Director Taika Waititi introduced his “anti-hate” comedy Jojo Rabbit to an adoring crowd at the Princess of Wales Theatre Sunday night (September 8) with the off-beat wisecrack that the movie “speaks for itself, unless you’re dumb.”
The joke was indicative of the hugely anticipated film’s zany humour. It’s the latest from by New Zealand director and his first non-Marvel outing since his 2016 independent film Hunt For The Wilderpeople, which was a festival hit.
Set against the backdrop of the rise and fall of Nazi Germany during World War II, young German boy Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) idolizes Adolph Hitler and lives with his cheerful mother Rosie (Scarlet Johannsson), who is secretly part of the resistance.
We meet the leaders of a Hitler Youth camp (Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson), as well as Jojo’s imaginary friend Adolph Hilter (Waititi), all of whom are painted as inept, comedic characters.
The cast in attendance included Waititi, Johansson, Davis, Rockwell, Allen, Stephen Merchant and Tomasin Harcourt McKenzie. During the intro, Waititi promised they would all return for “one of those really enthralling 11 p.m. Q&As you love so much.” The wait was worth it. Here’s what you missed.
1. Waititi explaining his mom essentially pitched the film to him
TIFF artistic director and co-head Cameron Bailey led the question period, asking Waititi for his inspirations. The filmmaker responded that his mom initially read the book on which the movie is based: Christine Leunens’s Caging Skies.
“She explained this book to me, [saying] it’s such a great concept, there’s a boy and his mother is hiding this girl in his attic and she changes his whole worldview,” said Waititi. “The way she explained it, I was like ‘mom what a great film idea.’ I read the book. It is an incredible book, but it wasn’t exactly like how my mom described.”
He took the core of the story and added the humour and an imaginary Hitler to make it into the kind of hilarious and touching stories that lines up with the rest of Waititi’s filmography, like the bittersweet Boy or the funny and heartwarming Wilderpeople.
On why he decided to make Jojo Rabbit, Waititi added that in 1933 when Hitler came to power there were small instances of people saying what was going on was wrong, but their voices weren’t heard until it was too late.
“That ignorance and arrogance that allows us to forget [history] is a big human flaw. It’s very important to keep telling these stories again and again,” he said. “They didn’t say ‘never forget’ as a joke. We’re going to have to keep remembering and teach ourselves and our children lessons for how to grow and move forward, unified and with love for the future.”
2. Waititi explaining his decision to play Hitler
The inspiration for the imaginary Hilter character came from Waititi’s childhood growing up with a single mother.
“I’ve had father figures and wanted their presence in my life and I figured it’s no difference for a boy growing up with a solo mother in Nazi Germany. I want a dad and the Führer is this buffoon so I mixed the two.”
He offset the ridiculous spoof of Adolph Hitler with the grounded character of Jojo’s mother. “Scarlett’s character is the most important element in the entire film, and probably the only grounded character.”
3. Sam Rockwell revealing a key inspiration: Bill Murray
Rockwell told the crowd a surprising model for his character, the inefficient Hitler Youth Camp leader Captain Klenzendorf. “I talked to Taika and thought, ‘If Bill Murray were a disillusioned Nazi that’s how I was going to play it,” he said. “I think Taika liked that idea.”
“I did, but sadly he was unavailable,” Waititi quipped.
Stephen Merchant, who plays a Nazi Gestapo officer, had audiences rolling when he revealed what role he was inspired by. “I don’t think it’s going to come as a shock to anyone that I obviously watched Raiders Of The Lost Ark,” he said, to huge laughs. “The great Ronald Lacey performance as the Nazi Gestapo officer – even as a kid watching Raiders Of The Lost Ark is kind of comic… He’s very scary and terrifying so that to me seemed like a great guide – you can be comic but every so often you just turn on that chill factor.”
4. A lot of love for moms in the room
“Basically, the film is a love letter to mothers and solo mothers. I was raised by a single mother and I didn’t realize until I had my own children that she’d do anything for me,” said Waititi. “[Scarlett’s character] is a clown and she’s trying to save her kid.”
“She’s full of life [and] she’s kind of a sad clown, to bring levity into a dire situation,” added Johansson.
Meanwhile, Allen had his mother in the crowd and threw out a “hello mom!”
5. The cast dipping on autographs
After the screening, the stars either jumped straight into their waiting black SUVs to head to after parties, or gave a few autographs and took a few selfies. Allen obliged as did actor Jon Bernthal, (who is not in Jojo Rabbit, but in town for the TIFF film Ford v Ferrari). Waititi made a comedic show of pretending to be dragged into his car by grabbing onto a security guard with an outstretched hand and shrugging to the assembled audience. He may be one of the few celebrities to reject fan interactions, and have those same rejected people walk away chuckling about that rascal Taika Waititi.
Check out more photos from the red carpet arrivals below.
Producer Carthew Neal (left) and Taika Waititi
Check out more TIFF coverage and reviews here.