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JOJO RABBIT

Production Information
"Jojo Betzler, ten and a half years old: today you join the ranks of the Jungvolk... You are in peak mental and physical condition. You have the body of a panther and the mind of... a brainy panther. You are a shiny example of shiny perfection."
-Jojo Betzler

Jojo Rabbit offers a sharply funny, yet profoundly stirring, child's-eye view of a society gone mad with intolerance. Drawing on his own Jewish heritage and his experiences growing up surrounded by prejudice, writer-director Taika Waititi (whose mother is Jewish, while his father is Maori) makes a powerful statement against hate with this pitch-black satire of the Nazi culture that gripped the German psyche at the height of WWII. Waititi takes a story almost too appalling to approach with sober solemnity-that of a boy who, like many at that time, has been brainwashed into absolutely gung-ho devotion to Hitler. He then mines from it a dark, mesmerizing comedy that ultimately unravels the toxic ideas of anti-Semitism and persecution of the other. Balancing on a comedic high-wire, Waititi mixes the fury of satire with an insistent sense of hope that fanaticism and hate can be overcome.

The film follows very much in the footsteps of some of Waititi's personal filmmaking heroes: Mel Brooks, Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch and Stanley Kubrick to name a few. Like those directors, Waititi was in search of a fresh way to re-visit the most unsettling of topics through the paradoxically moral force of out-and-out parody. Waititi echoes Brooks in particular, as a Jewish actor disrupting the enduring power of Hitler's image with a zany, ridiculing portrait. But much as the film owes to its bold forbearers, Jojo Rabbit feels very much of our times, with its deeply human characters whose blinded foibles might amuse but whose inner predicaments are deadly real and pointedly relevant right now.

Based on Christine Leunens' acclaimed novel Caging Skies, first published in 2004, the story begins in fictional Falkenheim. In this quaint town under Nazi rule, the end of the war is rapidly approaching. However, in 10-year-old Jojo Betzler's bedroom, anticipation is mounting. For today, he finally has the chance he's been waiting all his 10 years for: to join the Jungvolk, aka The Hitler Youth. To Jojo, so credulously gullible and susceptible to the pervasive propaganda that surrounds him, it feels like his first opportunity to do something big and important, to help protect the single mother he loves beyond anything, and maybe even to feel like he belongs.

To sooth his insecurities, Jojo brings along an outsized imaginary friend: a clownish, hare-brained apparition of Hitler, who with all the emotions of a child dispenses advice Jojo might have sought from his absent father. With Adolf in his head, Jojo feels invincible. But in fact, Jojo's troubles are just beginning. Humiliated (and nearly decapitated) in the Jungvolk camp, his frustration only grows deeper.

Then, Jojo makes a discovery that slowly, yet radically, transforms how he sees the world. Chasing what he believes to be some kind of phantasm, he finds instead that his mother has been hiding a Jewish girl in the wall at terrible risk to them all. The shock nearly undoes him-here is the "danger" he's been warned about living in his own home, under his own nose, mere feet from where he regularly confides in his imaginary friend Hitler. But as Jojo endeavors to keep tabs on the mysterious Elsa, his fear and vigilance grow into something even Adolf cannot seem to fathom. For the more he gets to know Elsa as a person, the more she becomes someone Jojo can't imagine allowing anyone, including his Nazi idols, to harm.

While Jojo Rabbit is very much a comic allegory about the costs of letting bigotry take hold, whether in your bedroom or a nation, Jojo also takes a very real journey as a child coming-of-age. For in finding the courage to open his mind, he discovers the power of love to change your path.

Waititi says his hope for the movie was always pure, unabashed disruption. He wanted to upend his own comfort zone but also any notion that stories about the Nazi era have been played out, especially when the lessons of those times are so urgent right now. With nationalism, anti-Semitism and other forms of religious and racial intolerance on the rise, the stakes of grabbing people's attention felt sky-high.

"I knew I didn't want to make a straight-out drama about hatred and prejudice because we've become just so used to that style of drama," Waititi explains. "When something seems a little too easy, I like to bring in chaos. I've always believed comedy is the best way to make an audience more comfortable. So, in Jojo Rabbit, I bring the audience in with laughter, and once they've dropped their guard, then start delivering these little payloads of drama that have serious weight to them."

