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‘Jojo Rabbit’: Taika Waititi ‘Scoured the Earth’ for the Right Actor to Play Hitler Before Casting Himself

The plot follows a lonely Hitler Youth who finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic.

First still from the set of WW2 satire, JOJO RABIT. (From L-R): Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) has dinner with his imaginary friend Adolf (Writer/Director Taika Waititi), and his mother, Rosie (Scarlet Johansson). Photo by Kimberley French. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

JOJO RABIT. (From L-R): Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) has dinner with his imaginary friend Adolf (Writer/Director Taika Waititi), and his mother, Rosie (Scarlet Johansson).

Kimberley French

Jojo Rabbit” writer/director Taika Waititi, who plays Adolf Hitler in the film, talked briefly about casting the project during Saturday’s installment of Deadline’s third annual The Contenders London series.

Waititi specifically addressed casting his role. “I scoured the earth for the perfect actor and sometimes your search for the right person is staring at you right in the mirror,” he said, of course referring to himself.

Based on the book “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens, the World War II-set film’s plot follows a lonely Hitler Youth, Jojo “Rabbit” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), who finds out that his single mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic, and has his worldview turned upside down. Aided only by his imaginary friend in the form of an idiotic version of Adolf Hitler (Waititi), Jojo must confront his ideology.

“It’s a 10-year old boy’s manifestation of Hitler, the little devil that sits on your shoulder, a version of Jojo giving him terrible advice while he’s being lured by a Jewish girl,” said Waititi. “We (adults) don’t look very sane to children. Children are smarter in the sense and they have a view of the world that’s a lot clearer.”

To prepare to play Hitler, Waititi previously said that he did no research, because he didn’t have to. “I didn’t base him on anything I’d seen about Hitler before,” the filmmaker said. “I just made him a version of myself that happened to have a bad haircut and a shitty little mustache, and a mediocre German accent.”

Waititi continued, “It would just be too weird to play the actual Hitler, and I don’t think people would enjoy the character as much. Because he was such a fucking c*nt, and everyone knows that as well. I think people have got to relate to really enjoy the ride.”

Waititi also shared that the cast was encouraged to improvise on the set, thanking his producer, Carthew Neal, for always allowing for enough flexibility during production.

Produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, “Jojo Rabbit” had its world premiere at the 44th Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2019, where it divided critics, drawing both praise and criticism for its portrayal of Nazis, though its performances (particularly those of Waititi, Davis, McKenzie, and Johansson) received widespread praise. The film won the People’s Choice Award at the festival.

It is scheduled to be theatrically released in the United States and New Zealand on October 18, 2019.

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