Oscar Kightley in Next Goal Wins

Oscar Kightley Channeled His Inner Happiness for ‘Next Goal Wins’

Next Goal Wins is the latest film from Taika Waititi, co-written by the actor/writer/director and Iain Morris, telling a fictionalized, comedic version of the real-life story of the American Samoa soccer team, after their infamous loss to the Australian team that is still the worst international loss in history.

Recommended Videos

Oscar Kightley plays Tavita, who has many jobs around town, including the manager of the team. He’s a man who is happy all the time and wants people around him to understand that happiness as well. When I spoke to Kightley about playing a character who embodies that energy, he talked about how it was a challenge to bring that joy to life but how important it was to who Tavita is.

“You are right because it runs very counter to him to how I normally am as a person,” he said when I brought up Tavita’s happiness in our Zoom conversation. “So it was actually quite a challenge. But I think I loved Tavita in the original doc. He was, to me, the beacon of hope. He did instigate the whole thing. And he always did keep a watchful caring and loving eye over everything I reckon. But it was so hard. You just had to be true to the words that Taika and Iain had put down. To me, he is the optimism. He’s the source of optimism and you kind of need that the whole way through with these films.”

Carrying the comedy

Kightley’s role gets to play in between the comedy and sports aspect of both sides of Next Goal Wins. He doesn’t get to play football with the rest of the team, but he does get to manage the team and then carry some of the more comedic elements of the movie, so I asked Kightley about being the comedic part of the film versus the sports side of it.

“I love sports films,” he said. “I think one of the first ones I ever saw was the old school version of Bad News Bears. So I just love that form. And it’s true, I’m not as hopeful and optimistic as Tavita, but I do love I think one of the things he had was his passion for the team. And that’s all true, he really was. And so I had to kind of think about that too, especially what that would mean because football is the most popular game in the world. So I was finding that passion, especially for what it means for a country of 50,000 people, and how much and just how huge that would be.”

For Kightley, it was about playing the truth of Tavita. “So, it was just part of kind of playing the truth of the moment was actually just being really into the sport. And for that to really mean something to you deeply,” he said. “You had to deeply care about it because when I look at the original doc and watch the real Tavita, there was a real lovely earnestness about him. So I just focused on just kind of being true to the character, I guess and I reckon that all that other stuff kind of comes if you can do that.”

Making the emotional moments work

Waititi movies’ emotional moments work thanks to how the comedy and characters are used to make those moments really pop. When I asked Kightley about making sure those moments hit, he talked about working with a cast of actors who really know how to make sure those moments shine.

“I think you serve those,” he said. “I think that’s the point of the fun, and I think you’ve gotta remember that we were so blessed on that set because me and Dave who plays Ace, we’d now Taika and Rachel since the end of the last century. So there was a real familiarity and there was that trust. One thing we learned just from doing theater and just doing drama, because everyone’s dramatic actors too, is just actually being really truthful about the moments rather than kind of just playing for the gags. And if you can do that, then the funny, then the laughs come, I reckon. You don’t aim for the last and perform in that way.”

Kightley went on to talk about bringing the life of the documentary to Next Goal Wins. “You kind of play what you saw the real truthful moments,” he said. “I love that locker room speech. And it’s so funny because I don’t know if you’ll mention this because it’s not revealed till later, but Thomas’s daughter is such a kind of looms quite large in this despite her not being in the film, you know? And I really loved that because in the doc as well, she was a real surprising, revealing character. It was really important to him in the story. Maybe you got a sense of why his time on that island and with those, and with his new teammates and colleagues was so important to him. I love that. And I really love that this young woman, who you never see, has just this such quiet impact on it, especially on that scene. It’s just about being real true. The comedy won’t come, you gotta be really smart and intelligent with it. And if you play for the comedy, you won’t get it and it’ll just be hard work. But if you kind of just play for the truth of it, it’ll come with it.”

Next Goal Wins is in theaters now.

(featured image: Searchlight Pictures)

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her current obsession is Glen Powell's dog, Brisket. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.