As a comedy veteran himself, Clement knows what’s funny.
Having worked on such hilarious projects as What We Do in the Shadows, MIB:3 and, of course, Flight of the Concords, Clement argues that the best comedies of today are those that commit to their worldviews.
“At the moment, I feel like [great comedy is] believing what you say,” he begins. “Even if I don’t agree with a comedian still, if I can see that [they] believe it or the movie believes that, it’s committing, I think.”
Starring with Gillian Jacobs in the new comedy, I Used to Go Here, Clement was excited to dive into the role of David, a college professor looking for a fresh start. Though he was excited for the opportunity to work with Jacobs, he found this project particularly appealing because it felt like the type of stories that he enjoyed watching in his youth.
“[I Used to Go Here] reminded me of films [that] I used to go and see when I was a student,” he explains. “It’s like having a window into someone’s life and maybe [at a] trying time for them in a personal way where other people can’t relate to it… It’s an awful time for you, but it doesn’t sound bad for anyone else so people don’t generally talk about them. [laughs]. Then, in some ways, I found the story of the Gillian’s character story quite relatable. It was funny and Gillian’s really funny. I knew she was going to do it so I was excited to meet with her as well.”
Written and directed by Kris Rey, I Used to Go Here tells the story of Kate Conklin (Jacobs), a young author about to release her debut novel. When her book receives less-than-stellar reviews, Kate is hurt and frustrated by the response. After she receives an invitation from her former professor and old crush, David (Clement), to speak at her alma mater, Kate jumps at the chance return to her old college as a published author. However, as she revisits her past haunts and relationships, she soon begins to slide back into her old life as a student with all its misadventures and misplaced feelings for her former professor.
Clement’s enthusiasm for working with his co-star Jacobs is palpable onscreen as the two have genuine chemistry together. As David and Kate, the two veteran actors work well together, creating a unique relationship that shows the push and pull between them. In an interesting way, the two characters also seem to be mirror images of one another, even if one has initially escaped their home town.
“David’s character was once a promising author and then he got into this other job that’s taken a lot of his time,” Clement recognizes. “He’s basically trying to draw Kate into the that life to take some pressure off of him. So, he’s a possible future for her. Then, she judges David [for having an inappropriate relationship] and basically falls into the same pattern.”
Though Jacobs’ character may be the film’s central focus, Go Here also features some hilarious performances from young actors like Josh Wiggins and Hannah Marks. While his character may not have interacted with the young cast very much, Clement also notes that the enthusiasm that they brought to the set served as a reminder for him the privilege that is to work in film.
“It’s mostly Gillian in this story, but [director] Kris found some other great actors and actresses, a lot of them local,” he clarifies. “There’s a lot of them from Chicago where we filmed and where Kris lives so that was another fun part of the film. It was great to see people really excited about being in a movie. Sometimes, you have to remind yourself of that. I didn’t get to act with the kids–I’ll call them the kids, even though they were all adults–I didn’t hang out with the kids very much because my character is talking all the time. Literally lecturing. So, I didn’t get to bounce off those guys very often. It was fun doing the lecture thing with Hannah Marks.”
Considering David’s flaws, Clement believes that his character ultimately just wants to move on in his career and personal life.
“I think he’s looking for some kind of a way out of there, you know?,” he states. “In academia, I think it’s sometimes seems a bit like that. When I see professors from the university where I went 26 years ago, they still look the same, say the same things, give the same lectures for years and answer the same questions. I think, sometimes, that’s rewarding and sometimes frustrating. I think you can see both of those.”
With this in mind, one of the key themes of Go Here is the (sometimes) overpowering nature of nostalgia. Asked what keeps drawing us back to our past seems to be, Clement argues that the appeal lies in our ability to reflect on the positive experiences at the expense of the negatives.
“Often, the way your brain works is you tend to forget the bad things,” he begins. “If you’ve ever been in a relationship, stopped that relationship and then go back to [it], you remember, ‘Oh, that’s right. We used to do this and she used to say that. I used to always reply to this’. I think it’s just that you forget the complexity of things and you remember the good things. I didn’t have the same experience with my college years. I wanted to learn about theater and film and I had a really bad time in my department. I can see my university from [my home] and I cringe at the idea of going there… I didn’t finish my degree and every time I think, ‘I should do those few papers’. Then, I look at the building and I go ‘No, no, no’. [laughs] I don’t want to be that old dude now either. That weird old dude in the class.”
Though his background may be in comedy, Clement’s has been always excited to be a part of high-profile blockbusters when the opportunity arises. More specifically, his next role will take place on the famed CGI planet of Pandora in James Cameron’s sequel to Avatar. Drenched in secrecy, Clement notes that even he is surprised by the incredible security that the project carries with it.
“We’re filming after these interviews,” he beams. “I know I’m in [Avatar 2]. IMDB has me in up to [the fifth movie] or something like that. Even I was like, ‘am I?’ [laughs] I can’t tell you that much. It’s very secretive. We haven’t been filming over this how COVID pandemic, but they’ve started again because New Zealand’s back and working. I have a scene tomorrow and I go in today. My scripts in a vault and they’ll take my script out of the vault and then I’ll read it and try and learn it there. Then, it goes back in the vault and I go again tomorrow and then I’ll take it out of the vault again.”
Though he’s spent most of his career working on smaller films, working on major projects such as the Avatar sequel are always exciting opportunities for the actor. For example, Clement is always thrilled to work with high profile directors like James Cameron who have inspired his career.
“I’ve mostly done smaller films but, often with the biggest films, what’s made me interested as the director who maybe has done some films I’ve loved,” Clement grins. “Terminator 2 was one of my favorite film experiences I’ve ever had, when I was 15 or whatever I was. It’s hard for me to resist asking Jim, Terminator Two stories all the time. I only do about one a week. [laughs] I would ask after every time how they did certain special effects and The Abyss and things like that. He’s someone who’s quite an imaginative person and gets to make whatever he wants at this level. That’s what it feels like to me.”
For full audio of our conversation with Jemaine Clement, click here.
I Used to Go Here is available on demand now.