Taika Waititi reveals why he didn’t cast a “big celebrity” as Hitler in JoJo Rabbit

The BAFTA winner explains why he chose to play the role himself

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Taika Waititi has explained why he cast himself in the role of Hitler in his film Jojo Rabbit instead of a “big celebrity”.

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Speaking in the winners room at last night’s BAFTA Film Awards, the New Zealand-born writer and director said it was to prevent the casting choice from being “a distraction” and from being “used as a marketing tool”.

“If it was a big celebrity playing Hitler, I think that would’ve taken away from the heart of the story about the kids,” Waititi said. “All the posters would’ve just been ‘Will Smith as Hitler!’ and it would’ve been a distraction.”

In addition to the potential marketing of the film influencing Waititi’s decision, he emphasised the fantastical nature of the film, saying “it was never meant to be an authentic portrayal of Hitler”.

Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in the film JOJO RABBIT. Photo by Kimberley French. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in the film JOJO RABBIT. Photo by Kimberley French. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

The BAFTA winner also referred to his own playful nature by musing “you had to be a 10-year-old in a grow-ups body, which, if you meet me…”

Waititi, who received the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay after basing the screenplay on Christine Leunens’s novel Caging Skies, also revealed the initial difficulties in pitching Jojo Rabbit based on its controversial premise.

“It’s a hard film to pitch,” Waititi began, “There’s no real easy way of launching into that conversation.”

On the harsh reception to the initial pitch – “Picture this: there’s a little boy in the Hitler youth” – Waititi explained how “you could feel the atmosphere just leaving the room.”

Despite these initial setbacks, the BAFTA-winning screenplay by Waititi was what resulted in the film coming to fruition. “[I thought] if I could just capture the tone and really explain with the script the movie that I wanted to make then that might be easier – and that’s what worked.”

Additional material by Patrick Cremona

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Jojo Rabbit is out now in UK cinemas