Taika Cohen Curated
New Zealand Film Director
CURATED BY :
When you look at the movies you’ve made, what’s the through line that connects them?
They’re about family. My earlier films were about dads. I’m moving into my mum phase now. What I love about families is that no matter where you’re from, everyone has got the same dynamic. You’ve got heroes; you have villains. You’ve got those two grumpy dudes from the Muppets — the uncles and the aunties who know everything and bitch and whine. You’ve got the Greek chorus. You’ve got every dynamic and every stereotype in families. That’s why I keep going back to them. It’s an endless source of entertainment for me. My family is so f—ing hilarious. And I’m always stealing their stories and putting them in movies.
What’s happening with the live-action remake of “Akira”?
The whole thing went on hold. We had to keep pushing the dates, and it encroached on the “Thor” dates, which were immovable. So “Akira” ended up shifting two years down the track.
Would you want to do a “Star Wars” movie?
If it was right. I would want to do any kind of movie if it made sense, and if it felt not like career suicide.
Just by working on “The Mandalorian,” you’ve landed squarely in the future of “Star Wars” conversation. Where does that stand now?
I wish there was a better story, I’ll put it that way. Are there discussions about the “Star Wars” film? Like, yeah, I discussed with my friends in 1996 how cool “Star Wars” was. That’s what they’re going off.
Would you like for Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie to be explicitly queer in this next Thor movie?
I think so. The IP is not mine. But with the actors, I feel whatever makes them comfortable — whether they feel like there’s a natural choice, or a natural way for that character to go — then I’m pretty supportive. If Tessa wanted to do that, I’m in.
You don’t mind doing reshoots?
I’ve done reshoots on every single movie I’ve done. I actually build it into my budgets. I like reshoots. No shame about going and fixing it.
There’s so much excitement about the Natalie Portman of it all in the next “Thor.” How closely are you going to hew to the comics? Is her character Jane Foster going to have cancer in it?
We don’t know. That comics run was a big inspiration, and was an influence on the first few drafts. But at Marvel, we always change everything. I could say one thing right now, and in two years, it will be the complete opposite — or that thing won’t exist. We continue writing even in post-production.
Is Next Goal Wins also an awards movie?
It’s more of a comedy. It’s probably pretty presumptuous of me to suggest that this film is anything like “Intouchables” [the 2011 French movie directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano] but that was a film I was really inspired by — people crossing cultural boundaries. Just making films that are uplifting! Life is depressing enough, sometimes, in the day to day.
What stage are you in with your next movie, “Next Goal Wins”?
Just the editing. I think we’re going to take our time with that one, and deliver it for the end of the year.
Jojo Rabbit was your first major Oscar campaign. How was the experience for you?
It’s more stressful than making a movie. At least when you’re making a movie, every day is different. It is what it is: It’s a campaign. By the end of it, if someone had handed me a baby, I would have totally taken a photo with it and kissed it.
When is the one f-bomb in the movie Jojo Rabbit?
“F— off, Hitler,” when he kicks him out the window. I wanted it to be more accessible for young people and teenagers.
Disney bought Fox Searchlight as you were finishing “Jojo Rabbit.” Were you ever worried about this being released by Disney?
No. We’d already shot; we were editing; we’d gotten notes from Searchlight. Those guys were fine with it. I heard a thing: “Someone from Disney’s nervous about ‘Jojo Rabbit.’” I suspect that’s a lie. Because the people who’ve run Disney have always been very supportive. They’ve watched the film, and they love it. My intention was always to make the film PG. I used one f-bomb.
Do you think criticism of the movie would have been more muted if you still went by Taika Cohen and people knew you were Jewish?
Yeah! They did a press screening with a lot of Jewish press, and a lot of the comments were “I wish we’d known that he was Jewish before we’d watched the movie.” It feels almost like buying into it, if you start considering the fact that you might have to put on the poster: “Don’t worry, the director’s Jewish!” Or: “I know how you’re feeling. Just watch it.”