For novelist Leunens, Waititi's compacted, and more cuttingly humorous, take on her book was a beautiful use of comedy in the service of conveying a story of immense gravity. "In Taika's films, laughs are never free," Leunens notes. "There are strings attached. Even if you don't see them right away, you'll feel them. It's after the laugh that the strings start to be felt, drawing one's consciousness to things that aren't quite right, aren't entirely funny, into deeper, more complex emotions-amongst these, the realization of the absurdity of the situation, and the tragedy and pain."

CREATING JOJO RABBIT
"Promise me one thing, will you?
When this is all over and the world is normal, try to be a kid again?" -Rosie Betzler

Nazis were parodied on screen as early as the 1940s when they were still very much a global threat-with the key being that the last laugh was always on them. As Mel Brooks once said: "If you can reduce Hitler to something laughable, you win."

The tradition would stretch from Chaplin (THE GREAT DICTATOR), Lubitsch (TO BE OR NOT TO BE) and Brooks (THE PRODUCERS), to John Boorman (HOPE AND GLORY), Roberto Benigni (LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL) and even Quentin Tarantino (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS).

It often sparked controversy. The Jewish comedian Jack Benny's own father was said to have walked out of the theater at the shock of his son portraying a Gestapo officer in TO BE OR NOT TO BE. But the film also moved generations, and today is considered a masterful example of how the most ferociously irreverent satire can become a springboard to multi-faceted, humanistic storytelling.

Stephen Merchant, who plays a drippingly dark Nazi Captain in Jojo Rabbit, notes: "Both during and after the war, Hitler was routinely mocked because it was a way of people dealing with the horror they were seeing. Taika is following in that same tradition, but with his own modern voice."

Waititi's refreshingly different voice first came to the fore in a series of offbeat yet poignant comedies with a personal, handmade feel including EAGLE vs. SHARK and BOY. On the heels of acclaim for his vampire mockumentary WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS and the comedy adventure HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, Marvel tapped him to bring his mad creativity to THOR: RAGNAROK. (He also played Korg in the latter, a role he reprised in AVENGERS: ENDGAME.)

Jojo Rabbit would in many ways become kind of the culmination of his career-mixing the emotionally intimate and eccentrically funny with epic themes that lit a personal fire for him. But the seed of the film actually began with Waititi's mother - a New Zealand native whose Russian Jewish family immigrated in the early 1900s. It was she who first read Christine Leunens' Caging Skies and recounted to Waititi the story of a boy whose avid belief in Hitler is turned upside down when he discovers that his family is hiding a Jewish girl behind a false wall in the attic.

"She told him about the book, thinking it could be something for him," notes producer Carthew Neal. "When Taika read it, he realized it was more serious than he'd imagined, but had the heart and gravity required in this kind of story. He was then able to springboard from this, adding his special touches and bring it into his comic and tonal universe."

Says Waititi: "The book is more of a drama, though it has comic moments. But I felt if I was going to tackle this subject, I had to bring my own personality and style to it. That meant more fantastical elements and obviously more humor, creating a kind of dance between drama and satire."

Waititi amazed Leunens by creating something like a jazz riff on her book, whipping up the structure of her story into an antic allegory of how fear mongering can take root in naïve minds-and how love can come out of left field to topple down the walls we put up against other people. "If the book is a classical, panel painting, Taika's film is more like Picasso's Guernica," muses Leunens. "He found a spot for all the most essential scenes, but he added in many of his own touches."

Indeed, Waititi brought his own private familiarity with the pervasiveness of bigotry in today's world to Jojo Rabbit. "Most of the prejudice I've experienced has been because of the color of my skin," he explains. "Traditionally in New Zealand, there's been prejudice against Māori people. I did experience that growing up, and I learned to kind of brush it off, which is not a great thing, but you do what you have to do. Still, I think I wound up subverting a lot of these feelings into comedy. That's why I feel very comfortable poking fun at the people who think it's clever to hate someone for who they are."

As he began writing, Waititi was hooked most of all by the idea that Elsa, the Jewish girl who emerges from the wall, transforms Jojo in spite of himself. "The thing I zeroed in on was trying to create a friendship between two people who are, in their minds, total enemies. I like the dynamic where, contrary to what Jojo expects, Elsa holds most of the cards and calls the shots," he says. "But also, they are in a Catch-22 that binds them together because both face terrible stakes if their secret gets out."

