Director Taika Waititi wants soccer comedy Next Goal Wins to pass hope and happiness on

LOS ANGELES – The national football team of American Samoa, a tiny South Pacific island, were once thrashed 31-0 in a match – the worst defeat in international football history.

But the true story of that humiliating 2001 loss to Australia has inspired the underdog comedy Next Goal Wins, directed by Oscar winner Taika Waititi and starring Michael Fassbender as the coach hired to turn the team around.

In the movie, which opens in Singapore cinemas on Dec 7, the team recruit Thomas Rongen (Fassbender), a Dutch-American coach down on his luck, to help them redeem themselves in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

Speaking at the film’s recent Los Angeles premiere, Fassbender, 46, says he came to the project because of Waititi, the New Zealander film-maker who directed the superhero blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for the war comedy Jojo Rabbit (2019).

“He introduced me to the story, and I checked out the documentary,” says the Irish actor, referring to the acclaimed 2014 documentary on which the movie is based.

“And it’s such a heart-warming story – a real story of human positivity,” says the Oscar nominee for dramas 12 Years A Slave (2013) and Steve Jobs (2015).

But although based on a real person, the character he plays is not meant to be a faithful biographical representation.

“He does exist in real life, but once we started developing the character on set, it started to take legs and go further away from the real Thomas Rongen to serve the story that we were telling.”

But making a comedy was a bit of a departure for Fassbender, who played Magneto in the X-Men superhero films from 2011 to 2016 and won praise for his dark turns in serious dramas such as Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011).

“I thought it would be a challenge because we were improvising and trying to be funny, but it was a lot of fun,” says the actor, who is married to 35-year-old Swedish actress Alicia Vikander and has a two-year-old son with her.

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