Oscars: 10 Things to Know About Best Picture Nominee 'Jojo Rabbit'

9:48 AM 2/9/2020

by Katherine Schaffstall

Taika Waititi's anti-hate satire is up for six Academy Awards.

Jojo Rabbit Still 7 - Publicity - H 2020
Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox

Jojo Rabbit is heading to the 2020 Oscars with six nominations.

The Taika Waititi anti-hate satire is up for best picture, supporting actress (Scarlett Johansson), adapted screenplay, production design, costume design and film editing.

The film follows a 10-year-old boy, Jojo "Rabbit" Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), as he finds his place in an increasingly fascistic Germany and creates an imaginary friend named Adolf Hitler (Waititi). His worldview drastically changes when he learns that his mother, Rosie (Johansson), is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Meeting his new peer forces him to come to terms with his blind nationalism.

In addition to starring in Jojo Rabbit, Waititi directed, wrote and co-produced the pic. Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen and Sam Rockwell also star in the film based on Christine Leunens' book Caging Skies.

Waititi's screenplay has already won awards, including best adapted screenplay honors at the BAFTAs and at the Writers Guild Awards.

From Waititi using creative liberties and adding the character of Hitler while adapting the screenplay to the process behind creating the setting of Nazi Germany and designing the costumes, the cast and crew have been open with The Hollywood Reporter about the process behind making Jojo Rabbit.

Here are 10 behind-the-scenes facts about the acclaimed film.

  • Waititi Took Creative Liberties With the Source Material

    While the film is based on Leunens' 2004 novel Caging Skies, it's fair to say that Waititi took creative liberties when developing Jojo Rabbit. For instance, an imaginary Hitler does not make an appearance in the book. The director and writer, who ultimately went on to play Hitler, came up with the idea himself.

    While Waititi knew he wanted to make a movie about World War II, he understood that he was not an expert in heavy drama. "I felt like if I was going to reach any audience or try to make something that meant something, I couldn't do a film that dramatic," he told THR.

    Waititi tapped out the script throughout 2011, just after his coming-of-age drama Boy had become the highest-grossing native-made movie in New Zealand. The filmmaker said that he added "elements that you wouldn't normally have with these films."

    Studios did not initially want to buy Waititi's comedy featuring Nazis, though the script did develop a following and in 2012 landed on the Black List of top unproduced screenplays.

  • The Costume Designer Said Waititi "Was the Driving Force on the Costumes"

    Nominated costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo said Waititi "was the driving force on the costumes."

    "He was very specific in what he wanted the costumes to be, and we had long intensive conversations about the looks," Rubeo told THR about Waititi's involvement. "We wanted it to look like wartime through the eyes of a child and do something unexpected."

    Rubeo referenced the wartime aesthetics of Italian Neorealist '40s films to design the costumes. Her goal was that "the movie should be World War II in the summertime with a brightness as seen through Jojo’s eyes. We did not want this to be a [black-and-white] documentary."

    The costume designer dressed Johansson's character Rosie in custom pieces and a few vintage items from Italian costume houses. "Rosie had class and taste, and I wanted to portray her in a way that she might have been a friend of Elsa Schiaparelli who would have had the designer do something for her in better times," explained Rubeo. "I flew to New York to meet with Scarlett, and she is such an artist and knew exactly who her character was. We decided she should wear pants, as this was an era when pants came into fashion but [were] not accessible to many people."

  • A Personal Appeal Helped Secure the Rights to The Beatles' Music

    Following the film's 40-day production period, Waititi reached out to Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino, who had scored projects including Ratatouille and Jurassic World, to work on the film.

    "He was like, 'Do you remember what you did for Up?' And I go, 'Yeah, I remember that.' And he goes, 'Just do that,'" Giacchino recalled to THR.

    While Waititi and editor Tom Eagles spliced together footage, Giacchino and a 35-piece orchestra recorded about 45 minutes of fairy-tale-inspired music at Abbey Road Studios in London.

    Waititi wanted the soundtrack to be filled with more contemporary music, including Beatles songs. While researching for the script, he watched documentaries on the Hitler Youth and noticed a creepy historical echo. "It struck me, the similarities between the crowd at Hitler's rallies and the frenzy at Beatles concerts," Waititi said.

    Scoring the rights to German-language Beatles songs for a comedy about Nazism proved to be a difficult feat. "The first response is, 'Um, I don't think we want to do that,'" said Giacchino. Having previously worked with Paul McCartney, the composer reached out to him directly. "Once his people saw the film and understood, they made it happen," he revealed.

