Movies

Taika Waititi Can’t Believe He Has To Tell People Nazis Are Bad

So, yes, Taiki Waititi has, well, sort of, finally figured out how to talk about his movie. Jo Jo Rabbit is oftentimes strangely sweet, and oftentimes deadly serious. Which, yes, you might expect from a movie in which Waititi literally plays Hitler.

A month ago or so, when Jo Jo Rabbit was on the festival circuit, Waititi would say in interviews he didn’t really know how to talk about this movie without scaring people off. And, yes, it’s easier now after winning the top prize in Toronto, plus the fact that, as you read this, it’s literally playing in theaters.

In an interview setting, Waititi can’t help but be quick-witted at funny. And, ahead, he’s certainly that. But, as a parallel to his movie that he’s promoting, he can turn on a dime and be sternly serious. An (at times uncharacteristically emotional) Waititi wants you to know two things about Jo Jo Rabbit before you see it: The first is the less you know the better, so I’ll skip any sort of plot description here. The second is, for the life of him, he can’t believe he has to make a satire telling people that “Nazis are bad,” but, yes, here we are.

Of course, Waititi is also returning for Thor: Love and Thunder, and somehow convinced Natalie Portman to return, who seemed done with the franchise. Ahead, he explains how he convinced her. And he also talks a bit about his experience directing an episode of the new Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, and voicing IG-11.

When this movie premiered at Toronto you said that you didn’t know how to explain this movie without freaking people out. Do you still feel that way?

Oh, I don’t bother explaining it. Just sit and watch the movie. A lot of people say that they prefer not knowing anything about the film going in.

Yes, I didn’t know anything.

Yeah, and I think it’s a better way to see it. I don’t even like going to a gallery, having to read all about the piece of art that I’m about to see. I don’t see the point in that. I just want to go and look at it and figure it out for myself. I’m not the kind of person who needs to read articles first, or think the poster should just be a big explanation of the film before you go in.

Though, your movie poster makes it clear this is “a satire.”

Yes, but that’s because Americans need everything explained to them [laughs]. They just have no idea how to take anything unless it’s explained to them and also unless it’s compared to something they’ve seen before.

I guess maybe now there is a segment who might look at Hitler on the poster and go, “What’s this guy about? Let’s go check this out.”

Yeah, I guess so. There’s definitely a lot of dumb people out there.

There are.

And there are probably places in the world where people see that poster and go, “Yeah, definitely, let’s go see that Hitler film. That sounds cool. Because I’m sure Hitler was a really funny guy.” Which is worrying.

I’ve never heard that sentence before in my life, by the way.

What?

It’s even shocking to hear, that someone might think Hitler’s a “funny guy.”

There are still a lot of Hitler fans out there.

Yeah, there sure are.

And then maybe they read the words “anti-hate” and they get turned off.

Are you trying to reach the people who haven’t been infected by that yet? Because I don’t think the people who think fondly of Hitler are going to see this and go, “Man, I had it all wrong.”

Well, no. Definitely I want to reach the younger audience. Because I don’t want to really preach to the converted. If there is a way of introducing younger audiences to these ideas, that this can happen again, which is really the message. I’m not trying to make a movie explaining what happens in World War II. You know, that’s pointless to try to explain that. These ideas are very contemporary.

Unfortunately, that’s true.

And if they happened then, then they can happen again. So, don’t be a Nazi.

Last time we spoke it just seemed shocking you did a Thor movie. You even said you can’t believe you agreed to make a Thor movie. This movie makes more sense in your filmography.

Oh yeah, more than Thor. Well, maybe it’s right. But even, I haven’t had any worries or concerns making this. A lot of people ask if I should be very nervous. I never really felt nervous at all. You’ve seen the film. It’s not a controversial film! It’s not massively challenging to people just because it’s got some jokes and me doing Hitler. It’s not a film that’s like bad boy’s cinema. Like, “we need boobs.” Or, “oh yeah, we need all the attention because we’re going to do stuff just for shock value. We want the crazy press.” No, we don’t. We just don’t like that kind of attention. We don’t like talking about ourselves. We don’t like people talking about us, and we don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves.

