Taika Waititi and Stephen Merchant Break Down a Scene from ‘Jojo Rabbit’

published on July 2, 2020

– Oh, hello there

I didn't notice you over there

Hi, I'm Tiaka Waititi

– And I'm Stephen Merchant

– And we're here to break down a scene

from my new film, Jojo Rabbit

This is–

– Notes on a Scene

– This is notes on a Scene

– Notes on a Scene
♪ Notes on a Scene ♪

[clattering]

[dramatic music]

– The genesis of this
project started back in 2010

when I read a book called Caging
Skies by Christine Leunens

And told the poignant story of a young boy

growing up in Nazi Germany
during that second World War

And he discovers that his mother

is hiding a young girl in his attic

I felt it's very necessary
to keep reminding ourselves

that the events of World
War II, and also basically

all wars, are something that

need to be avoided at all costs

And if we stop telling these stories

there's a danger that we'll forget

the events of World War II and
there's another deeper danger

that some of those things
may repeat themselves

– My initial reaction reading the script

was oh, here we go, yet another boy

and his imaginary Hitler script

How many of these have I read?

But this one seemed to have a surprisingly

fresh take on that well-worn story

And at some point every tall Englishman

is asked to play a Nazi in a film

And I was holding out for the big bucks,

didn't get them with this project

– I got them

– I'm not even sure I got paid

So we're about to watch a
scene in which my character,

who's a Gestapo agent,

Captain Deertz
– What, I haven't heard that?

– Enters the home of Jojo Rabbit

It is spooky, it's
sneaky, scary Gestapo way

Heil Hitler

There's the money shot

– Oh there he is, the big man right there

– [Stephen] Steve

– Money, money man

I wanted to bring something
in to sort of disrupt

the relationship between Jojo and Elsa

I thought, what better way than to have

their home raided by the Gestapo

There's Jojo

– Allow me to introduce myself,

I am Captain Herman Deertz
of the Falconhime Gestapo

With me Herr Mueler, Herr Junker,

Herr Klum, and Herr Frosch

May we come in?

Thank you so much

Heil Hitler
– Heil Hitler

– Heil Hitler
– Heil Hitler

– Heil Hitler
– Heil Hitler

– Heil Hitler
– Heil Hitler

– Heil Hitler
– Heil Hitler

– It's always a challenge making a film

that has a mixture of comedy and drama

But I test my films all
the time with audiences

And then I go and I adjust the film,

and I maybe bring the
jokes down over here,

and bring a bit of pathos up

And it's about just sort of
testing it again and again

until you feel like
there's a tonal balance

that, where it's not making light

of the serious subject matter

And it's not just like a full-on drama

And you do want that in a film

You want tension, you want conflict

And you want a audience to
worry for the characters

and to feel like the
stakes are pretty high

I always wondered, do
they have to Heil Hitler

every time they enter a room?

It seems like they had
to do it all the time

And it just felt like, it would've

just taken ages for them to do anything

Especially if there's a
group of like 30 of them

And they turn up and they're like,

quick, we gotta go and do our thing

Hang on, Heil Hitler, Heil Hitler

I feel like it's something
that Monty Python

would've probably done if they did

a sketch full of Gestapo officers

And then they get to work

They go in and they start
tearing the place apart

And looking for information

[dramatic music]

So this film is shot by Mihai Malaimare

He's a fantastic Romanian cinematographer

And so he's responsible for
just how great the film looks

Coupled with this wonderful
production design

I wanted to show that
they had a bit of money

Often in these films the
circumstances are very grim

And just from doing research,

Germany at the time was a
very very colorful place

The Germans were very
into the latest trends,

and fashions, and textiles, and designs

The facade in Germany, those colorful

celebration of what they think is,

they're moving into the
future, this bright future

When really behind their facade,

everything was crumbling
and falling apart

[dramatic music]

– Hey Jojo

Hey guys, good to see you

– [Tiaka] Here comes Sam Rockwell

– My bicycle got a flat
tire, so I carried it

– Captain Klenzendorf, Heil Hitler

– Heil Hitler

– Heil Hitler
– Heil Hitler

– Heil Hitler
– Heil Hitler

– Heil Hitler
– Heil Hitler

– Heil Hitler
– Heil Hitler

– We're not doing anything,
we're just watching this movie

I'm fascinated by this

This is really good

So here you'll notice that
they say, Heil Hitler

I think it's a record maybe,
31 times in one minute

– Congratulations

Is that the right thing to say?

– Yeah, thank you

– You're welcome

– No one else has said congratulations

And the point of having
all those Heil Hitlers,

apart from, I think, being
quite a funny moment,

is also just to again, point out

just how ridiculous Nazis were

'Cause they were so
obsessed with these rules

that they'd created for themselves,

which I think were rules
that I think quite soon

after they created them,
they're a bit like, oh no

Why did we invent this stupid thing?

That's what I like to think about Hitler

Soon after he adopted that mustache,

he decided he didn't want it

But then he was known for it
and he couldn't get rid of it

– That's of course it, yeah

Do you think he experimented
with other ones prior to that?

He perhaps had that kind
of large classic handlebar

Maybe the sort of

– [Tiaka] Like this, sort of, like that

– [Stephen] Yup

– [Tiaka] And then like that

He would've had that

And then he would've,
this one time I heard

he grew his mustache so long it went

round the back of his head

– [Stephen] Wow

– [Tiaka] And then up on the top

And this is all a mustache

– [Stephen] That was all mustache?