  • Waititi Had No Interest in Accurately Portraying Hitler: "Screw This Guy"

    While participating in THR's Writer Roundtable, Waititi revealed that the version of Hitler that he wrote and portrayed "shares nothing with the real guy other than the mustache."

    "He is conjured from the mind of a 10-year-old, so he can only know what a 10-year-old knows," he said. "I had no interest in writing an authentic portrayal, or even when I played him, I had no interest in actually putting in the effort or putting in the research because I just didn't think he deserved it."

    The writer added that he didn't want to give the real Hitler the "satisfaction" of Waititi doing research on him. "Screw this guy. I'm not gonna do that," he said.

    "There's only one moment when I used some of one of his speeches from one of his rallies. This moment when he gets very serious and it's really Jojo's conscience kind of trying — this sort of dark side of his conscience trying desperately to hold onto him — and everything else I tried to write him as visions of myself in there and how I used to think of him when I was a kid and how children perceive the world," he explained. "All of that is kind of filtered through that character."

    "I wanted to tell a story about kids witnessing the behavior of grown-ups — especially during times of conflict and war — because I've never seen films like that, I've never seen films where it was told really through a child's lens," the writer, director and star told THR at the film's Los Angeles premiere in October. "It became particularly important to me after becoming a father and realizing that children are constantly watching us, they're always looking to us for advice and for wisdom and for life lessons, and sometimes we fail them, but when we really fail them is in times of war. War is such a stupid thing and it makes no sense, and when children see us behaving this way, it only perpetuates the behavior."

    Waititi also revealed that he was inspired to make Jojo Rabbit after reading a statistic that 41 percent of Americans and 66 percent of American millennials had never heard of Auschwitz. "That really struck me because I felt like at the end of the war they said, 'We should never let this happen again, we'll never forget,' and it's 2019 and kind of feels like we're starting to forget," he said. The filmmaker added that he hoped the movie would continue the conversation and keep memories of those lost in the Holocaust alive. 

  • CineMart Gave 'Jojo Rabbit' Its Start

    Back in February 2012, an early script for Jojo Rabbit was just one of 36 projects being pitched to producers at CineMart, the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s co-production market.

    Producer Chelsea Winstanley told THR that she was invited to Rotterdam after attending the European Audio Visual Entrepreneurs producers workshop in 2011, where she first pitched the film. She met Sonja Heinen, then head of the Berlinale co-production market, at the workshop. At the time, Berlin and Rotterdam had teamed to form the "Rotterdam-Berlinale Express," which had the goal of helping projects get presented in both markets almost back-to-back.

    "They were like, 'Er, excuse me, this should be coming, please, please, please put it in, we’d love to have this project,'" Winstanley said of Jojo Rabbit. "It was kind of a quick turnaround, but we did it."

    Winstanley added that the festival was the right place to pitch the satirical film. "That’s probably the perfect thing about CineMart — you can take a project like that and people aren't going to go, 'Er, excuse me,'" she said. "I mean, our schedule was full of meetings. People were really just genuinely interested."

    The team behind the film knew that they needed some financial partners to create the World War II Germany setting. "We were looking for interest from people in Europe and really just to test out what people’s reaction would be," she said, while adding that the response was positive. "We were so surprised that people actually got it."

    Jojo Rabbit didn't leave Rotterdam or Berlin with the funds or partners in place to begin production, though Winstanley said the trip to CineMart was incredibly worthwhile and helped the pic take shape.

    "It's really interesting simply to test out the market in terms of response. Is it something that makes people cock their head and go, 'Hmm, that’s interesting'?" she said. "We definitely got a lot of follow-ups and contacts. People were very keen. And then it was a matter of looking at the whole jigsaw puzzle and working out how you put things together."

  • Mel Brooks Is an Outspoken Supporter of the Film

    Producer Carthew Neal spoke to THR about Brooks' support of the film, which he said "was incredible."

    "First he said something [supportive] on a chat show about the film," Neal said of Brooks. "Then we were at the AFI luncheon and he came up to present an award and he went off script and said, 'You know, I have to say this: Taika, you didn't ask my permission to put Hitler in the movie!' And then he went on to say that Taika had really nailed it. Taika was just in a trance.

    "I don't think he could believe what was happening," Neal continued of the director. "To have someone like that who paved the path give him a compliment — he leaned over to me and said, 'If nothing else happens, it was so worth it.'"

