Taika Waititi was determined not to play one of the most hated men who ever lived with historical accuracy. Instead, the Jojo Rabbit director decided to use comedy while bringing Adolf Hitler to life in the satirical film that made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday.
Jojo Rabbit is set during the Second World War and tells the story of a lonely German boy named Jojo “Rabbit” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), whose only ally is an imaginary friend modeled after Adolf Hitler. His life is flipped upside down when he discovers his mom Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has a Jewish girl hidden in their attic.
“I didn’t want to portray Hitler in an authentic way,” he explained during a visit to the EW and PEOPLE video suite at TIFF. “I was not prepared to go that deep. Also, because he’s an imaginary friend, he’s conjured by the mind of a 10-year-old boy, so he is a 10-year-old.”
He added, “The thing that struck me the most is that, as he’s putting on that costume and looking in the mirror and realizing how childish and immature a lot of how they built their world was. If you look at the details on the uniforms, there’s lightning bolts on the belt buckles, a skull and crossbones on their hats. So it was like this make-believe type of thing, which is a boy’s fantasy when they were creating all that stuff.”
When Waititi was fully dressed up as the leader of the Third Reich, he didn’t like what he saw. “It annoyed me a lot catching my reflection in the mirror and seeing myself. I felt so ridiculous and it did look ridiculous.”
Jojo Rabbit opens in theaters on Oct. 18.