Born in 1975, Taika Waititi also goes under the surname Cohen. He comes from the Raukokore region of the East Coast and has been involved in the arts for several years, as a visual artist, actor, writer and director.
He writes: "As an artist I have a wide range of creative outlets. Perhaps it's an inability to sit still, to explore a single form or medium to its ultimate end. Perhaps it's the coffee. I think it's because I'm an artist who expresses himself in whatever medium is readily at hand. There are so many interesting ways to create worlds and beings, how can someone only be interested in one method? It's like only cooking with leeks and onions. Though I guess some people can do thing with just leeks and onions that, when eaten, would change your world view or break your heart. Personally, I need a lot of different ingredients to do that."
As a performer and comedian, Taika has been a driving force in some of New Zealand's most innovative and successful productions. With a strong background in comedy writing and performing (with fellow comedian Jemaine Clement), Taika has won New Zealand's top comedy awards, the Billy T Award and the Spirit of the Fringe Award in Edinburgh. Taika regularly undertook stand up gigs around the New Zealand and in 2004 launched his solo production, Taika's Incredible Show which he says "wasn't that incredible but had a cool poster which I drew myself". Taika has been critically acclaimed for his dramatic abilities being nominated for Best Actor at the 2000 Nokia Film Awards for his role in the Sarkies Brothers' film Scarfies.
Taika's short film, Two Cars, One Night, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005. His next short, Tama Tu, about a group of Māori soldiers in Italy during World War II, won a string of international awards, and became eligible for Oscar nomination.
Taika spent two years in Berlin working and exhibiting in the Schliemann 40 House and spent several years experimenting with photography and painting. He illustrated Jo Randerson's book of short stories The Keys to Hell and collaborated with the architectural firm Wraight & Associates on a proposal for Wellington City Council's Wellington Gateway project.
Taika was one of five inaugural recipients of the Arts Foundation's New Generation Award announced in 2006.
Taika's first feature, Eagle vs. Shark, was released in 2007 with a video release early in 2008. He won best screenwriter for the film at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. On the eve of the film's debut screening at the Sundance Film Festival Taika was named as one of 10 directors "to watch" by Variety magazine. He was also took the Award for Best Director for the film at the 2008 Qantas Film and Television Awards.
Taika directed two episodes of Flight of the Conchords a twelve-part comedy series, created by and starring his friends Jermaine Clement and Brett McKenzie, for the American cable channel HBO.
Taika's 2010 feature length film, Boy, is an exploration of some of the characters and ideas introduced in his Oscar-nominated debut short Two Cars, One Night. The film was shot in the Bay of Plenty. Following its release, Boy became the highest grossing local film in New Zealand history. He attended the 2012 Berlinale and CineMart in Rotterdam with his new film project (currently in development) Jojo Rabbit (2012).
In 2013, Waititi co-directed the New Zealand-based vampire comedy mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows with friend and fellow comedian Jemaine Clement; Waititi starred as Viago. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014.
Waititi's fourth feature, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival to great reception, leading him to be chosen to direct the Marvel Studios film Thor: Ragnarok.
In 2017 Taika was announced as the New Zealander of the year and said "he owes a lot of his success to the support of his parents, who never forced him to get a "real job"." In the same year at the annual Matariki Awards celebrating Maori achievement, Takika took home the Te Tohu Tiketike o Matariki Supreme Award as well as Te Waipuna-ā-Rangi Award for Arts and Entertainment.