Jemaine Clement goes serious, for the most part, in “People Places Things,” an indie in which he plays a father of two whose wife leaves him for another man. But it’s still funny, and it still makes use of the Flight of the Conchords member’s gifts for extremely deadpan comedy, requiring he deliver most of his lines in a manner that’s still restrained. In person, it’s worth noting, Clement is open, friendly and very prone to laughter. In fact, he laughs so much it can be, for those who’ve been watching his work for years, a touch disarming.
You’ve made a lot of work in New York City. Did you learn some new things by making a film about the parenting part of it, which is especially huge in Brooklyn?
There are parenting parts of the city. In one neighborhood everyone’s into wearing a baby bjorn. Schooling here is the big issue for some people. I live in New Zealand, where it’s pretty much free. To send kids to school costs about $70 a year.
Acting with kids seems like it would be, like actual parenting, about returning to a childlike state.
They did see me as another child, I think. They would play with me and we would sit around drawing together. Jim was like the dad. He’d be the one told us what to do. [Laughs]
Were you nervous to try something like this, which is a little more serious?
I think that it was more serious made me more interested and more cautious. I wasn’t worried about the drama or emotional moments, because I have emotions. I know [laughs] that I have emotions, and I project them in the normal human way. But would that be interesting to watch? Because when you do comedy, especially on the stage, you just want laughs all the time. You want a reaction all the time. Whenever the audience is silent you’re failing.
That must be difficult for fellow actors — to try not to laugh at material that’s funny as it’s being done.
I’m a terrible laugher. I often laugh at my costars.
Have you ruined takes before?
Oh yeah. Lots. During “Flight of the Conchords” they’d see me out of the room, I’d be laughing so much. I just did another film with [Bret McKenzie] and it was the same thing, me just cracking up.
It is weird hearing you laugh, given your deadpan persona on “Conchords.”
My character doesn’t laugh, but I laugh. I’m more normal than my character.