You talked about how Nazis are basically just a fact of life now. How did we get here?
It’s insane. I lived in Germany in the late ’90s, and at that point there were right-wing neo-Nazi political parties. At what point did this change, and how did we suddenly forget the rules? If you hate another race, you are a bad person.
There’s a scene when Rosie and Elsa are talking about Jojo’s fanaticism, and Rosie says she knows her son is in there somewhere. To me, it was one of the more jarring moments to see today, because the world we’re living in right now feels so wrong to me a lot of the time — yet I feel like the world I thought I knew must be in here somewhere. What do you think about it?
Isn’t that so weird, though? You know the world is good. You know inherently human beings are good. But even driving to the awards yesterday afternoon, we came up Highland and there were all these Trump supporters who were screaming at us and flipping us off. And screaming, “Four more years! Four more years!” Coming up Highland! I was just looking out the window and thinking, “Oh, my God!” It takes a lot of effort to get out of bed and go down to Highland and wait for black SUVs to drive past and tell people who work in the movie industry that they’re evil and that gays should go to hell. That’s a lot of effort! So some part of me feels like, “If they’re going to make that much of an effort, I might as well make an effort as well.” It’s too easy to think, “Oh, well — they’re dummies. I won’t do anything about it.” I think that’s what they rely on.
In a Ted Talk you gave in 2010, you spoke about your childhood obsession with drawing swastikas, and then with painting Hitler mustaches and hair onto other objects. Was the Hitler character a case of you putting your youthful interests into your filmmaking?
Maybe! If you’re told something’s bad, if you’re told not to do something, usually you end up doing that. If people tell you not to draw a swastika, at some point when you’re alone in your room, you do it just to see what it’s like. And then you’ll feel really guilty, which is what I did. I’d change it to a window, or scribble it out. Maybe that’s something that leaked into the film.
So the character of Hitler in Jojo Rabbit was a Taika-ism?
Yeah. It wasn’t something I was really trying to develop. It just started happening as I was writing.
There’s no Hitler-as-imaginary-friend in the book. Why is Hitler so important to the story of Jojo Rabbit?
I just thought, I’ll take that story and add Taika-isms. And if I want to show a kid conflicted between two sides of his conscience, how can I do that? I don’t want to show shots of him like most filmmakers do, walking through wheat fields. There might be a smarter way to show how his conscience manifests itself.
“Jojo Rabbit” was on The Black List in 2012, but it took a long time for you to get it made. Now that you’ve won this Oscar, how do you look back on the road from writing the movie to now?
It’s the only script where I’ve started from page one and written all the way through to the end. Usually I start with the end, and then try to take a stab at the beginning. Then I’ll find some places in the middle. But this one, I went from page one all the way through. I feel like I was kind of helped in some way. People talk about being influenced by the muse or something. But this thing sort of happened so fast. I think I wrote it in a couple of weeks. I didn’t feel stressed about it. It just flowed out. I don’t know how to explain it.
What did you think of all the “Parasite” wins?
I was so happy. The fact that it’s the first movie to win foreign film and best picture is incredible. I love Bong Joon Ho so much. “Memories of Murder” is on my top-five list when I talk about films I love.
What’s it been like as a brown person working in Hollywood?
Because I’m from New Zealand, people find it kind of charming. They think, “Oh, those quirky people with those weird accents!” I don’t think they see us as brown people. I don’t think when Maori come to America, they see us in the same light as Mexicans or Hispanics. I’ve never felt prejudice toward me here in L.A., even though I know it exists. I’m probably lucky I have a weird accent!
During your Oscar speech, you dedicated your win to the indigenous kids of the world. When did you decide to do that?
I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Growing up in New Zealand, dancing and doing art — these things were frowned upon, or seen as weird behaviors. It’s changed a lot, but there’s still pockets in New Zealand and around the world of kids who think they need to give up storytelling, or give up being creative. I wanted to try and communicate to kids who grew up like I did, or are growing up like I did. To say to them, it’s OK to want to be an artist.
