In a new interview, Waititi discussed the long road for the film and why, just because it wasn’t created for the here and now, doesn’t mean that’s not why it exists.
“It wasn’t something where it felt like, ‘We better make our film now because Nazis are popular again,’” Waititi told the Hollywood Reporter, as part of a long-ranging interview about the movie—about a young member of the Hitler Youth and his imaginary friend, a childlike, idiotic recreation of Adolf Hitler who discovers that his family is secretly safeguarding a young Jewish girl from Nazi persecution.
Waititi shared that he’s been working on Jojo Rabbit since 2011, basing his screenplay on Christine Leunens’ novel Caging Skies—which has a similar narrative, although the idea to have Hitler as the imaginary foil to young Jojo, played by Roman Griffin Davis in the film, was his own.
He started pitching the project to producers in 2012, but found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, he was having a hard time selling a parody about a young Nazi who’s friends with an imaginary Hitler. It didn’t help that Waititi wanted an A-list actor to play Hitler, as part of a “package deal” for potential studios, but couldn’t find anyone willing to take it on, for equally unsurprising reasons according to Waititi:
Most people really loved the script. I think it was a little difficult for people to figure out if it was a good career move, and I can fucking totally understand. Who really wants to see themselves as Adolf Hitler on a poster?
The film ended up on the Hollywood Black List, and it wasn’t until around 2018 that Fox Searchlight came onboard. According to THR, it was on one condition: They wanted Waititi to play Hitler, as they felt he would “embody the part with the nuances as he’d written them.”
Waititi said he originally wasn’t super comfortable with the idea—in part due to his own heritage of being of Russian-Jewish descent and as Waititi told THR flatly, “I hate Nazis” — but ultimately agreed.
And now, the movie is coming out at a time when it feels more, well, timely than ever—so much so, a Disney executive was reportedly nervous about releasing it, so as not to hurt the brand’s image. Waititi said the creation and release of Jojo Rabbit wasn’t an intentional commentary on where things are in 2019, as the movie’s been in the works for a long time. But he does recognise that it may not entirely be a coincidence that the movie is coming out now.
It wasn’t something where it felt like, “We better make our film now because Nazis are popular again. Yay!” I’m not one of these people who’s like, “Well, you know that Mercury is in retrograde, so that’s why this happened today.” I do believe that things happen when they need to happen, and you can’t force it—or maybe it’s just that things happen when you notice them.
Jojo Rabbit comes out on Boxing Day in Australia.