Sundance 2015 Interview: Jemaine Clement on ‘People, Places, Things’

Jemaine Clement has two movies at Sundance this year, and shares some plans for the new 'Flight of the Conchords' tour.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

It was great to see Jemaine Clement at Sundance again. Last year I caught his introduction to the vampire comedy What We Do In the Shadows and finally got to interview him at SXSW. Now he’s back with two films. This interview is for People, Places, Things, a comedy from writer/director James Strouse. 

Clement plays Will Henry, a graphic novelist and art teacher who catches his longtime girlfriend and mother of his children, Charlie (Stephanie Allynne), with another man. They split up and while he tries to see his kids, he starts seeing the mother (Regina Hall) of one of his students (Jessica Williams). It is a comedy as the tragedy of the broken family lands Will in plenty of absurd situations, at one point defacing posters of Charlie’s new fiance, painting him with Hitler mustaches and Osama bin Laden beards. 

Clement also stars in the comedy Don Verdean as an Israeli archeologist who teams up with the title character (Sam Rockwell) to uncover biblical artifacts. 

 

CraveOnline: I just realized it’s Wednesday, so that’s business time, right?

Jemaine Clement: That’s going to follow me. Yes, every Wednesday for the rest of my life. 

Have you ever had two movies at Sundance before?

No, no. I’m really living it up. I’m counting it as two Sundance visits. The other one, Sam Rockwell’s in and he seems to always be here. He’s the lead in Don Verdean. I was saying there should be a Sam Rockwell section of Sundance and there should be a Rockwell award for the best performance by Sam Rockwell in a Sam Rockwell movie. 

Did you get the tone of People, Places, Things right away?

I thought I did and it turns out I did. Then I watched Grace is Gone after I read it and went, “Wow, this is heavy.” It made me wonder if I’d read it correctly, but when I talked to Jim, he made it clear that it’s supposed to be funny. 

Is it an anti-romantic comedy? There’s no meet-cute.

It’s about a breakup for the most part. You don’t see the characters get together in the end and be happy. It’s more about real life than it is ideal. I know that ideal does happen sometimes. Sometimes people do meet-cute and stay together for the rest of their life as is suggested in the movies, but this is more like a real relationship. I’m surprised it’s come up so much but it is in many ways like a romantic comedy, but the subject is not about a romance really. 

He is putting his life back together and part of that might be meeting someone else. 

There is a romance. I never do traditional romantic-comedies and I’m also never offered them. 

Was the opening scene where you walk in on your wife a fun scene to do, and challenging to get the timing of everything right?

Yeah, it was. I think it probably was one of the more difficult sets. It’s where I meet this other character for the first time in this situation and we have a fight. The day was sweltering hot in there. 

What scenes made you break up the most?

I think the stuff with Jessica Williams, sometimes I’d try an improv and she’d just come at me with a barrage of insults. It was always just too much to be insulted that much about the way I look and actually describing the way I look. A lot of it’s not in the film. That was hard to just straight-faced listen to that. Jessica’s always got an answer as well. Whatever you say, she’s got something twice as fast for a comeback.