Also vital to Waititi was creating all the Nazis in the film to be ridiculous and mockable, but also human, full of all the same flaws and quirks as the rest of us-which makes their participation in the fascist realm that much more of a chilling warning of how easily malevolent ideologies can take root on a large scale. This is especially true of Jojo, who initially reveres what he sees as Hitler's might, until he sees in Elsa and his mother a principled strength that is so much greater.

"It was important to me that Jojo be clearly seen as a 10-year-old-boy who really doesn't know anything," Waititi explains. "He just basically loves the idea of dressing in a uniform and being accepted. That's how the Nazis indoctrinated kids, really, by making them feel part of this really cool gang."

While Jojo grows older in Leunens' book, Waititi anchors the film in a 10-year-old's wide-eyed POV the whole way. "I was interested in the idea of seeing the madness of war and hate, something grown-ups very much manifest, through the eyes of a child," he says. "Adults are supposed to be the people who guide children and raise them to be better versions of ourselves. Yet when children look at us in times of war, I think adults seem ridiculous and out of their minds. So, I approached the story as a child trying to make sense of his world the best he can in the most absurd and chaotic time in history."

Still, Waititi knew he had to give audiences a reason to follow Jojo into his world. "I had to find ways of letting you care about Jojo," he explains. "One way was to show that in truth he feels bullied, scared and insignificant in the larger scheme of things, and he has grand dreams, as all kids have."

In another departure, Waititi placed a resilient mother-son bond at the heart of his movie. He turned Rosie Betzler not only into a single mother, but also a defiant woman who decides that so long as ideals of empathy and tolerance are being pushed to the margins, she will work fearlessly to uphold them. Contrary to Jojo, she sees all too clearly the poisonous world Hitler is forging, so her natural response is to help, as she says, by "doing what she can"-which in her passionately practical way is a lot. But that also means hiding the truth of her life from Jojo to keep him safe, while hoping her little boy comes to his senses.

"There are a lot of powerful women in my life so I also wanted this to be a story about a really strong solo mom who is trying to save her son and others from this horrible situation, but at the same time trying to retain Jojo's innocence," says Waititi. "A main touchstone for me was Scorsese's ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE. I've always loved Ellen Burstyn's portrait of a mother in that film because she's goofy and fun and reminds me of my mom, so that was something I aimed for with Rosie."

While the film invites in such anachronisms as Beatles and Bowie tunes, as he wrote, Waititi immersed himself in WWII books and documentaries. "I read a lot about the German psyche before the war, and the question of how it was possible to indoctrinate the entire country, how they preyed upon the desperation of the people after a depression," he explains. "I watched some documentaries, like WORLD WAR II IN COLOUR and HITLER'S CHILDREN, THE HILTLER YOUTH, to get a sense of how things really looked. I wanted to be mostly accurate, playing only with music, palette and the language."

The more Waititi wrote, the more Jojo's awakening seemed to mirror how the world reacted after WWII: stunned by a collective human loss of innocence, then uniting to affirm that hateful ideas would never again be allowed to take hold like that. And yet, the times are changing again.

"Around the time we were going into production, we started seeing more and more resurgence of this way of thinking," notes Waititi, "and it became even more urgent to tell the story. I feel like I'm in good company with comedies like THE GREAT DICTATOR where we're poking fun but also trying to warn how serious things are right now. It's also a reminder that Hitler was really recent in terms of human history and we've got to keep talking about it, because the dynamics that caused it aren't going away."

Waititi never held himself back in the writing, knowing that to say what he wanted to say he had to go for it unflinchingly. "As an artist you always want to challenge yourself, and if I don't worry that a project could be a disaster, then it's not really worth it for me," he confesses. "I like my work to feel dangerous enough going in that it could fail. Because that's when I start scrambling, I start trying to make it the best thing possible, and that's where I get the most creative and inventive."

When the script started making the rounds, that inventiveness became its attraction. Waititi's free use of contemporary dialogue especially appealed to actors, who loved how it seemed to have one foot firmly grounded in a vital reality, while the other was dancing into something far more off-the-wall.

Sam Rockwell fell hard for the script. "I thought it was brilliant and I don't say that lightly. I mean, what a mind Taika has," Rockwell says. "I remember reading that scene where Rosie is telling Jojo how powerful love is and Jojo says to her, 'I think you'll find that metal is the strongest thing in the world.' It's hilarious and refreshing but also such beautiful and touching writing."