Well, I think it depends on what the definition of controversy is, I guess because I think anything inherently with Hitler as a main character is going to spark at least a conversation. I don’t know if that’s controversial.

That’s fine. Point of conversation, but some people say, “Boy this film is polarizing.” Or it’s divisive.

I mean, Obama wore a tan suit once, and that was controversial. So there are different levels.

But only in America would the word divisive be seen as a negative thing. Everywhere else it’s like, that’s just normal. Everything’s divisive. Really. Even the safest thing becomes divisive because it’s safe.

You’d think, “Nazis are bad,“ wouldn’t be controversial. Now, we are at, “Well, you’ve got to hear both sides.”

“Well, there were fine people on both sides.” I guess the part that’s so weird, there’s a thin part of this film where I guess I am saying that there were some okay people on the side of the Germans. There were actually some good Germans. But they didn’t leave the army, leave the country. They were still patriotic enough to accept it.

Fox Searchlight

Well, there was, I can’t remember his real name, the guy Tom Cruise played in Valkyrie

Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. I make a reference to him in the movie. The one-eyed pirate.

Yes. I should know his name more than, “Tom Cruise.” You’ve had this idea for this movie for a long time. Was Hitler always going to be portrayed as a buffoon?

I think the only way to do it is him being a silly. I guess maybe there’s a little bit of Beetlejuice in some ways, but doesn’t have magic. Did you know that I didn’t want to play Hitler? It came about just under a year before we started shooting when Fox Searchlight said they weren’t going to make it. They said we only want to make it if you play him.

They said you had to?

Yeah.

Why?

Because they knew that I’d written it and it’s in a style and way that I knew. If anyone else had played it, they wouldn’t have had my style for it. I think any other actor, and I agree, would’ve probably overthought it. Probably done too much research. They probably would’ve studied Hitler. And I didn’t do any. Well, I’ve read about five pages of a Hitler biography.

Did you even need to do that? I feel like I have a good sense of where that guy is coming from.

Someone just recommended it to me because apparently it’s a very interesting book. But I just realized I didn’t want to do any research on this guy. I was just going to put the mustache on, because I’m not playing him. I’m playing a 10-year-old in an adult’s body.

Who did you have in mind that you wanted to play him?

I mean honestly, no one.

When you were writing you didn’t imagine anyone?

I don’t write like that. I’ve never written for anybody. You always go through a list of actors. And I’m sure that all of the normal ones were one that list. And then I ended up making Thor. And so like six and a half years later is when I finally got to come back to the script. And at that point, that’s when they said, “You should play the role.” And I also agree with that because if you’re a big star playing Hitler, I think it would’ve overshadowed the whole point of the film. And so I’m actually glad that we never went down that route.

So you’re coming back for Thor: Love and Thunder. I think most people were under the impression Natalie Portman basically would never do another Marvel movie. What did you have to say to her to convince her whatever her complaints were before, they would be rectified?

I mean, I didn’t have to do much. And, I think for her it was about making the character interesting. And I think especially when you’re playing “an Earthling who’s just into science” in one of these big movies, it kind of gets a bit sort of, you know… After doing that for two movies, you want to do something different. I think for her, the thing that might’ve been attractive about this is being able to step it up and be a superhero. And I’d rather her do that than play a scientist. And it’s also from the comics as well. So it’s not something we made up.

You tweeted your IG-11 Funko Pop from The Mandalorian and said, “I’m another action figure.”

They’re so cool though.

Now you’re IG-11.

I have a director version, a Korg version, now an IG-11 version.

Last time I spoke to you, I mentioned the “infamous tweet.” And you were like, “Why is it infamous?”

Which one?

The one where someone asked you about directing Star Wars and you deadpanned you like to finish your movies. But now you’re directing The Mandalorian.

I know. That’s the problem, you have to explain the joke. Like I’d really be serious about tweeting that out knowing that might get back to Lucasfilm and ruin my whole chance. Yeah, right.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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