By Annika Tomlin
New Zealand actress Thomasin McKenzie, who portrays Jewish girl Elsa Korr in Taika Waititi’s satirical black comedy “Jojo Rabbit,” took her role seriously.
Before filming in Prague, McKenzie says she read Anne Frank’s diary, watched “Schindler’s List” and visited many significant Jewish synagogues and cemeteries.
“I wanted to be sensitive to the fact and aware that I was representing a large group of people who have been through such atrocities,” says McKenzie, a third-generation actress whose breakout role was in the 2018 film “Leave No Trace.”
One of the most difficult places to get into character, she says, was the Terenzin concentration camp outside Prague.
“You can feel the horror come through the walls,” she says.
Written and directed by Waititi, the film tells the story of Jojo Betzler, a 10-year-old boy in Nazi Germany who is portrayed by Roman Griffin Davis. When he encounters McKenzie’s character, he faces the struggle of becoming a part of the Hitler Youth versus helping her.
But he has an unlikely imaginary friend—Adolf Hitler (Waititi)—who regularly gives him advice, whether he asks for it or not.
Though “Jojo Rabbit” is based on the novel “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens, Waititi took liberties with the story, giving a more modern approach toward the events of World War II.
“Taika made it his own and added more hope and joy,” McKenzie explains, adding of the dialogue, “There’s a lot more color in the film.”
“Jojo Rabbit” also stars Scarlett Johansson as Rosie Betzler, Jojo’s mother who hides Korr in the attic; Rebel Wilson as Frälein Rahm; Sam Rockwell as Capt. Klenzendorf; and Stephen Merchant as Capt. Deertz.
And these more experienced cast members proved generous, according to McKenzie. In working with the film’s younger stars, she says they often provided advice.
“They were incredibly grounded,” McKenzie says of her costars.
She similarly enjoyed working with Waititi, who is known for films like “Thor: Ragnarok,” “What We Do in the Shadows” and “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople.”
“The opportunity to work with Taika was really exciting to me because he’s a Kiwi legend,” McKenzie says.
“Taika has so much wit. He’s so witty and brings so much joy to people through his humor. He also has a really big heart. This film means a lot to him.”
At the end of the day, however, McKenzie says “Jojo Rabbit” reminds its audiences to take their power seriously, as it shows the influence of adults in power on children.
“It reminds us how easily influenced and manipulated young people and children are,” she says.