Rockwell continues: "Taika has a sensibility that takes influences from Mel Brooks to the Marx Brothers and mixes that with storytelling that is incredibly poignant and relevant. He's able to walk that tightrope." For Scarlett Johansson, who plays Jojo's vivacious mother Rosie, the appeal of the script was in the risks it takes-how Waititi interweaves farce and disaster, taking the story from black comedy to chaotic madness to a poignant sense of wonder. "What I found so beautiful about the story is the hopefulness that you come to feel in the end, which is so unexpected," Johansson says.

FINDING JOJO
"Okay, two things. Thing number one: it's illegal for Nazis and Jews to hang out like we do, let alone kiss, so already it's out of the question. And thing number two: it would just be a sympathy kiss, which doesn't count." -Jojo Betzler

To make Jojo Rabbit come to life, first Waititi had to find a living, breathing Jojo. Could there possibly be a real-life boy who could embody the character's pinwheeling mix of blind gusto and untamed emotions in stride-while also carrying the film's deep themes and Jojo's profound transformation on his pint-sized shoulders? To answer the daunting question, Waititi and his casting team watched over 1,000 audition tapes. They undertook an exhaustive search, spanning from New Zealand and Australia to the UK, US, Canada and Germany. At last, the search came to an abrupt halt the minute they met 11-year-old Brit, Roman Griffin Davis. Davis seemed to intuit, with a sophistication almost eerily beyond his years, how Jojo's simple yearning to be accepted, admired and loved gets contorted into serving a grim and malicious agenda.

Neal recalls, "Taika was looking for someone who had that sparkle in his eye and the extreme enthusiasm for life Jojo has. We immediately liked Roman, but then we also saw that he had the range to mix anger, anxiety, discovery and other subtle emotions into the humor. Roman's focus is incredibly impressive for a kid his age, and he was able to bring an unusual intensity to very difficult scenes."

Davis says his biggest inspiration was that he saw a chance to remind people of the harrowing history of bigotry, and how deeply it can affect not only entire societies, but especially children.

"I remember I once mentioned something about a swastika to a friend and he didn't know what it was. I told him it's the Nazi logo and he didn't even know what it looked like," Davis explains. "So, I hope that this film is going to remind people of what happened in Nazi Germany with a different kind of a story than you have ever seen before. What I love most about the film is that even though it is about some heavy stuff, and stuff that's really important, a lot of it is shown through humor and comedy."

Though it is his very first screen role, and though he was surrounded by intensive support from Waititi and his highly experienced cast mates, Davis still knew he faced a mountain of a task.

"Jojo is a very, very conflicted boy, so that was a big challenge," Davis admits. "When you first meet him, he truly believes all the propaganda he's seen. But you also see that he's just a sweet kid who doesn't really know what he's talking about! He's looking for something in the Nazis that is missing in his life. His father is gone, and his mum is busy with things she doesn't talk about, so he has no one except his imaginary friend, and he imagines that the only one who can really help him is Hitler."

Waititi says his aim in working with Davis was to let all Davis's natural reactions-and innate charisma-shine through. "Roman is a really endearing, beautiful kid, and when you hang out with him, you want to protect him. He has this very caring heart, and the idea was always that this would carry into the undercurrents of the character. There's a lot of Roman in the Jojo you see on screen."

On set, Waititi provided Davis with room to do his own exploring - but also utilized a coach in his long term collaborator Rachel House, who was the acting coach for both leads James Rolleston and Julian Dennison in his previous film's BOY and HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE.

Adding to that effect, the accomplished cast showered Davis with veteran tips. "In the course of the film, Roman became an amazing actor, partly from being around such great actors as Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson and Alfie Allen. He learned how to ask all the right questions," says Waititi. Observes Rockwell, "Taika was really good at getting Roman to go deep into Jojo's experience-but in a way that Roman was always having fun. There's a real trick to that."

As part of his preparation, Davis researched the Hitler Youth, the organization first created in 1922 to indoctrinate kids and teens into Nazi ideology and train them to ultimately be tools of war. That gave him a sense of just how dark the reality of Jojo's world was, no matter how much he just wants it to be a glorious adventure, as any 10-year-old would.

"What the Nazis did to children was really awful," says Davis. "They wanted to have an army of fanatics to help them take over the world. I know now there were 16-year-old soldiers on the frontlines-and they were terrified but often the bravest and so many were killed."

