COMMENT: TV producer Paul Yates co-wrote Wellington Paranormal with Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. Usually known as the 'other guy', the part-time actor steps into a main role in TV2's new black comedy Fresh Eggs.
1. How did you come to make Wellington Paranormal with Jemaine and Taika?
They invited some comedy friends round to see an early cut of What We Do in the Shadows. My favourite characters were the two cops and when I suggested a spin off show, they said that they'd been thinking the same thing so they asked me to develop it.
2. How involved were they in the making of Wellington Paranormal?
Taika was supposed to be a lot more involved but Thor came along. Jemaine was filming Legion in the US, but we'd send them both scripts and they'd send back notes. Once Jemaine was home he edited the scripts and directed four episodes. We've been commissioned to make a second series with thirteen episodes just as they're busy making the US version of What We Do in the Shadows. We're going to break filming into two blocks starting soon.
3. So who did write the scripts for the first series?
I put together a team of and we went away to write in a house I rented in the Wairarapa. I wrote a couple of episodes. Fresh Eggs creator Nick Ward wrote one. Jemaine got me to hire Melanie Bracewell after he noticed the great gags she writes on twitter. We also had Coco Solid who wrote a brilliant web series called Aroha Bridge – she watches a lot of reality TV, which is really useful for making a parody of reality shows like Police 10/7 - and Sam Smith from Jono and Ben.
4. Jemaine and Taika have introduced Kiwi humour to the world. What makes it unique?
The way I describe it is tiny reactions to big things. Americans tend to overreact. They'll go "Oh my god! I can't believe this is happening!" Whereas New Zealanders just go, "Oh. Yeah." You'd see the same thing in rugby in the 70s. Giant men with moustaches would score a try, toss the ball to their mates and just get straight back into it.
5. You were also involved in the writing for TVNZ 2's new series Fresh Eggs. What genre were you aiming for?
Dark comedy. Nick Ward has a great name for the genre, which is 'Yeah, Noir'. Sam Neil spoke about New Zealand's obsession with the dark underbelly of small towns in Cinema Of Unease - we do it so well. Shows like Fargo are also comedies about small characters who get way out of their depth, so it's got the potential for international appeal.
6. Growing up in England, did you show early leanings toward comedy?
We moved to New Zealand when I was six but I kept that sensibility for English comedy like Monty Python, The Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise. I annoyed the hell out of my teachers at Palmerston North Boys' High being the kid who did silly voices and quoted Not The Nine O'Clock News.
7. How did you make your break in television?
While I was doing my BA at Massey I joined a comedy group with Jeremy Corbett, his brother Nigel, Paul Horan, Dave Horn, Jon Bridges and David Downs. We toured the country during orientation week putting on a capping revue-style show of stand-up and sketches. TV producer Dave Gibson saw it and hired us to be on a new sketch show called Away Laughing. We were suddenly straight out of university and on television.
8. Did people recognise you in the streets?
I was known as the 'other guy' because David Downs and Jon Bridges played these crazy skater dudes called Skuzzo and Botty. My character wasn't as well known so kids who came up to us in the street would say, 'Hey Skuzzo and Botty and…other guy'. To this day some of my friends still call me that.
9. Have you been able to sustain a career in film and TV?
I have been able to do it largely full time. I have an office at Avalon Studios which has become a base for all sorts of creatives since being sold by TVNZ. A band called Drax Project are next door. There have been tough times but luckily my wife Heather has a real job in banking. We met at a party organised by the art department of Away Laughing. We have two sons now at uni, so they're pretty much grown up.
10. Do you have any hobbies?
I'm a film nerd - science fiction especially. I've actually worked with three of my favourite directors; Peter Jackson, Stephen Spielberg and James Cameron, who swore at me on the set of Avatar. I had a small speaking role. They were doing a big sweeping shot and all I had to do was say, 'Proceed to sector 7' but I started speaking too early. A minor mistake, but James Cameron was like "Hey! What the eff are you doing Paul? You dropped the ball!" I was like, "Oh my God! James Cameron swore at me!" He's a full-on guy. He designs everything himself, including the cameras. He took the time to explain the concept behind a console he'd designed for my small character and showed me how to use it.
11. What about Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson?
I had tiny roles in Tintin and as a sheriff in The Frighteners. There was a scene where I got spun in a revolving door. They accidentally spun me too fast and I got spat out onto the front steps. I woke up to find Peter Jackson standing over me going, "Are you okay Paul?" I was like, "Sure." I also had a minor role in Mortal Engines. You can see me in the last big scene with all the stars. I'm standing behind them all on one leg, leaning ever so slightly to the left, trying to be in shot.
12. You play one of the main characters in Fresh Eggs. Is it your biggest role yet?
I've been a core cast member in a lot of sketch comedy, but this is definitely my biggest role in an hour-long comedy drama. Claire Chitham and Cohen Holloway play a lovely couple who move to a small town where the bodies start to mount up. I play a cop who seems to be lovely but is he really? When we were writing the script it occurred to me that I'd like to play him, so I was stoked to get the role.
Fresh Eggs starts next Tuesday, February 19 at 8:30pm on TVNZ 2.