Ever since the 2017 success of Thor: Ragnarök, Taika Waititi has made his mark in Hollywood with his unique writing and directing style that delivers hilarious moments of deadpan humor mixed with heartbreaking dramatic beats in all of his stories. He’s earned a reputation in being a “triple threat” in the sense that he has written, directed and even acted in his own feature films. Over the course of his career, he’s had a surprising range of live action roles from tech guys, to vampires and even a fascist dictator. In the lead up to his next big project, Thor: Love and Thunderit’s worth exploring Waititi’s previous colorful roles in front of the camera and where you can watch these films and television shows.
Though he’s known more for comedy, one of Waititi’s more serious roles was performed in his second feature film Boy which came out in 2010. Based on his Oscar nominated short film Two Cars, One Nightthe story centers on the titular character Boy (James Rolleston) and his relationship with his estranged father Alamein. One of Waititi’s other trademarks is including characters in his stories of him who have father issues (drawing from his own upbringing after being solely raised by his mother of him). This conflict creates the foundation for this heartfelt story of Boy reconciling his childish fantasies idolizing his dad with the harsh truth of Alamein’s troubled and irresponsible life of him. Waititi delivers the expected balance of comedy by acting out Alamein’s heroic allegedly feats narrated by Boy such as being the captain of the rugby team or being able to dance as good as Michael Jackson. In reality though, his real selfish nature of him comes to light and begs the question of who the grown-up is between Boy and Alamein. This poignant film is available for purchase or rental on Apple TV or Amazon Video.
Tom Kalmaku (Green Lantern)
Yes, that’s right. The infamous DC flop that became a running joke in Ryan Reynolds‘career was one of the earlier Hollywood acting roles on Waititi’s resume. In the 2011 superhero film, he starred as Tom Kalmaku, the engineer best friend of Hal Jordan (Reynolds) who knew of his secret identity as the Green Lantern. The character of Tom came across as the archetypal geeky best friend who supports the lead hero with the occasional bursts of comic relief. Waititi tried his best with the material to be more than the trope-laden side-character and luckily, he has great chemistry opposite Reynolds given their mutual sense of sarcastic humor. Perhaps it was also the jarring American accent that Waititi had to adopt as Tom that marks the role as a strange outlier since his natural New Zealand accent is embraced in his other projects by him. For those who dare to spend some time getting through this movie, it is available to stream on HBO Max.
Viago (What We Do in the Shadows)
What could be argued as Waititi’s proper first breakout role is the 2014 vampire mockumentary What We Do In the Shadows where he starred as Viago, one of the three leading vampires who are roommates living in New Zealand. Based on a 2005 short skit that Waititi filmed with long-time friend and collaborator, Jemaine Clement, the pair went on to write, direct and star in the movie that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 before being released in theaters in 2015. The comedy is regarded as a huge success after taking the popular horror subgenre and bringing it into a refreshingly hilarious direction. Its comedy can definitely be credited to the misfit ensemble of vampires including Waititi’s Viago who is the soft-spoken, romantic vampire that’s the “mom” of the group, wanting to keep the flat orderly and make sure everyone was doing their errands (Funnily enough , Waititi admitted that he based his performance partially on his own mother). The dry New Zealand humor and strong cast of characters was a perfect formula for the film to develop a spin-off universe with two TV series. Waititi has even made cameo appearances in the 2019 What We Do in the Shadows series, reprising his role as Viago who remains cheerful and responsible with his new duty in the Vampiric Council. For a guaranteed laugh from the vampire genre, the original film is available for purchase or rental on Apple TV or Amazon Video while the TV series is available to stream on Hulu.
Adolf Hitler (Jojo Rabbit)
If there was any role that most actors would avoid, it would probably be of historic dictators like Adolf Hitler. However, Waititi dared to present a deliberate historically inaccurate caricature of the Führer for his 2019 ‘anti-hate’ satire JojoRabbit. Based on the fictional novel Caging Skies, Waititi adapted the book into a film that followed the titular character Johannes “Jojo” Betzler, a ten-year-old German boy who was indoctrinated into the Hitler Youth during WWII. In fact, it was Fox Searchlight Pictures that asked Waititi to play the role of Hitler as a condition for the film to be produced. Despite initial reluctance, he agreed and realized the comedic irony of his Polynesian-Jewish background while portraying the fascist leader. Waititi delivers the laughs as a cartoonish Hitler being the imaginary friend of Jojo. Even with the jet black hair, mustache and Nazi uniform, the performance is crafted to make fun of the infamous figure especially when Jojo’s swayed Nazi beliefs are challenged by his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) throughout the movie. The timely and socially relevant message of the film earned Waititi an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2020. This award-winning, profound film is also available for rental or purchase on Google Play, Apple TV, or Amazon Video.
Antwan (Free Guy)
In the instances where Waititi portrays an antagonist, at least it’ll often be as a snarky and sometimes whacky individual such as Antwan in the 2021 shawn levy film FreeGuy. The video game action comedy was led by his former Green Lantern cost Ryan Reynolds who played Guy, a non-player character who gains self-awareness of being in a video game called Free City. Waititi comes in as the narcissistic, money-hungry CEO and creator of the game whose plans to make a sequel game threatens Guy’s existence. He also butts heads with Millie (jodie eat) and Keys (Joe Keery) from whom he stole the code data from to develop Free City. Waititi provides his signature charm to keep Antwan within the realm of a comical antagonist with strange quips (that resulted from Waititi’s improvisation). He even elevates him into a satirical commentary of capitalistic figureheads in the media who forgo originality and quality for money. For a meta, feel-good comedy, this movie is available to stream on Disney+ and HBO Max.
Blackbeard (Our Flag Means Death)
In a similar twenty JojoRabbitWaititi acted as another historical figure with a comedic twist in the 2022 pirate comedy Our Flag Means Death. Besides directing the pilot episode, he entered the series in the third episode as Edward “Ed” Teach aka the legendary Blackbeard. Donned in leather, tattoos and gray long hair and beard, Waititi brings the gravitas and gruffness associated with Blackbeard’s reputation. However, when he’s opposite Rhys Darby‘s Stede Bonnet, the humanity and vulnerability of Ed is brought out leading to a will-they-won’t-they romance (NOT a bromance) between the two, marking an excellent display of LGBTQ+ representation. The role of Blackbeard enabled Waititi to flex his dramatic acting once again as Ed’s tragic backstory unfolds through the episodes. It feeds into the complex motives of Ed wanting to move past the mythos of his pirate persona of him and to be his true self much like Stede. Over the eight episodes, Blackbeard’s arc is executed by Waititi with sincerity in his somber scenes, and with sharp wit in his amusing moments of him. With the second season still waiting to be confirmed, the entire first season can be binged only on HBO Max.
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