What do you think can attribute to the success of Boy? It's New Zealand's highest grossing film and has received critical acclaim worldwide.
I think it's because we're living at a time where if you look at the billboards for films that are on, a lot of them are a muscly guy fighting against a couple of dragons or some monster.
One of the interesting films about the film is Boy's relationship with his father. At first it seems like he's trying to redeem and make up for his disappearance in Boy's life but his character sort of teeters between good and bad. Do you feel the same?
Yeah, I like the idea of a character that essentially is a bit of an idiot; he's like a man-child. He hasn't quite grown up, like when he goes to apologize for embarrassing Boy down at the shows and taking the jacket back. That evening he goes back to apologize to him and the only way this grownup can apologize is to put it in terms that he thinks are appropriate for an apology; just say like, "Oh, I'm like the Incredible Hulk. When I get angry I get really angry so you got to watch out for that. Sorry about that." It's not heartfelt like, "Listen, I'm really sorry. That was wrong and inappropriate and I'm an asshole." It's him trying to protect himself again. His whole motivation, I guess, for a lot of what he does is trying to pass the blame or not to take responsibility for his actions, and he feels a lot of guilt because of the loss of the mother and stuff, his wife, and he wasn't there. It's all about characters trying to find their place and find out who they are.
Could you talk about the culture aspect of Boy? In one scene I noticed the kids washing their hands after leaving the cemetery...
Well that's a tradition. Leaving a cemetery you're supposed to wash your hands and kinda sprinkle it over yourself. It's basically just to wash away any spirits that might be coming out of the cemetery. Once you're in there, you're in that world and once you leave, you kinda leave them there. That's where that comes from. The dance at the end of the film is the haka. Traditionally the haka is a challenge, you know, if two tribes were going to war. When two tribes go to war, you would each stand off and do this challenge. Essentially it's a song but with actions and it's really just to indicate to the other side that you are intending to kill them, haha. And why it's at the end of the film is because when we were kids we grew up learning all these different hakas and to make it interesting for us we would mash it up with contemporary stuff like breakdancing which was big at the time, and then obviously Michael Jackson moves and things like that. So that was really just homage to that style because it was a mixture of Thriller dance and haka.
So was Michael Jackson a big hero of yours growing up?
Absolutely. I think the reason that he was a hero to kids was because he was earning millions and millions of dollars and spending it on the same stuff and us kids would spend it on. He was like buying a castle and filling it with zoo animals and stuff. He had a python. So yeah, this was a guy who made perfect sense to us. Here's a guy whose brown like us and he's a millionaire and has Pepsi Cola on tap in his house. This is the coolest dude ever! And to top it off he was the most incredible singer and dancer of all time. So yeah, he was a huge influence on a lot of us.
What was the reasoning behind setting Boy in 1984?
Well they say write what you know and that's sort of the world I knew. I wanted it to be a time where Michael Jackson was huge but he hadn't fallen yet. It was a time of heroes, almost before this modern age where we know all of the dark secrets of every celebrity now. It was a time where heroes were still these mythical beasts, you know, like the age of the titans. Michael Jackson was this insane god. The film is about your heroes and the first heroes that disappoint you, which for most people are there parents. I wanted it to be set in that time. Also, in terms of New Zealand, the 80's were like the coming of age decade for us. It was like when we were really finding our way in the world and discovering who we were so it seemed good to make a coming of age film set in a coming of age time.
Was the school community involved in the production of Boy? You mentioned you filmed at the school, etc.
Yeah, yeah. So the community is probably about 300 strong and I'm related to everyone. So yeah, I know pretty much everyone there and they were behind it fully. Nothing really happens there. It's very, very far from the city so if anything passes through it's literally passing through. Nobody stops there. For us to bring 40 people and a crew and sort of boost the population of the town, you know. It was really cool for them. All the crew became like a big extended family in the town. It was a very lively and really homely affair. So they were all very supportive. My auntie was the head caterer and a lot of people I'm related to helped out in the film. My uncle plays the teacher at the start whose smoking. So yeah, it's cool to be able to involve the community within the film making part of it as well.
