Taika David Cohen ONZM was born 16 August 1975 and is known professionally as Taika Waititi.
He is a New Zealand film and television director, producer, screenwriter, actor, and comedian.
He was born in Raukokore in the Bay of Plenty Region of New Zealand’s North Island, and grew up in both the East Coast and the Aro Valley of Wellington. His father was an artist and was of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui descent, whilst his mother, Robin Cohen, is a schoolteacher. Waititi stated that his mother’s family were Russian Jews, “mixed with a bit of Irish” and other European ancestry, while his father’s side was “Māori and a little bit of French Canadian”. Waititi describes himself as a “Polynesian Jew”.
Waititi’s parents split up when he was around five, and he was raised primarily by his mother. He attended Onslow College for secondary school. He studied theatre at Victoria University of Wellington and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1997. He originally used his mother’s surname, Cohen, for his work in film and writing, while his father’s surname, Waititi, was used for his visual arts endeavors. He continued to use the name Waititi professionally following the success of his first short film.
While a student at Victoria University, Waititi was part of the five-member ensemble So You’re a Man, which toured New Zealand and Australia with some success. He was half of the comedy duo The Humourbeasts alongside Jemaine Clement, which received New Zealand’s highest comedy accolade, the Billy T Award, in 1999. Among a variety of artistic interests, Waititi began making comical short films for New Zealand’s annual 48-hour film contest. In 2005 his short film Two Cars, One Night earned him an Academy Award nomination. At the awards ceremony, he famously feigned falling asleep as the nominations were being read out. His first feature film, oddball romantic comedy Eagle vs Shark, was released in U.S. theatres for limited distribution in 2007. The film stars Waititi’s then real-life partner, Loren Horsley, as Lily. The same year, Waititi wrote and directed one episode of the TV show Flight of the Conchords and was director of another.
His second feature, Boy, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010, and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. Waititi also took one of the main roles, as the ex-con father who returns to his family. On its release in New Zealand, Boy received enthusiastic reviews and was successful at the local box office, eclipsing several records. After the success of Boy, Waititi hoped that the film’s signature track “Poi E” would get to number one (for the second time) on the New Zealand charts. The song ultimately reached number three on the charts, but managed to become number one on iTunes. In 2011, Waititi directed New Zealand TV series Super City starring Madeleine Sami, who plays five characters living in one city. That same year, Waititi portrayed Thomas Kalmaku in the superhero film Green Lantern.
Waititi co-directed and starred in the horror comedy film What We Do in the Shadows (2014) with Jemaine Clement, which was adapted into a television series of the same name (2019–present).
His most recent directing credits include the superhero film Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and the black comedy film Jojo Rabbit (2019), the latter of which he also wrote and starred in as an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler.
In addition to directing an episode of the web television series The Mandalorian (2019–present), Waititi also voices the character IG-11.
In 2020, Waititi narrated a charity reading of James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.
Waititi was reportedly set to direct a new live-action film adaptation of Akira as well as co-write a sequel to What We Do in the Shadows, titled We’re Wolves. In July 2019, it was reported that Waititi will write and direct Thor: Love and Thunder, a sequel to Ragnarok, causing Akira to be delayed indefinitely. Waititi is also set to direct a feature film adaptation of Next Goal Wins.
As of March 2020, Waititi is set to write, direct and executive produce two animated series for Netflix, one based on Roald Dahl’s children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and another focused on the novel’s Oompa Loompa characters.
In May 2020, it was announced that Waititi is set to direct and co-write an upcoming live-action Star Wars film.