– It's all mustache
– Extraordinary

– And then then tied it
into a little bow like that

And he was very proud of that

And then also the mustache,
he split it off like that

– [Stephen] Split into eyebrows

– [Tiaka] Into eyebrows

And then connected them there

– But I understand 'cause it was quite

an operation every
morning when he woke up

– Oh yeah, just to tie that into the bow

He had to braid it

You know what, I'm just gonna
have the really tiny one,

beneath my nostrils, that looks like two

very black slugs have
crawled out of my nose

[sighing]

– You know Freddy Finkel

– Heil Hitler
– Heil Hitler

– Heil Hitler
– Heil Hitler

– So usually I do not storyboard

But actually, I think I
probably storyboarded this one

because there's so many people

But then I got bored of
drawing so many people

in the tiny little rectangle

– Is that why later in the movie

there's just much fewer people?

– Yeah

That's right

'Cause I don't like drawing storyboards

– Yeah, you decided there would only be

two people in every scene, smart

– So, did I miss anything?

– No, no, we were just
Heil Hitlering the boy

And then Heil Hitlering yourself

And then, of course Heil
Hitlering Freddy Finkel

And now we are in the midst
of a routine inspection

– So we're talking about Sam's eye here

He's got a dead eye, or I
don't think it's a glass eye,

it's a dead eye

Oh shoot, I sort of sprayed
this thing, I'm sorry

But that's quite nice, isn't it,

two little pink dots on Alfie

I think I'm gonna make
him more a polka dot guy

I think it's actually quite
keeping with his character

– [Stephen] This is a wonderful insight

into the filmmaking process

– Back to Sam's eye

We had to find a reason for him not to be

forced to the front lines to be fighting

And I thought, well
maybe he's missing a leg

That'd be a good reason to
not have to go and fight

Or an arm

I just don't trust that
trick where you stick

your arm behind your back, I
don't know if that looks real

And so I just thought, just
have him missing an eye

And that's the story behind that eye

Now let's see what happens to these dots

when I press play again

Oh now it's just on the wall

– You've highlighted my nose

And what brings you here, Captain?

– Oh we were just passing by

and we thought we'd drop off
some pamphlets for the boy

He works for us

– [Stephen] There's a good example of me

using my height for comic effect

– Classic dominant staredown

Which you're very well known for

Looking down with those piercing blue–

Oh, you just did it to me then

– Well it was important
for me in this scene

that despite the fact we
were, please pay attention,

this is important for young filmmakers

It was important to me
that this character's

both kind of buffoonish
but also intimidating

I think it was more just about
the sort of style of delivery

being conversational 'cause I think–

– There's a danger isn't there,

'cause I was worried it was oh

gonna be a typical Gestapo scene

But what's really disarming,
and what makes your character

even creepier is the fact
that he is so sort of casual

– Well in my mind, these
men who were in the Gestapo

were often quite petty bureaucrats

Who probably were not terribly
well-respected people

They'd have been perhaps bank managers

or accountants, nothing wrong with that

I'm not suggesting they're all Nazis

– They're not Nazis
– No

But I'm just saying, these were
probably just regular people

that suddenly got given this station

and they had the power of
life and death over people

They weren't actually
doing any of the atrocities

themselves, they were just
sort of allowing it to occur

And that makes them
all the more despicable

and all the more abhorrent

'Cause they're sort of weak
pathetic people, you know,

but they've got this little badge

that gives them enormous power

– Exactly

– [Stephen] If you recall
in this scene I was already,

as I'm freakishly tall,
I'm taller than everybody

who's ever worked with
me, and then you stuck me

on a box to make me even taller

– I did do that

– So I'm actually stood on a box there

– This is Sam's ear,
that's where you spend

all the money when you
work with Sam Rockwell

– On the ears
– On the left ear

And that's why you'll
see in many of the shots

in the film it's just
from this angle on him

– [Stephen] 10 bucks, 106 bucks

– $106 for that ear

– Oh you know how it is

Every day we take a call

Hello, is that the Gestapo

I believe there's a communist
hiding behind my fridge

We go around to investigate

It's just some mold

So not far off

It's all part of the job

I think it fits into a long tradition of

movies that've used
humor to satirize Hitler,

that date back into the 40s itself

when Hitler was still in power

Whether it be Chaplin's,
The Great Dictator,

To Be or Not to Be, Ernst Lubitsch film,

obviously famously Mel Brooks in the 60s

It seems strange to me that 80 years later

we're feeling ever so
worried that suddenly

this subject can't be mocked

And again, the subject,
you know, the nonsense

of Hitler's ideology and
the kind of absurdity

of those beliefs, which
when as soon as you

poke holes in them or
begin to question them,

they begin to fall apart in your hands

And that's I think what you
dramatize with the little boy

You know, as soon as he
starts to question his beliefs

because there's finally
someone that makes him do it,

he realizes that they're
sort of built on sand

And the idea that you can't
sort of mock that as a theme

or tear that apart seems weird to me

It actually offends me

– Yeah, no, me too
– I'm offended

– I've offended you?

– No, I'm offended by
people that think we can't

make films about this subject

– What irks me

– Yeah, say it

– I love the work irk

What irks me is people
who say that comedy is not

an effective tool, or it's not something

to be taken seriously as an art form

And it's one of the most
powerful tools that we have

to fight against oppression,
and bigotry, and intolerance

And again, as you say, to poke holes,

and to make fun of these belief systems

and these people who promote hate

– Yeah, people like us who work in comedy

it's as though we're
constantly being accused

that we're not serious

Or you can't deal with this subject

'cause you won't treat it seriously

But we're some of the most serious people

I know I'm certainly very serious

– [Tiaka] I am

– As you can tell from the
tone of my voice right now

– And the way that you're
staring at me like that

– Yeah, isn't that quite intimidating?

Yeah, we're very serious people

– This is how I get serious

Ooh, I'm serious now

– I'm serious

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