How Taika Waititi got Michael Fassbender to ditch yearlong vacation for “Next Goal Wins”

'The Killer' star was going to spend a year racing cars, until the filmmaker called him while he was in bed drinking champagne.

Michael Fassbender plays a real-life soccer coach named Thomas Rongen in the just-released sports comedy Next Goal Wins, but don't think about asking him to help out with your five-a-side team.

When EW asks the star of The Killer if he would make a good coach off screen, the actor replies, "No, terrible. I'm so clueless. I think [on set] I was giving instructions about what to do and it was the exact opposite. I follow Liverpool, I'll watch the big games, but I don't tune in every week. And I'm not much good at playing it either."

Next Goal Wins is directed and cowritten by Thor: Ragnarok filmmaker and New Zealander Taika Waititi and is loosely based on a 2014 documentary of the same name. That film tracked Rongen's attempts to reverse the fortunes of the American Samoa soccer team, a notoriously terrible outfit infamous for being beaten 31-0 by Australia.

"My producer game me a copy of the documentary on DVD and it made me feel so good," Waititi says. "I loved the dynamic between the coach and the team and just seeing island life on film. I'd done Thor and Jojo Rabbit, and I decided to come back to the Pacific and get back to my roots."

<p>Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Searchlight Pictures</p> 'Next Goal Wins'

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Searchlight Pictures

'Next Goal Wins'

When the director approached Fassbender, the actor was taking time away from movie sets to pursue his true sports love of competing in car races. Waititi recalls that the Irishman "was off in Europe, racing Porsches or something. I called him up, and he was in his hotel bed with a glass of champagne. He said. 'Look, I was going to take the year off, but I love the script.' So, he decided to do it."

EW assumes the filmmaker is joking about the champagne, but apparently not. "Yeah, that's true," Fassbender says. "I don't know why I was drinking a glass of champagne. I think I was just trying to make an impression." Explaining why he signed on to the movie, the actor says he was "enchanted by the story. The American Samoa team just kept getting up and striving. I found that infectious."

One of the key players featured in the documentary is center-back Jaiyah Saelua, who identifies as fa'afafine, a nonbinary gender which has long been an integral part of Samoan society. Saelua explains, "The literal translation of the word is 'in the manner of a woman.' It is an identity that understands that we are related to both the male and female genders, and we have a role and responsibilities in our societies, in our families, and our churches even."

In Waititi's film, Saelua is portrayed by screen newcomer Kaimana, who tells EW that, prior to taking the role, she didn’t have any acting experience. "This just happened out of the blue," she says. "The casting call was going around the Polynesian network. A lot of my family and friends were bugging me about trying out for this role. I was like, 'Oh yeah, it sounds great, except for the fact that I don’t act!' So, I decided to audition, or at least submit to the casting call just to say that I did it and to get everybody off my back. And now I'm here!"

<p>Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Searchlight Pictures</p> Kaimana and Michael Fassbender in 'Next Goal Wins'

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Searchlight Pictures

Kaimana and Michael Fassbender in 'Next Goal Wins'

Waititi recalls that successfully casting the role of Selua was a crucial part of making the film. "It was a massive relief to find Kaimana," says the director, whose film also stars Oscar Kightley, Elisabeth Moss, and Will Arnett. "You’re trying to check off these very specific but necessary aspects of the character. They need to be Samoan, they need to identify as fa'afafine, be able to play soccer, and also be able to act."

Waititi adds that Kaimana was "able to pull off all of those things [and] is basically as close to Jaiyah as we’re going to get. After a couple of scenes, Michael was like, 'She's really good.'"

Waititi admits that he took liberties with the true-life story for dramatic and comedic reasons but Selua did not feel like giving the director a red card after seeing the finished film. The soccer star says she was "extremely happy that it turned out to be what it is."

"Most importantly for me," she adds, "was that it was able to captivate the true essence of our people, of the fa'afafine identity, all of those beautiful important things are beautifully told in this movie."

Kaimana, meanwhile, believes Fassbender would "100 percent" make a good soccer coach in real life. Then again... "Honestly, he's the only soccer coach I’ve ever had, so he's all I've ever known," she explains. "I still call him coach. I don’t call him Mike or Michael. He’s my coach!"

Next Goal Wins is now playing in theaters.

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