New Zealand’s Eagle vs. Shark suggests a secret love affair between The Science of Sleep and Napoleon Dynamite transpired on the southerly isles. The byproduct: a squirm-comedy within whose self-consciously nerdy universe two childish misfits (Loren Horsley and Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) fall for one another amid periodic animated sequences.
Lily (Horsley) is a sweet fast-food chain cashier with a mad crush on Jarrod (Clement), a gaming-store employee and self-proclaimed “artist” who frequents her restaurant. Their somewhat precious, awkward attraction is taken to the next level at an animal-themed costume party after Lily (dressed as a shark) allows Jarrod (eagle) to defeat her in a gaming competition.
Like an enamoured puppy — in fact, in a manner evocative of the Bard’s Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“I am your spaniel … The more you beat me, I will fawn on you”) — Lily follows the emotionally shut-off Jarrod to his hometown, where she discovers what makes him so troubled.
The Current caught up with Eagle vs. Shark’s director, Taika Waititi (now Taika Cohen at IMDb), and lead actress, Loren Horsley, at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, and grilled them about the production.
You two worked on Eagle vs. Shark’s story together. How did it evolve?
Loren Horsley: I had the character in mind for quite a while because I was sick of playing the same sort of characters, which are normally bubbly-blonde ones. Taika and I started with the story, and then Taika went and wrote the screenplay. So it started out with the character of Lily, and just sort of evolved from there.
How long did that process take?
LH: It was really short, actually. Taika wrote the script from our story in about four weeks and then we took it to Sundance and workshopped it for a month … had a couple of months off and then we filmed it in October of … two years ago … so it was about 18 months from beginning to end.
I liked the stop-motion very much. Was that in the script all along?
Taika Cohen: No, it was a later development. The original script had different animation elements in it. Some of them stayed and some of them went, and in the end that kind of took over everything. There were other crazy, crazy visuals in the original script which — thankfully — didn’t make it in. It probably would have confused things.
Loren, I think Lily is too good for Jarrod.
LH: (laughter) There’s two camps of women, I love it.
How do you respond to that?
LH: I really love the character of Jarrod. I think he’s an absolute disaster, he’s a mess. But I think he’s trying really hard and that once he accepts himself, I think he’ll actually be all right. I think he’s suffering terribly, and I think Lily is a character who’s suffered terribly in life and she’s just sort of further along the line of it than he is.
In my experience with women with really shitty men, to be honest, I know women that stick with really crazy men, and vice versa actually, to be fair. So I think he can pull through. And `Lily’s hardly` … Jennifer Lopez? Who’s a great woman?
TC: Not Jennifer Lopez.
LH: She’s hardly Meryl Streep.
I was trying to get a sense of how old these characters are … about 25, 30?
TC and LH: Late 20s.
LH: They behave a lot l- … They’re pretty immature.
TC: Yeah, it’s funny because some people say, Oh, I didn’t believe those actors were teenagers. Like we were trying to make people think they were teenagers. We definitely wanted them to be our age. “Our age” being 29 and 31. Personally, I really like how they are older people who behave like children.
How do you respond to Napoleon Dynamite comparisons?
TC: There’s no real response, really. I mean that’s something that’s pretty unavoidable with a film like this because I think a lot of the comedy is pretty similar. After that film came out, if there are any geeky characters in a film, they’re always going to be compared to that now.
LH: We saw it after we’d written the script and after we’d done a bit of workshopping. It’s like Lily and Jarrod combined — he really is a good mix of both of them. When we were looking at films, Welcome to the Dollhouse and Buffalo ’66, strangely, they were more the kind of — and the Gondry films, the Wes Anderson films, we were looking more in that vein.
Tell me about the video game Lily and Jarrod are playing at the beast party.
TC: That’s based on Mortal Kombat and this other game, Double Dragon. All that old sort of late ’80s, early ’90s video games. And so that, along with all the other production-design stuff, was all made up. None of the labels or the food stores or the video-game stores actually exist.
What’s your favorite scene?
TC: My favorite scene is probably what I call “the romance scene.” And that’s when he’s showing her all of the stuff in his bedroom, and she’s sitting on the bed, and then they have their first kiss.
LH: That’s not my favorite scene (laughter). I like the scenes with the family, when they’re trying to sell her all of that stuff. It makes me laugh every time. The “cock-hole” scene I also really like.
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