Rounding out Jojo's insular world and playing the role of his lovable best friend Yorki is Archie Yates, who wholeheartedly embraces his character's distinct view of the world around him. Waititi says about Archie, "He's just as you would think - someone who brightened up the set and everyone loved. He's got a very different and unique way of seeing the world, he's very confident. A lot of the time he and Jojo just seem like the two most sane characters in the film."

As bizarre and unexpected as it was to interact with Hitler-for Davis, some of the most demanding scenes came as Jojo wrestles with how to react to Elsa, who he truly believes has devilish powers. "It was really hard for me because Jojo at first is thinking to himself 'your entire race isn't trustworthy' and that felt so wrong," Davis says. "Here Elsa is basically living in a cave, almost starving and all alone, so it was difficult for me to find such strong feelings and go on pro-Nazi rants at her."

Yet, even Jojo cannot keep up his suspicion of Elsa for very long. While at first, he merely keeps her secret for fear of his mother getting arrested, the more he gets to know Elsa, the more he can't resist what starts to feel like an authentic, eye-opening friendship that is rocking his world. In many ways, Elsa has all the bravery and sense of dignity Jojo only dreams of having. When he starts writing her fake letters from her boyfriend Nathan, Jojo can't help but infuse them with his own growing infatuation.

"In spite of everything he thinks he's supposed to think, Jojo really starts to like her," Davis observes. "I believe it's quite confusing for him: how can he have such affection for Elsa despite his strong beliefs? It makes him question everything, even Hitler."

Thomasin McKenzie, ELSA
"We'll all be kaput if you tell one word about me...just one word... and I'll do the world a favor and cut your Nazi head off. Got it?" -Elsa

To play Elsa, the "girl in the wall" Jojo uncovers in shock, Waititi searched for a teen who could bring the steely strength and self-possession that defuses Jojo's distrust. She had to be mysterious enough to entice Jojo to want to know more, but with a humanity that strips away Jojo's illusions and confronts him with the discomfiting fact that everything he's been led to believe about Jews is all a terrible lie.

Most of all, Waititi wanted Elsa to take some joy in her power over Jojo. "Elsa's situation is so vulnerable the whole way through-trapped in this small crawlspace-but what Taika really wanted is to counter that by showing that Elsa is actually stronger and fiercer than anyone," says Neal.

Waititi found the confident, complicated grittiness he sought in New Zealand-based Thomasin McKenzie, who came to global attention last year in an extraordinary performance as a homeless girl living in the woods with her father in Debra Granik's LEAVE NO TRACE. "I knew Thomasin from New Zealand," Waititi notes. "And I knew she was a rising star with something really special."

While the character of Elsa represents nothing less than the hope and resilience of humanity when confronted with unbridled hate and evil...Waititi wanted her to equally feel like a feisty modern teen.

Waititi says, "All Jojo knows about Jews is from propaganda and the teachings at school which says they've got horns and devil tails and they're monstrous creatures. So, I wanted Elsa to be this really pretty, very cool girl who has this hard attitude, so he's instantly both fascinated and intimidated by her."

Moved by a story that "has a perspective I've never seen before," McKenzie dove into research. That and conversations with Waititi took her deeper into Elsa's psyche and helped her create a character who defies stereotypes. "I did a lot of personal research on what it was like to be a young Jewish girl during WWII," McKenzie says. "But I had formed in my mind a victimized idea of Elsa, and when I met with Taika, he told me to scrap that and to think of Elsa as a girl who isn't a victim at all and definitely doesn't see herself that way. I love that she has a lot of life and a lot of other layers to her."

Never compliant or passive, Elsa most vitally has a sense of mischief, which she employs to try to keep Jojo from reporting her. "Taika actually told me to watch the movie HEATHERS because that was the kind of character he had imagined for Elsa," notes McKenzie, referring to the cult classic 80s comedy about a precocious, self-aware clique of teen girls battling for high school popularity.

Waititi explains, "I wanted Thomasin to think of Elsa as one of the cool kids at school before all this happened. There needed to be in her a sort of resentment that she had to give up this quite fun life where she was popular and had a lot going on, and now she's in hiding with nothing. I also like that she kind of blames Jojo and all of his bad ideas for where she is."

