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Jemaine Clement remembers reading 'The BFG' in school

The actor and performer talks about doing motion-capture for the latest from Steven Spielberg.
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    Thanks to motion-capture technology, Jemaine Clement plays one of the brutish gian|Storyteller Distributuion Co., LLC

Jemaine Clement just reunited The Flight of the Conchords with Bret McKenzie. They’re playing new shows for the first time in three years; they even have a show two days after we speak. But both have been busy. McKenzie won an Oscar for the song “Man or Muppet” from the movie “The Muppets.” And Clement worked with Steven Spielberg. In “The BFG,” a partly computer animated take on Roald Dahl’s grim children’s classic, he plays a belligerent, bullying giant who likes to eat children and bullies our hero: a slightly smaller colossus played by Mark Rylance. That forced Clement to create his performance via high-tech motion-capture.

RELATED: Interview: Mark Rylance on "The BFG" and the pleasures of Roald Dahl's language

Roald Dahl has long been a staple for children. Did you read him growing up in New Zealand?
Yeah. I particularly remembered “The BFG,” because my teacher at primary school was really excited about that coming out. We read it the day after it was released. It was a big event in my classroom. We liked that Wellington [New Zealand, where he’s from] was mentioned in the book. When the giants take children from there, they say they often taste like boots. [Ed. Wellington is shaped like a boot.] That made a huge impression. To have New Zealand mentioned at all was amazing. That part didn’t make the movie, even though we tried mentioning it. I wish it had gotten in there, but it didn’t quite fit.

His books are very dark, in their silly way. Sometimes parents today are reluctant to let their kids read books filled with things like human-eating giants.
I think it depends on what’s going on in the world at the time. If they’re not feeling very safe, to read something dark might make them feel depressed. But if you look at those old Brothers Grimm fairy tales, children were dying in them all the time. It’s so scary. But that’s what makes it exciting for a kid. They can feel the adrenaline just by hearing a story.

Tell me about doing motion-capture, where the performance isn’t recorded by a camera but by gadgets all over your body.
It’s strange at first, but you get used to it. It’s more like being in a play than a movie. You don’t have to think about hitting your marks, for instance. It’s hard to get used to acting on camera when you start out. You have to always be in the right place so the camera shot is well composed. Here, you could move how you felt, because the camera shot was composed after you’ve captured the footage. It feels very natural.

Were there things that were difficult about it?
Because of the motion-capture you don’t have a break, like when you’re off-camera. You have to concentrate the whole time. And you don’t know what take they’re going to use. On other films, if you think it’s not your shot you might be a little lazier. But you can’t do that [with motion-capture], because they might take any moment of the performance.

RELATED: Review: "The BFG" is one of Steven Spielberg's strangest and loveliest films

You're playing one of a group of very nasty creatures.
If you read the book, in the pictures of the giants they move in a big, dirty, noisy cloud. That’s kind of what it was like: a bunch of big guys, all noisy laughs, competing to be the loudest. I was supposed to play the leader; it was quite difficult with this batch to lead.

What about working with someone as big as Spielberg?
Even now, especially now, I can’t believe I was working with those two people. I was really nervous to be working with Steven. But he makes you feel really at ease immediately. He’s a very kind person, very warm and open. He’s like a kind dad.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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