Talking Hunt for the Wilderpeople with Julian Dennison and director Taika Waitiki

Taika Waititi‘s Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a delightfully off-beat trek through the New Zealand bush, starring Julian Dennison and Sam Neill.

We caught up with Waititi and Dennison to chat about what it was like working on the film, its origins and what’s on the cards next for the two.

Taika, how do you feel Hunt for the Wilderpeople fits into your overall catalogue of your work? Do you feel like it’s an evolution what the movies you’ve made in the past or is it something more than that?

Taika: I guess it’s a bit of an evolution. It’s actually interesting cause I wrote the first draft of Wilderpeople in 2005. Were you born then, Julian?

Julian: No, I was three years old.

Taika: So I wrote first couple of drafts for them and then I went to make my films and didn’t come back to it ’til I was 10 years [later]. I came back to it and then re-wrote the entire thing largely because I think my sensibilities have changed. 

It’s based on a book, correct?

Taika: It is. It’s based on a book by Barry Crump. It’s the kind of book that, I shouldn’t read into much in my 20s but, like a lot of kids, when I was growing up would read that book in their teens. He was a really famous writer and I guess every New Zealand household would’ve had a Barry Crump book.

Okay, what was the most important thing to try to translate? over from that book material?

Taika: Just the relationship, really. Between Ricky and Hec. And that’s really the only thing I’ve really brought over from the book. It’s very different – the adaptation – [but it’s still] two contrasting characters who are forced to work together to survive out in the bush.

Okay, so a lot of your work, like reflects different parts of New Zealand culture. Are there any aspects of New Zealand culture that you haven’t gotten around to tackling as a filmmaker that you want to?

Taika: Not so much that I want to do. There’s just a lot of different New Zealand culture I haven’t really put on to my films. The things that I love about who we are, are put in into my films. I guess the idea that we’re just a small country and we’re very cool.

We are a very cool country but I tend to ignore that fact when I make my films. I make everyone very uncool. I make the technology backwards and I sort of portray New Zealand – not in a negative light – but it’s more of an awkward funny light whereas we’re very trendy. We’re a very trendy country. You don’t seem very convinced?

Oh, I’m very convinced of your trendiness.

Taika: Okay good.

Julian, what was it like working again with Taika again. This is the second time, correct?

Julian: Yeah, second time. 2012 we filmed the “Don’t smoke drugs and drive” [ad] and that went viral. You know, I won a few awards and that was the first time we’d met. Then last year, I think it was during the holidays, Taika rang my mum and my agent talked about the film and sent over a script and then we had a look at it and we were really keen, and yeah.

What made filming Wilderpeople different to the other films that you’ve worked on?

Julian: I guess I was a bit older so I understood the material a bit more and how to do a film so it’s not just a camera, a director, not just about the cast and a lot of the stuff before the filming. It was a funner script than my first film Shopping so it was really fun being on set, working with Taika.

Do you have a favorite moment in the film?

Julian: I feel like it was seeing how beautiful New Zealand bushes – it was really amazing. Going up to these remote locations, like on the desert road. Like a half an hour like drive and we had to go on this army vehicle just incase there were mines or anything.

Taika: Yeah, we were on the army land, so there was explosive shells around. It was really dangerous. More dangerous than any other shot in the movie.

So Julian, do you have anything lined up after Wilderpeople or is back to school?

Julian: Yeah, back to school, mainly. Mum’s like sitting right there. But yeah, America, I don’t know. I think America’s coming up so [we’re] going over the New York premiere and I might be lining up with the UK [as well]. You know what comes in the future, don’t know what’s gonna happen but it’s good.

Will you work with Taika again or are you pretty done with him after this?

Julian: I’m done with him [jokingly]

Taika: We’re done.

Taika, you have a few projects coming up yourself. Is there any chance you can tell us anything about where you’re at with We’re Wolves?

Taika: We’re Wolves is in the very early, early stages of development. We’re writing it but it’s a long process, which is going to take us years and years to write.

Fair enough. 

Taika: Most of my films take a really long time to make before we start the actual production part of it, so Shadows probably took about six or seven years to write and my second film Boy was probably about six years in development and this one, as I said before, I wrote the first draft ten years ago.

You’re also handling Thor: Ragnarok. Obviously you’re not allowed to talk the film itself, but I was just curious how you feel about how Marvel’s strategy on bringing on more niche directors for their upcoming films, like yourself, James Gunn, Ryan Coogler?

Taika: Yeah, I think they need it, you know. Not just them, but I think the superhero world needs niche directors. Otherwise, you kinda get the same treatment again, again, again. No good with those big films. And I think the thing that makes something like Guardians of the Galaxy stand out is the fact that it’s got James’ voice all throughout that. Great comedy and yeah, it’s really unique.

Can we expect your voice to sort of make it through in Thor? I mean, we could hope, right?

Taika: Yeah, I mean, as I said before, I’m a really, really trendy guy.

Of course

Taika: So it’ll be a very trendy film coming up but unlike my other films where I make it out to be really awkward and I’m cool, this would be the opposite.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople hits cinemas this week.