Taika Waititi wins New Zealander of the Year

  • Updated
  • 23/02/2017

Acclaimed filmmaker Taika Waititi says he's got his "devilish good looks" to thank for been named 2017 New Zealander of the Year.

Speaking to The AM Show from Los Angeles, Waititi said it feels "really good", but also a bit embarrassed to take out the honour.

He joked that, like the 2016 winner Richie McCaw, it's probaby his muscles that got him the award.

"Maybe my charm. My good nature, my devilish good looks… On top of that, personality.

"In all seriousness, probably the fact that what I'm doing with film and storytelling is bringing NZ culture to a global stage.

"I'm [feeling] a mixture of embarrassment and humility."

He's going to celebrate the award by knocking up some new business cards.

"I'm gonna get some business cards made, yup. I'm a bit of a cheapskate, so I'll probably get some A4 refill. I'll get my assistant to cut it into business card shapes, and I'll just carry a pen around, and whenever I meet someone who wants a business card, I'll just write one out. It takes a bit longer, but it's the personal touch that makes all the difference. That's what makes us Kiwis great."

Waititi's wife Chelsea Winstanley accepted the award on his behalf from Prime Minister Bill English on Wednesday night, as the Hunt for the Wilderpeople director is in the US filming the latest Thor instalment.

Ms Winstanley, along with Wilderpeople actor Julian Dennison, also accepted the Kiwibank kaitaka huaki cloak, Pouhine, from last year's winner Richie McCaw.

Waititi was honoured for his success as a writer, director, actor and comedian, as well as his passion for engaging youth in the arts and raising awareness of youth suicide and child poverty.

Waititi's fellow finalists were educator and research professor Mere Berryman and principal advisor for the Salvation Army’s Social Policy & Parliamentary Unit Major Campbell Roberts.

"Taika Waititi is an exciting and inspiring example of who and what we are as Kiwis," says chief judge Cameron Bennett.

"His films represent the importance of whānau, of belonging and the challenges facing youth at the margins of society.

"He’s a special talent, a huge inspiration for young, up-and-coming film directors and producers and a thoroughly worthy recipient of this year’s supreme award."

Now Waititi's just waiting for his "care package" to arrive in the post.

"I'm waiting for the care package from the New Zealand Government. I'm expecting that.

"I don't know if they know I'm expecting that, but I'm hoping that contains a few Trumpets, some pineapple lumps, maybe some Eskimo Pies," he told The AM Show.