In the upcoming Jojo Rabbit, the writer-director Taika Waititi plays a jumping, dancing… [checks notes] Hitler? The long-awaited film, which premieres this weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival, stars the Thor: Ragnarok director as a German boy's imaginary friend, who is also, yes, Adolf Hitler. Perhaps to no surprise, getting the industry hyped on that role—and the very premise of Jojo Rabbit itself—was tough, Waititi recently told the Hollywood Reporter.
It might seem like Waititi's "subversive anti-hate satire" was born out of the current political moment, but Jojo Rabbit has been in the works for eight years. Waititi began adapting Christine Leunens's novel, Caging Skies, back in 2011, and as THR reported, it initially "scared off virtually everyone," including Waititi, who had "misgivings" of his own. "I hate Nazis. And I don't really care too much about making a film about their point of view," said Waititi, who was born in New Zealand and whose background is Maori and Russian-Jewish.
After doubling down on the adaption's satirical approach by turning Hitler into an imaginary friend, Waititi had to sway studios and actors. Every A-list actor who was offered the role of Hitler passed, despite reportedly loving 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?" Waititi told THR.
Getting producers interested presented yet another challenge. "'It's about this little kid and he finds this girl in his attic and his best friend is Hitler and …' You can see them [thinking], 'Oh my God, no. There is no fucking way I'm going to have anything to do with this. Bye,'" Waititi recalled. After many meetings and pitches, Fox Searchlight took Jojo Rabbit on, on the terms that Waititi would play Hitler—a role that he felt "weird about" but accepted because it felt "kind of now or never."
Clearly, for Waititi, it's been a long, tough path from Jojo Rabbit's speck of an idea to national theater screens, but only time will tell whether or not that will all pay off. Turning Hitler into humor is dicey territory, per Jewish news site The Forward, and it could prove tricky in Germany especially, The Hollywood Reporter claimed in a separate piece today. Given Disney's acquisition of Fox, Variety suggested that the controversial movie could "test Disney's patience" with its edginess. It'll be up to viewers to decide whether the "anti-hate satire" actually makes a statement about the current political climate and whether all of those risks were worth it when Jojo Rabbit opens in the United States next month.
Jojo Rabbit hits theaters on October 18. Until then, you can watch the full trailer here.