Michael Fassbender is a two-time Academy Award nominee and trained at the Drama Center London before touring with the Oxford Stage Company; he has played Chekov and Shakespeare and worked on a veritable who’s who of the greatest living directors. novice actor Kaimana She had never even considered trying to be an actress, noting that she avoided school plays “like the plague.” However, the two form a winning couple in “Next goal wins,” the funny, moving and uplifting new film from “Jojo Rabbit” filmmaker Taika Waititi, hitting theaters November 17.
Based on the 2014 documentary of the same name, “Next Goal Wins” finds Fassbender playing Thomas Rongen, a coach whose anger management and alcohol problems take him to American Samoa to lead the national soccer team and qualify for the FIFA World Cup. He is set up to fail: the team is widely regarded as a key point in the sport. But fortunately, the team and its tight-knit island community have modest ambitions: they would just like to score one goal.
Kaimana plays its star athlete Jaiyah Saelua, who is fa’afafine, a name the community uses for someone considered third gender or non-binary. (The real Saelua currently plays as a center back for the American Samoa national team.) In addition to being the captain of the team, Jaiyah becomes Rongen’s guide and confidant and is a star for the new actor, who brings an honesty and charisma that is unmatched. of acting experience can teach. As with his film characters, Fassbender may have the knowledge and experience of the craft, but Kaimana holds his own and they are a delight together.
It’s the first all-out comedy lead for Fassbender, known for his dramatic turns in films like “12 Years a Slave” and “Steve Jobs.” And Fassbender proves to be an adept comedian as Rongen: He also brings dark humor to his current role as a killer in David Fincher’s “The Killer.” Variety spoke with the couple about the importance of comedy, even in the darkest moments, and how they found their way to this unique story.
Kaimana, how did you come to be cast as Jaiyah?
Kaimana: Many of my family and friends had been sending out the casting call that was circulating in the Polynesian community. I looked at him and thought, “Oh yeah, that looks a lot like me. Except I don’t act.” But they kept bugging me about it, so I said I’d audition, just to get them off my back.
It started with an email and then ended up on a phone call with casting director Katie Doyle. Even though I’m from Oahu, I was in Chicago at the time and had to fly back to Hawaii for an in-person audition. Then I came back and met Taika. I went back to Chicago and there was another audition with Mary Vernieu, over Zoom. That’s when I think she started to seem real to me.
Much of the film hinges on this relationship: Have you ever done a chemistry read or auditioned together?
Fassbender: Not at all. Sometimes you meet someone who has no experience in the business (it was like that when I did “Fish Tank” with Katie Jarvis) who just has honesty and truth. That’s what Kaimana has in every scene, she’s so simple and honest. When we were doing scenes, it struck me that she is so charming and attractive and that she has this ability to be sincere on screen.
That’s okay, but be honest, is there any part of you that’s a little irritated that it comes so naturally to you?
Fassbender: Of course! Oh my gosh, I spent so many years of my life doing this that it comes to you for free. Typical.
Kaimana: It’s not free, I’ll pay you 50 dollars after saying all that.
Fassbender: I keep telling you that there are 100. Cheap.
Kaimana, was it still daunting to show up on a set and star in a movie with these great actors?
Kaimana: Absolutely. Honestly, the most intimidating aspect was having Michael Fassbender as a screen partner. Because I only knew him from “X-Men.” All he knew was Magneto. So in my head, I’m thinking, “What did I get myself into?” But honestly, he’s very different from that character.
Fassbender: He’s not a mutant…
He doesn’t float.
Fassbender: You said, “Oh, zero superpowers.”
Kaimana: No, I was relieved. He was just a cool, calm, normal guy. And a great scene partner: he always encouraged and supported me and gave me permission to play.
Plus, they were filming on their own land in Oahu. Did you let them know the good places to go?
Kaimana: I didn’t. Honestly, being from Hawaii, tourists usually know a lot more than you!
Fassbender: One of the best things about filming on location is that you always have the experience of really connecting with a culture because you work with the locals. It’s a great way to experience different places, cities and cultures. It is always a privilege to work outdoors.
So maybe I should ask him if he has any recommendations on where to go.
Fassbender: We were everywhere. There was a karaoke bar, Taika likes karaoke.
Which is your favorite song?
Fassbender: Prince. You probably could have guessed it. My choice is Frank Sinatra; Boring, I know. [To Kaimana] You didn’t sing, did you?
Kaimana: Oh no, I didn’t. I was there just watching.
Fassbender: If you had to do it again, if you had to sing karaoke, what would the song have been?
Kaimana: Probably “Man, I feel like a woman.”
I was not familiar with the history of Thomas Rongen and this team. What attracted you to the film?
Kaimana: I didn’t know anything about the story, I discovered it by watching the documentary. And it was such a good story that I was excited to be a part of it.
Fassbender: The idea of working with Taika was very exciting for me. I have wanted to work with him for a long time.
Had you talked about other roles? Were you looking for the right project?
Fassbender: Well, I had been leaving a lot of messages on his answering machine but he wasn’t answering me. It was actually my wife who bullied him into giving me the role.
How did that?
Fassbender: Saying, “Give the role to my husband.” (Laughs.) The idea of working on this story was very exciting because the spirit of this team is something you stop thinking about: I wish I had that positive outlook on life. It’s very encouraging.
So they were meetings: you never had a formal audition?
Fassbender: He could have been auditioning me at those meetings. I thought we were just playing around rehearsing, but maybe there was probably an audition there. I made a mess of so many auditions, starting out, just horrible. I think what’s really cool about today is that with the technology you have, you can have a friend record you and do it in a space where you feel comfortable and send it. Because auditioning is hard.
Kaimana, this was the first time you auditioned for something. As was?
Kaimana: Honestly, I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing anyway, so they’ll get what they’ll get.”
Fassbender: That is the correct attitude.
Kaimana: I had no idea. I remember asking myself at one point during the process, “How many times do you have to audition?”
This movie is uplifting and has some heartbreaking moments but it’s also very, very funny. I know you can do comedy but you’re probably best known for dramatic roles. Have you been looking to do more comedy?
Fassbender: I always try to bring comedy to my roles. I guess there have been some dark characters, but I tried to be funny. I love the comedy scene and it’s a very difficult thing to do. Because if you say it’s a comedy and people don’t laugh… well, it’s not a comedy. But he knew he would be in good hands with Taika.
Kaimana: I feel like if people didn’t know it was funny, they’ll find out this Friday.
Even in something like “12 Years a Slave,” there’s a scene where your character is chasing Solomon Northup and it’s really funny because he’s such a buffoon.
Fassbender: You know, when you said comedy, I was actually thinking about that scene. It’s obviously very disturbing, but he’s also slipping in the mud of the pigsty. That was intentional, it was about finding moments where you could break through the disturbing scenes and just let the air out a little bit and feel relief. It also makes it more disturbing knowing that this person has so much power that he doesn’t have much intelligence. There’s a lot of tragic humor there.
About a week ago I was looking at the script and he actually describes the moment as: “in what should be pretty comical…”
Fassbender: Oh, right? And I was taking credit for that! It was in the script, Michael (laughs). But comedy is a very useful tool. Sometimes you are doing something very heavy and if you don’t allow the audience to escape through laughter, it becomes too much and you can dissociate yourself from the subject. But if you allow people to laugh, they will be much more open and vulnerable to accepting whatever comes next.
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