'Jojo Rabbit' Breakout Archie Yates Talks Burning Books for His First Feature

Jojo Rabbit - Archie - handout -Publicity still - H 2019
Fox Searchlight Pictures

"I'd just come back from school, and I was like, 'Ugh, I'm so tired. I hate science!'" says the young British actor about the day he found out he had won a role in Taika Waititi's satire.

Archie Yates' least favorite class is science. Luckily for the young British actor, he quickly found a reprieve, albeit temporarily, from the arduous days of school.

Archie Yates plays the scene-stealing Yorki, the adorable straight-shooting best friend of lead character Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), in Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit.

Yates remembers the day he found out he won his first ever acting role: "I'd just come back from school, and I was like, 'Ugh, I'm so tired. I hate science!'" He adds, "And then my mum told me I got the part. I was so excited that I used all the rest of my energy to run back downstairs, eat a grape, come back up and [scream]."

Less than a week later, the actor was in Prague on his first film set, several hundred miles away from his science class. "I did have a tutor though," he says, begrudgingly.

Set in Nazi Germany, Waititi's antihate satire opened in New York and Los Angeles this past weekend, earning a massive $70,000 theater average, and will expand nationwide this weekend.

The movie centers on Jojo, a 10-year-old in the Hitler Youth who finds out his mother is hiding a Jewish girl and must figure out what to do with the help of his imaginary best friend, Adolf Hitler (played goofily by Waititi). Yorki is Jojo's best friend and, outside the imaginary fuhrer, his closest confidant.

The U.K.-based Yates, 10 at the time of filming, had never considered a career as an actor when he was approached about reading for a feature film. "We just got signed up for the audition with pretty much no explanation and got some lines," says Yates. He was tapped to read for the lead role of Jojo until casting directors came to a different decision. "They noticed I was more of a Yorki," he explains.

During his three weeks on the production, one of Yates' favorite scenes to film took place at the Hitler Youth camp, when the young recruits were tasked with burning a large pile of books. But hindsight has given him a different outlook on the sequence.

"We were just going absolutely bonkers with it," he says. "When I filmed it, I thought, 'Haha, this is so fun.' But when I see it now, I think, 'That was absolutely horrific! It was really demonic.'"

Not only did Yates get to make his feature film debut this year, he also got to experience his first Hollywood premiere with Jojo Rabbit, held at the Hollywood American Legion Post 43 last week.

"We went to the pool and then did a bit of a shopping spree," says Yates of his time in Los Angeles, which included a particularly fruitful trip to Target. "We got some crisps."

After Jojo, Yates has thought about pursuing more acting projects. "One of my dreams is to play a villain in a film, at least once," he says.

But, as he is so young with several years' worth of school and science classes ahead of him, Yates is realistic about his aspirations. "Thinking forward, I might have other things I want to do and worry about in my life, so I don't really know where it's going to go."