Based on the novel by Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, the "anti-hate satire" follows a Hitler Youth recruit (Roman Griffin Davis) in WWII Germany who discovers that his mother (Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Oh, and he regularly converses with his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi).
"There's no way to pitch it without sounding offensive, crazy," Johansson told Yahoo Entertainment at the film's Los Angeles press day (watch above). "When I got the script it came to me with a preface, 'Read the script. Forget the logline.' It was such a beautiful piece of work. It was really perfect."
Sam Rockwell also had his reservations before reading the script, which came from the uniquely clever mind of Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople). "Of course when you read the script it just blows the top of your head off, how unique it is," he said.
Cracked Stephen Merchant: "I opened the script and I though, 'Oh, here we go, another imaginary Hitler script."
"I knew right from the get-go, it's a hard film to describe and it's a hard film to pitch," explained Waititi. "So I ended up not bothering to do that and I just wrote a really, really good script that I loved and I felt, 'I'm really proud of this.'"
Audiences at the Toronto Film Festival felt that way about the final product: The edgy but ultimately heartfelt dramatic comedy won the highly coveted People's Choice Award in September, which immediately positioned the film as an Oscar contender. The last seven films to take home the award went on to earn a Best Picture nomination, with two of them winning (Green Book in 2019 and 12 Years a Slave in 2014).
While the experience of reading the script was eye-opening for its cast, the experience of being directed on set by a man dressed as Adolf Hitler was particularly odd.
"At times he was super terrifying," Johansson said. "Especially when he was in his prime with the blue contacts in. He would always say to you, 'Don't look me, I look terrible. I know, just don't look at my face. I'm terrifying right now.'"
Jojo Rabbit is now playing. Watch the trailer:
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