McKenzie sees Elsa as mostly itching for freedom. "What I really love is that she doesn't want pity, she just wants to be able to live her life without all this crap happening," McKenzie says. "Of course, I've never had to hide in a life-or-death situation like she does, but I related to her as a teenage girl who before this happened was into boys and gossiping with her friends and doing things normal kids do and dream about. She didn't change from that person when she went into hiding."

Elsa's unusual introduction became a favorite scene for McKenzie. "At first, you don't really know if she's a monster or a ghost. You don't know who she is or what her intentions are. You're in Jojo's point of view, so you start off with a fear of Elsa. But then, like Jojo, you see more and more of who she is and all that she is going through. As Elsa and Jojo start to see each other more clearly, outside of all the propaganda that surrounds them, they develop a relationship almost like a brother and sister."

Working with Roman Griffin Davis only brought more of that out. "I first met Roman in rehearsal," McKenzie recalls. "He just waltzed in and was so confident and funny and unafraid. He was able to bring all these intense emotions I'm not sure anyone ever expected of a 11-year-old. I really admire the way he seemed to feel a big responsibility to tell Jojo's story."

In her brief but memorable scenes with Scarlett Johansson, McKenzie observes that a lot of mutual loss was communicated in few words, "You don't get to see the full extent of their relationship, but Rosie is someone that's saving her life and putting a lot on the line just to have Elsa in her house. Elsa feels admiration and a longing to establish a relationship, a longing to have a mother and someone to speak to."

Scarlett Johansson, ROSIE BETZLER
Rosie Betzler to Elsa: "You'll go to Morocco, take up lovers and make them suffer, look a tiger in the eye and learn to trust without fear. That's what it is to be a woman, or at least what it could be." -Rosie Betzler

Scarlett Johansson has played an alien, the subject of a Vermeer painting and Marvel's Black Widow among many others, but the role of Jojo's playful but also fiercely defiant mother, Rosie Betzler, was something new again.

Johansson already knew Waititi so when she heard about Jojo Rabbit she was immediately intrigued. Then, she encountered Rosie and she could not shake the character.

"What I love about Rosie is that she's unabashedly imaginative, poetic and romantic-and at the same time, she's this very grounding force for Jojo. She's fighting for the Resistance and is really a very modern woman," Johansson describes. "She's such a bright light in this very dark time. It's very rare for me to read something and just say 'I have to do this' but I really felt that way when I read this script."

Johansson and Waititi talked a lot about the kind of mother that Rosie is-trying to balance her need to live boldly and be true to herself while doing all she can to keep Jojo safe through loss and peril.

"Taika and I had conversations about what it's like to be a working parent who has a passionate work life but is also a very committed parent. I think that helped to inform who Rosie eventually became. She's full of life and she's mysterious and very importantly, she hasn't given up," Johansson observes. "Being a mother is a big part of her identity but it's just one part. She also is full of fervor and ideas and I wanted her to have all those different shades so that she might feel really full of life."

Waititi says Johansson brought shades to the role even he hadn't foreseen. "Scarlett's got this sort of goofy quality about her that I always really wanted to see in a film," he says. "At the same time, she makes Rosie a love letter to single mothers. Even in the middle of a time that's so dangerous and crazy, Rosie keeps a hold on Jojo's innocence, and she is truly one of the strongest characters in the film."

Johansson forged her own tight and necessary bond with Roman Griffin Davis during the shoot. "Rosie and Jojo have a very loving relationship and I wanted that tenderness to be felt instantly when you see them," says Johansson. "Even though Rosie is a dreamer and a bit of a comedian, she's also very pragmatic. Very much part of being a parent is that constant balancing between your practical, responsible, adult side and the side who can create a magical world for your kids."

For everyone on the set, the urgent connection between Johansson and Davis was palpable. "Scarlett was so affectionate with Roman and he responded to that so strongly that you felt a deep bond was there from day one," says Neal.

In one of the film's most poignant scenes, Rosie impersonates Jojo's absent father in an attempt to reach him, drawing herself a beard and holding a two-sided conversation with herself that ranges from the explosive to the melancholy to the tender.

At once comic, heartbreaking and bittersweet, Johansson credits Waititi's writing for evoking her multi-chromatic performance.

"Taika's writing can somehow be sad, poignant and charming all at once," describes Johansson. "His writing is so colorful, but also complicated. That's the gift that Taika gives to the actors."

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