She was the one who introduced her New Zealand director son to Christine Leunen’s novel “Caging Skies,” about a young German boy who idolizes Adolf Hitler and learns a Jewish girl is hiding in their home, and Waititi added the Nazi leader as a goofy imaginary friend as well as a lot of edgy humor to create “Jojo” (in theaters Oct. 18).
“This film is a love letter to mothers,” Waititi said in a post-premiere Q&A. The “only grounded character” in the comedy is Scarlett Johansson’s Rosie Betzler, a woman with a strong sense of compassion for the plight of a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie).
Rosie’s son, 10-year-old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), initially doesn’t have the same world view, indoctrinated into the Nazi youth movement and is taught to hate Jews and think of them as monsters. He struggles because of his size and leans on his own personal Hitler (Waititi) as a sounding board/adviser.
“I always fantasized about father figures and wanting that kind of presence in my life, and I think it’s no different for a boy growing up with a mother in Nazi Germany,” Waititi said.
“Jojo Rabbit” balances satirical comedy and the seriousness of the Nazi war machine at the time, plus heaps on charm and heart. “Life is all different things at one time,” Johansson said, adding that there’s a “bittersweetness” to Rosie. “She’s really full of life. She’s a clown (to Jojo) and sometimes she’s a sad clown and sometime she’s clowning around to bring levity to this dire situation.”
Sam Rockwell stars as Captain K, Rockwell, aka “if Bill Murray was a disillusioned Nazi,” the actor said. “I think Taika liked that idea. “Added Waititi: “Yeah, I did and (Murray) was unavailable,” which earned raucous laughter from the crowd.
To play the sadistically cheery Gestapo Captain Deertz, Stephen Merchant used Ronald Lacey’s eerie henchman Toht from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as inspiration. When he was a kid watching “Raiders,” “he seemed comic: He grabs the (fiery hot) medallion in his hand and he’s like, ‘Arrrrgh!’ But later he’s very scary, very villainous and genuinely terrifying.”
2019’s fall movie lineup ranges from horror (“It: Chapter Two”) to supervillains (“Joker”), and we can hardly wait. USA TODAY
Waititi had a lot to say about how “Jojo Rabbit” speaks to the learned hate still existing in modern times and the current political climate.
“In 1933 when Hitler got into power, little by little every single day or every week, there was one small change or one thing where people said, ‘That’s wrong.’ But it wasn’t big enough to really get anyone up in arms and it wasn’t big enough until it was too late,” Waititi explained. “I feel like today, it’s ‘Oh, they say what they want. It’s only about 10 people said that. Only 200 people at this march thing.’ But the more you ignore it and the more you think human civilization has advanced and it’ll never happen again, that’s exactly what they said in 1933: ‘Nothing will be as bad as the first World War.’ ”
“That ignorance and the arrogance that allows us to forget is a big human flaw. It’s important to keep telling these stories again and again. We have to keep remembering and keep finding new and inventive ways of telling the same story so children can listen and grow and move forward unified and with love in the future.”