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Why Director Taika Waititi Decided to Play Adolf Hitler in ‘Jojo Rabbit’

“Fox Searchlight blackmailed me into doing it,” Taika Waititi told Variety of playing Adolf Hilter in “Jojo Rabbit” at the film’s premiere at American Legion Post 43 on Tuesday night in Hollywood. Staying mum when asked which other actors had been on his wish list to play the role, Waititi explained why he eventually decided to say yes to the part.

“You start [out] thinking of bigger stars to be part of a film like this or to play this imaginary Hitler. But at the end of the day, it came down to the simple fact that if we had done that, that would have overshadowed the heart of the story — which is this beautiful story, this relationship story between these two kids,” he explained. “And if there was a big celebrity then it would have become the ‘so-and-so Hitler film,’ which is not at all what this is.”

Jojo Rabbit” tells the story of a 10-year-old boy (and member of the Hitler Youth) named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), who discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) from authorities. Waititi’s Hitler is Jojo’s imaginary friend and taking on the challenging role — and even more controversial subject matter — seems to have paid off for the film’s producer, writer, director and star.

The film’s premiere was held just half a mile from the Dolby Theatre, the home of the Oscars. After “Jojo Rabbit” won the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, many have speculated that the film and its troupe of actors could find themselves in the running when statuettes are handed out there on Feb. 9, 2020.

“I do all of my work based on the hope of winning an award. That’s the first thing I say to my manager, ‘I’m not even gonna read it unless I might be an award in it,'” Stephen Merchant quipped before getting serious about why he said yes to a role as a Gestapo agent. “It just seemed like a brave, audacious movie to be making in 2019 through a major Hollywood studio.”

Alfie Allen added, “We’ve been satirizing Hitler for well over 80 years. So, I would say, yeah, you should champion movies that try and do something different and unique.”

“It sounds a little cliche, but I like to think that I don’t write a film or go into making a film just with the express intent of getting awards, cause this seems really messed up and that’s not a good way to create art,” Waititi admitted. “[But after the awards buzz] started happening, I became even more proud of the film.”

While Waititi and the rest of the film’s adult cast — Merchant, Johansson, Allen, Rebel Wilson and Oscar-winner Sam Rockwell — may be used to good buzz around a project and the glitz and glamour of red carpet awards season, all the hubbub and excitement is new for the younger stars — Griffin Davis, Mackenzie and Archie Yates.

“I just feel like passing out right now,” Yates quipped. “We’re just kind of feeling like it’s a dream and it’s, we don’t really know what’s going on or what to do. It’s just we’re just winging it and it’s so fun.”

Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson and Archie Yates'Jojo Rabbit' film premiere, After Party, Hollywood American Legion, Los Angeles, USA - 15 Oct 2019
CREDIT: Todd Williamson/January Images/Shutterstock

After the screening, the cast and producer Carthew Neal mingled with guests including Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok” co-stars Tessa Thompson and Luke Hemsworth, Minnie Driver, Shawn Levy and Debbie Gibson. The reception spanned all three levels of the military venue, as well as the patio outside, with attendees sipping cocktails made with Casamigos tequila and toasting the film’s prospects at the box office and beyond.

“Jojo Rabbit” is in limited theaters Oct. 18.

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