jojo rabbit clip

The ads describe Jojo Rabbit as being from the “visionistical” director Taika Waititi, and somehow there’s no better world to describe this iconoclastic auteur. While the world took notice when he was picked to helm Thor: Ragnarock, fans have long sought out his unique blend of comedy and pathos in films like Eagle vs Shark, Boy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and the gloriously batty What We Do In The Shadows

Jojo is presented as an anti-hate satire, and some loved it – /Film’s Chris Evangelista called it “a workd of strange magic” – while some critics battled against its charms, unable to be swayed by the tonal shifts and mix of whimsy marred by an undercurrent of terror. The audience at TIFF cast the definitive vote, declaring it the best-of-fest People’s Choice winner.

Following the film’s first screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, Taika and his cast took the stage to answer a few questions where they revealed more about the challenges of getting the tone right, of the inspiration for some of the character performances, and how the whole thing came together. The director was joined on stage by Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Roman Griffith Davis and Thomasin McKenzie. Now the that film is in theaters, we have compiled the best and most interesting quotes from this Q&A.

These comments have been edited for clarity and concision. 

The Origin of the Film

Taika Waititi: My mum read this book “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens. This book’s got a great concept – There’s a boy, he’s in Hitler Youth and his mother’s hiding this girl in his attic. The way she described it, I was like, mum, what a great film idea! Then I read the book, but it wasn’t exactly like how my mum described it. When it came to writing it I was tapping more into the way she explained the book, and she was kind of wrong. This imaginary friend character came into the story as well and a lot more of the humour, and essentially the core of that story about a young boy who is being indoctrinated. The idea was kind of like having a monster in the attic, but it’s just a human.

Where the Line Was Drawn

Taika Waititi: The is a love letter to mothers, especially single mothers. I didn’t realize this until I had my own children, but my mom would have done anything for me and she did. It’s why Scarlett Johansson’s character for me is one of the most important elements in the entire film and probably only grounded character. She actually lives in reality even though she’s a clown, while she’s trying to save her kid. I’ve often thought about father figures and wanting their kind of presence in my life and I think it’s no different for a boy growing up in Nazi Germany. 

Finding the Right Tone

Scarlett Johansson: Life is kind of all different things at one time. There’s a bitter sweetness to the character and she’s really full of life. She is, like Taika said, a clown, sometimes a sad clown and sometimes just playing around with her kid just to bring levity into a really dour situation. She’s so colourful, there’s many different tones in her.

Sam Rockwell: I just talked to Taika and thought if Bill Murray was a disillusioned Nazi that’s how he would play it.

Taika Waititi: …and Bill Murray was unavailable. 

Stephen Merchant: I don’t think it’s going to come as a shock to anyone that I obviously watched Raiders of the Lost Ark just before the shoot, and the great Ronald Lacey performance as the Nazi Gestapo officer in that and seriously what struck me. Even as a kid in Raiders he would seem comic, you know? He grabs that medallion in his hand and it burns him and ahhhhh and he puts his hand in the snow. But later, he’s very scary and genuinely terrifying and so that to me seemed like the right kind of guy, that you can be comic but there’s still a chill in the performance.

Alfie Allen: My character was definitely a more comedic part of the piece which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Playing Jojo

Roman Griffin Davis: I really, really loved working with Taika. It was quite scary because Jojo’s quite a fragile character and it’s quite hard to get in the role. But he’s an interesting character because it’s a side of the war that is a dark and quite mysterious and creepy side of the war. He’s fragile. 

Bringing Elsa to Life

Thomasin McKenzie: It was very nerve-wracking working on this film. I wanted first and foremost to approach it with a lot of sensitivity and to go into it with having put as much research and thought into it as possible. The first time I met Taika in person and sat down with him he said forget all of that, and instead told me to watch Heathers and Mean Girls. She had a life before this disgusting tragedy happened to her and I think it was important to present her as a figure of hope, to show that she is strong, brave, and a really staunch girl. 

What the Film Has to Say

Taika Waititi: When Hitler got into power in 1933, little by little, every single day or every week, there was just one small change. People recognized that it was wrong wrong, but it wasn’t big enough to really get everyone up in arms. It wasn’t big enough until it had become too late. Today there’s these small little things that oh, they get to say what they want, it’s only about 10 people over there, 200 people at this march thing. We think we’re at the height of human civilization and it’ll never happen again, which is exactly what they said in 1933. They thought nothing could be as bad as the First World War. To forget is really a specific human flaw, so I think it’s very important to keep telling these stories again and again. We have to keep remembering and keep trying new and inventive ways of telling the same story and teaching ourselves and our children lessons for how to grow and how to move forward unified and with love into the future. 

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