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Taika Waititi outlines the pitfalls of playing funny Hitler on Jimmy Kimmel Live

Taika Waititi, Jimmy Kimmel
Screenshot: Jimmy Kimmel Live

Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, as the writer-director-star told Jimmy Kimmel on Tuesday, was, perhaps by intention, a tough sell. Telling Kimmel about the first time he tentatively pitched his movie—which, to remind everyone, is about a little boy in the Hitler Youth whose imaginary friend is Waititi’s catty Adolph Hitler himself—Waititi says he got as far as “Hitler Youth comedy” before his industry friend closed up shop, telling the aready successful and respected director bluntly, “You should not do this.”

Silly rabbit. As anyone who knows Waititi’s career to this point, the New Zealand writer-director is as close as modern comedy has to a can’t-miss, bringing his own brand of deadpan hilarity and surprising heart to everything from a houseful of less-than-chummy vampires, to the rags-to-rags story of “New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk parody duo,” to an unlikely buddy movie, to finding the jokes even in the most traditionally operatic franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, Hitler though.

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“It takes someone with no career,” explained the effortlessly funny and charming Waititi of his choice to play the historically un-funny and not-at-all charming fascist dictator. He did point out that the film, really about the coming-of-age of a little boy confusedly struggling against his forced indoctrination into white supremacist hatred, would have been tilted all out of whack if a bigger comedy star donned the tiny mustache and arm band. “It would then become the, you know, the Will Smith Hitler film,” noted Waititi, explaining that such high-concept casting would take away from what he was trying to go for. So, tiny mustache it is, although he agreed with Kimmel that, perhaps, not a lot of “massive celebrities” were lining up to play the part (“Cowards,” Waititi mock-sneered), and that Fox Searchlight ultimately only greenlit Jojo Rabbit on the condition that Waititi himself play the film’s imaginary Hitler. And while that made Waititi suspect that the executives in question were attempting to destroy “the Fox empire” from within with the sort of doomed-to-fail Hitler project of another legendarily offense-courting movie, the part-Maoiri, part-Jewish Waititi deadpanned that, naturally, he was the “first choice on many of the lists of Aryan characters.”

And while opinion on Jojo has been divided, it certainly hasn’t sunk Waititi’s career like some sort of The Day The Clown Cried-shaped torpedo or anything. Teasing out details of his next Thor movie, Waititi promised “twice the Thor in Thor 4,” confirming those casting rumors about Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster taking up the Thor mantle alogside Chris Hemsworth, somehow. He also confirmed, to everyone’s relief, that his genial alien rock monster best buddy Korg will be back, no doubt reacting to the film’s universe-threatening wonders with a decidedly New Zealand lack of wonderment.

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.