The Thor: Ragnorak director calls his upcoming sports comedy "the Cool Runnings of soccer."
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In 2001, the American Samoa soccer team were thrashed by Australia and recruited the services of a coach named Thomas Rongen in an attempt to reverse their on-the-field misfortunes.

We won't spoil what happened next, except to say that, first, it's an incredible story, and, second, it's dramatized in New Zealand director Taika Waititi's upcoming movie Next Goal Wins, out April 21.

"The story is about the worst soccer team in the world, who famously experienced the biggest loss in an international match against Australia, 31-0, which is about a goal every four minutes," says the man behind Thor: Ragnorak and Thor: Love and Thunder. "After suffering that huge defeat, they applied to the soccer federation to find a coach who could get them from the very, very bottom of the FIFA rankings."

Score yourself a first look at Taika Waiti's real-life soccer movie 'Next Goal Wins'. credit: Searchlight Pictures
Michael Fassbender in Taika Waititi's upcoming soccer movie, 'Next Goal Wins'
| Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Waititi's film is based on a 2014 documentary of the same name. "Years ago, I watched it and couldn't believe I'd never heard of this story before," says Waititi, whose previous directing credits also include 2016's Hunt for the Wilderpeople and 2019's Jojo Rabbit. "I'd never made a sports film before, and I really wanted to try that out. It's about a sport I don't know that much about."

He continues, "Rugby is the national sport in New Zealand, but it's about underdogs, and I just love underdog stories. Most of my films are about people who live on the margins, or are a little bit left out, and it just fit right in for me. It's a true story, but it's got all the elements that all the great sports films have. It's basically the Cool Runnings of soccer."

Waititi cast Steve Jobs and X-Men franchise actor Michael Fassbender as the Dutch-born Rongen. "He had a pretty good playing career and then he had a bunch of coaching jobs in the States," the director says of the real-life coach on which Fassbender's character is based. "He was really the only person who answered the call. He was the one who said, 'Yeah, I'll go down there and give it a go.'"

He reveals that he never asked Fassbender if he could play soccer himself ("I don't know why not") but adds that he was impressed with how the actor "managed to be a very convincing coach."

Score yourself a first look at Taika Waiti's real-life soccer movie 'Next Goal Wins'. credit: Searchlight Pictures
Michael Fassbender and Kaimana in 'Next Goal Wins'
| Credit: Searchlight Pictures

In addition to Fassbender, the film stars Samoan-New Zealand actor Oscar Kightley, who plays the head of American Samoa soccer, and newcomer Kamaina, who portrays the player Jaiyah Saelua.

"Jaiya is a trans player — one of the star players of the team — and a lot of the film revolves around her relationship with Thomas Rongen," says Waititi.

Score yourself a first look at Taika Waiti's real-life soccer movie 'Next Goal Wins'. credit: Searchlight Pictures
'Next Goal Wins'
| Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Next Goal Wins also stars Elisabeth Moss as Rongen's ex-wife and Will Arnett as a fictional soccer executive.

"The thing about turning documentaries into films is, often documentaries don't have a villain," says Waititi, explaining that Arnett's character is not that much of a baddie, "but you need some sort of outside force that's threatening the team to give the story some stakes. That's what I've been conditioned to learn in Hollywood. It's like, 'Well, you can't just have a story where nothing bad ever happens to anyone!'"

Score yourself a first look at Taika Waiti's real-life soccer movie 'Next Goal Wins'. credit: Searchlight Pictures
Taika Waititi (left) directing 'Next Goal Wins' with camera operator Andrew Johnson
| Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Waititi made the movie in Hawaii, one of his favorite spots. "My second daughter was born there, so I always love going back, and to shoot a film there was just great," he says. "Honestly, it's just good to put brown faces on film and to have a Polynesian presence in cinema in a really significant way. Elisabeth and Will come in at the end, so basically it's just brown faces and Michael Fassbender."

Next Goal Wins was co-written by Waititi and Iain Morris. The film's cast also includes David Fane, Beulah Koale, Lehi Falepapalangi, Semu Filipo, Uli Latukefu, and Rachel House. It was produced by Waititi, Jonathan Cavendish, Garrett Basch, Mike Brett, and Steve Jamison.

Next Goal Wins opens in cinemas April 21. See our exclusive first-look images from it above.

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