Jermaine Clement talks Rio villain Nigel | The Fan Carpet Ltd • The Fan Carpet: The RED Carpet for FANS • The Fan Carpet: Fansites Network • The Fan Carpet: Slate • The Fan Carpet: Theatre Spotlight • The Fan Carpet: Arena • The Fan Carpet: International

Jermaine Clement talks Rio villain Nigel


Rio
20 October 2011

Jemaine Clement is best known as the spectacle-wearing half of New Zealand comedy/music duo Flight of the Conchords. Since finding success in the US with their HBO special, he’s gone on to appear in Despicable Me and Dinner for Schmucks, and in Rio he plays the movie’s villain, Nigel, a grumpy cockatoo still holding a grudge about losing his role as a soap star to a prettier bird. Here he talks about belatedly discovering he was supposed to be writing a song for the movie, his run-in with Sergio Mendes… and why he’s sporting a giant bushy beard.

 

How did you get involved in the movie?

I happened to be in LA and Carlos and his team showed me little short tests of the film. They had animated my character to a speech I had in Flight of the Conchords – it was really quite weird to see this bird talking like me.

 

Was there a script at that stage?

No, they didn’t quite have the script when we started – it wasn’t there yet. I can’t even remember if they had a script at all back then. You don’t know what’s going to happen as they’re still developing it, and you go back all the time and re-record your stuff later down the line, and you’re working on the story with them.

 

Being a writer yourself did you get a chance to improvise or write?

I wrote the song that I do, and I improvised too, but I don’t know quite how much of that was used as I haven’t seen it yet.

 

What can you tell us about your character?

Well, I’m not playing a human – I’m playing a bird. There are kind of two worlds, the humans and the birds and they don’t speak the same language, in a way. Mostly the humans talk to humans and the birds talk to birds, but he’s supposedly a former soap opera actor, like a star bird. He was in a show but he was fired and a better looking bird took over, so now he’s out to get revenge on all good looking birds – he’s quite shallow, but it was really fun to do.

 

Where did you draw from to find the voice?

Well he’s an actor, so I just went theatrical with it and over-acted. Whereas most of the characters were quite naturalistic, I’m over-acting. I only do overacting and under-acting, I can’t do anything in the middle!

 

How was your experience making the film?

I think we know by now that with animated movies you don’t work with the other actors, and so I only met Anne ten minutes ago, but I’ve been threatening her on screen for a year and a half! Other than that… well, it was kind of weird. I’m quite shy and it’s hard to perform in that way just in a room. I don’t mind an audience of 1000 people, but an audience of a small group is really hard. The worst show that I ever did was to one person – it’s very difficult. You’ve got nowhere else to look, you know? In a way this reminded me of those days.

 

 

Though this isn’t your first animated movie…

Right, I was in Despicable Me, but I’m hardly in it at all. That was even weirder because my part wasn’t even in English. Not only did they not have the lines, but they told me what to say and I had no idea what it was. I did that for four hours.

 

Is animation something you’d like to do more of?

I would, but maybe not acting – writing instead. I do a web series called Robert and Sheepy, and I’ve been working on that – but we haven’t got many yet.

 

How have your experiences of Rio been?

Well, I’ve never been here before, and I didn’t think I’d get to come here because I didn’t think they would have the English version premiering here. From what I’ve seen of the movie, it’s pretty amazing how they’ve just made a city – and they made it in Connecticut! They all came here and looked around, and Carlos is from here, but Carlos was very passionate about this film and the person that connects everyone that’s working on it, and that’s hundreds of people. He’s got to be enthusiastic and passionate the whole time and make everyone understand this place that they’ve not been to.

 

Do you think the city has been well represented?

From what I’ve been hearing it is pretty much the essence of Rio, and Carlos has been trying to avoid the stereotypes. Of course, some of them are in there, but he’s captured the essence of the people and their culture.

 

Were you familiar with Carlos’ work before making the movie?

I’d not seen Ice Age, 1, 2 or 3, but I just liked him. I didn’t even need to see them – he was nice enough that I just couldn’t say no. I’d have just felt too bad. He had a love for this thing and it would have been terrible to say ‘I’m not doing it.’ In fact, I didn’t want to see Ice Age in case I didn’t like it!

 

You wrote and performed a song for the movie too – was that always part of the plan?

At first Carlos described the song that he wanted the bird Nigel to sing, and I thought that was cool, but I didn’t realize he wanted me to write it! Then I was getting these emails – ‘How’s the song going?’ Then I realized and said, ‘Yeah, going good…’ I can’t remember any moment when he’d asked me to write it – I just found myself having to do it!

 

 

Having found out, did it come easy?

No – I didn’t know how to record it. I had a laptop and I didn’t know where the microphone was on it and I didn’t have any of the gear. But when I realized he wanted me to write it, I re-listened to Jungle Book songs and stuff like that. I’m also a big Sergio Mendes fan, so I listened to a lot of that as well.

 

Did he have any input on the song?

He played piano on it, and I was nervous when I found that out. I’d started by saying I’ll try and do a Sergio Mendes-type song, and they said, ‘Oh we’ll get him to play on it.’ It was really exciting but I was nervous as well. When he heard it, he heard a beat in it and he said, ‘That’s not Bosa Nova, that’s Cuban.’ Oh no!

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