As an actor in addition to being a writer/director Taika Waititi has found himself a role in all of the movies he's directed, ranging from small roles in Eagle vs. Shark, to one of the main leads in What We Do In The Shadows. Because of this, it's no surprise that the filmmaker found a part for himself in his new film, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, but what makes his hilarious small role in the feature as a blunt, odd-ball minister at a funeral even better is the fact that the character and his performance is actually based on something that happened in his own life.
I had the pleasure of hopping on the phone with Taika Waititi late last week to talk about Hunt For The Wilderpeople, and curious how his role in the movie, I asked about how he ultimately chose the part of the minister at the funeral -- who is shockingly gruff, direct, and a touch scrambled as he delivers a strange message about Jesus, doors and mazes to Julian Dennison's Ricky Baker and Sam Neill's Uncle Hec. The filmmaker noted that he considered multiple parts in the film, but ultimately settled on playing the Minister because he wanted to make sure the performance was entirely authentic to his own personal experience at a funeral. Said Waititi,
That sermon at the funeral - I really wanted to do that, because I wanted to get it right. It was actually based on one from a real funeral that I'd been too, and that happened. And so I really wanted to make sure that like it was how it was in my head, particularly that speech and that character.
As someone who really loved Hunt For The Wilderpeople, it's really easy to be happy with the choice, as the funeral sequence is wickedly hilarious and weird.
In the same discussion, Taika Waititi also revealed that he could have had a much more significant role in the movie, as the estate of author Barry Crump -- who wrote the book Hunt For The Wilderpeople is based on -- actually wanted the filmmaker to play the role of Uncle Hec himself. At 40 years old, however, Waititi felt that he was too young to play the part, opening the door for casting Sam Neill -- who is 28 years his senior. The writer/director explained,
In the book it's not clear how old [Hec] is - other than to this 12 year old kid, he's this old guy. But I mean, there's no way I was going to play Hec, because the contrast between the characters had to be really visual. Racially they needed to be different, and also really like young and old.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople certainly would have been a much different movie had Taika Waititi played Uncle Hec instead of Sam Neill -- but after seeing the finished product, it's clear that the right choice was made. You'll soon be able to understand this yourself, as the movie arrives in limited release in theaters this Friday, June 24th. Do yourself a favor, and make an effort to see it!