trajectory, he doesn’t need it.

 

—Ken Choy

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