    Neal added that he was also pleased with the support of the film from members of the older generation. "When someone from the older generation praised it, that was very special," he said. "We screened the film a lot with the Jewish community. And when you get feedback from leaders and scholars in the community and they comment on the value of retelling the story of the Holocaust in different ways, that's really what matters, you know? That helped us see the power and the importance of the film."

    Added Neal, "And when you hear stories about parents taking their kids to Jojo Rabbit, or kids taking their parents, and then discussing together what happened in World War II and about learning to think for yourself as a child — that's really exciting. We don't get to be party to those conversations, but knowing that they are happening is really special."

  • The Cast and Crew Called Waititi "Brilliant" and "Fun" to Work With

    The cast and crew of Jojo Rabbit opened up about what it was like to work with Waititi.

    "Taika's really brilliant," Rockwell told THR.

    Wilson added that Waititi is "the hottest comedy director out there right now," while McKenzie said "he doesn't seem to really care how old you are. He's got a similar relationship with anyone of any age, gender, whatever."

    Producer Neal said that Waititi is "amazing" with actors. "He makes it fun," he explained. "He wants to include them in the process."

    "I find it adds a whole other quality to the actor-director relationship when it's an actor that's directing you," said Johansson. "Taika's really able to sit in moments, even if they're uncomfortable. We both, I think, exist in the same space."

    Meanwhile, Davis said that the director "cheers" him up.

    The cast also discussed what it was like to work with Waititi during the Toronto International Film Festival.

    "It's really fun. It's interesting. The crew's great. There's a lot of energy, which is fun," Davis said.

    Added Rockwell, "It doesn't feel like work. It feels like you're having fun, and it feels like play a little bit."

    McKenzie said that working with Waititi was "easy-going and fun." She continued, "You have the freedom to kind explore the character and try different things and there's no embarrassment or you don't feel vulnerable in front of the whole crew."

  • Waititi Was Not the First Choice to Play Hitler

    While discussing the process of getting the film financed and made, Winstanley said that Waititi did not originally plan on playing Hitler in the film.

    “God, no, imagine that!” the producer told THR.

    While pitching the project, they originally told potential co-producers that they would be getting “big A-listers to play this crazy character Hitler." The producer did not reveal who they wanted to originally play the role.

    Despite not originally planning to play Hitler, Waititi has remained passionate about telling the story. During the film's Los Angeles premiere, Waititi explained why he wanted to take a spoof approach to such a dark time in history. "The only real way to fight bullies is with humor. Comedy is very, very important weapon against bigotry and hate and intolerance, and we have to continue to use it because it's a great way of disarming bullies and poking enough holes in their belief system," he said.

  • Rosie and Jojo's Home Was Designed to Give a Sense of "Comfort and Security"

    The interior of Rosie and Jojo's home was built at Barrandov Studios in Prague, while the exterior is a Baroque-era stone cottage in the Czech Republic.

    Production designer Ra Vincent told THR that he viewed Rosie as a stylish woman and envisioned that most of the home's interior would be renovated in the 1930s art deco style with "sumptuous, deeply saturated colors" that give a sense of "comfort and security."

    Meanwhile, the bedroom of Jojo's deceased sister Inge has a melancholy feel and displays artifacts from her life. "The room is very clean; it's like a memorial to the lost daughter," Vincent said. "We are only talking about a few years, but it's still a device to let the audience know we were going back in time a little bit."

    He added that the furniture in Inge's room has a more Victorian style than in the rest of the house, which included antiques from dealers or private homes.

  • Johansson is a Double Nominee at the 2020 Oscars

    Johansson earned both her first and second Oscar nominations this year.

    In addition to being up for best supporting actress, she also nabbed a best actress nod for her work in Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story.

    Johansson's nods are the first double acting nominations in 13 years. Cate Blanchett was previously nominated for best actress and best supporting actress in Elizabeth: The Golden Age and I'm Not There, respectively, in 2007. Johansson's noms make her the latest member of the elite 11-person club of actors who have achieved such a feat.

    Fellow first-time nominee Cynthia Erivo is also up for two awards at the upcoming ceremony. The Harriet star will compete against Johansson for best actress, while she's also nominated for writing the biopic's "Stand Up" alongside Joshuah Brian Campbell.

    Four out of the five nominees for best director — first-time nominee Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), Sam Mendes (1917), Todd Phillips (Joker) and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) — are triple nominees this year, receiving nods for their adapted or original screenplays and their producing efforts. Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) is the only filmmaker that wasn't nominated for best screenplay, though he did nab a second mention for producing. Steven Zaillian, who wrote the script for The Irishman, was nominated in the best adapted screenplay category.