Boy is about the relationship between the father and his son. What were some of your personal experiences that went into the making of the film?
The real personal part of the film is that it's set where I grew up. It's set in the country and we shot in the house that I grew up in which was my grandmother's house and we grew up like that with a lot of kids. And I went to that school. Some other personal stuff was that a lot of my uncles and my dad included were in gangs. None of them tried to invent a gang or anything like that but I just wanted some kind of humor behind that scene. It's very easy to say, "Oh, it's just gang life. Let's have a little depressing film about gangs." I just wanted to touch on the gang thing but also show how ridiculous that stuff is. It's essentially a bunch of dudes who all want to hang together and drink beer and wear little outfits that look the same. And it comes from a very real phenomenon which is the displacement and disenfranchisement of cultures that have got no other choice but to just start clubs or hang out with people like them because they have nowhere else to go. So that stuff I wanted to touch on but not make it, you know, I don't want to exercise demons or make it like my kinda spilling my guts out on the screen and like, "This is me!" Cause it's not really me. There are elements of myself in all of the characters in the film because you write what you know. Films also have to be entertaining so you have to give them things like “where's the bag of money” and “what happened to the gold.” That sort of stuff is the fake stuff but draped across a realistic background.
Did you have to take an industrial-strength shower after each day of filming, just to get the Hitler off you?
Yeah. I definitely had a little process of taking off the clothes, which wasn’t the nicest thing to do for the wardrobe department. It was just taking off those trousers and shirts and jackets and sort of tossing them across the room into a pile, and some poor person from wardrobe would have to find them and clean them. It’s not an enjoyable thing to wear, so I tried as much as possible without breaking the costume or the stick-on mustache. I did try and be as disrespectful to that stuff as possible.
Your portrayal of Hitler isn’t exactly historically accurate. Did you give much thought to how you wanted to play him?
Up until about three months before we started shooting, I wasn’t even sure if I’d still be doing it. I kept thinking, “Well, I guess maybe I'll do it.” I did no development of my character, I did no real preparation, but I was also really busy stressing out trying to prep the film and find kids to be in it, so in a way, I felt like there was a chance that I’d get someone else to do it because I didn’t think there was a way I’d be able to devote any time making something decent. In the end, that was beneficial to the part. If I had over thought it too much, I maybe would’ve ended up with one of these horrible more authentic portrayals of Hitler, which I think would’ve ruined the movie.
Is Jojo Rabbit the kind of movie that will get people talking?
That’s the thing that makes me feel really great. The kiss of death for me would be someone going “Yeah, I saw the film. Interesting.” That’s a sort of weird, derogatory way of describing a film. It’s like eating a cake. It’s enjoyable while you’re eating it, and then you don’t really remember it. You got no nutrition. You’re not completely satisfied. Whereas, I feel like if you’re talking about it afterwards, it’s doing its job.
Does it feel like you prefer making art that’s polarizing and that sparks debate, as opposed to something that’s more easily digestible?
I think it’s a great thing. I feel like if I was going to make something that’s super safe that no one talked about, then there’s no point in doing it. It’s just boring.
After Jojo Rabbit premiered in Toronto, a lot of people were comparing it to Life is Beautiful but not necessarily in a positive way. Does that bother you at all?
I can’t really remember that film because I saw it 20 years ago, but I remember enjoying it a lot, so it’s not an insult to me. If they were saying “I see it as this year’s Crash,” then I’d be pissed.
Does knowing that you have an acting role on the books, does that make you focus more in a way because you like know that during that downtime you can sort of do your own thing for films you’re directing?
You know, I love film sets, I love watching people work. And I always have big ideas. So, when I go on a flight with my computer, I’m always like “O.K., I’ve got 10 hours, and I’m going to write for 10 hours, I’m going to get so much done.” All I do is watch movies. I don’t type a single word. I always feel so sad and disappointed with myself afterwards. It’s the same on set, like I’ll get on set, “I do my little thing and then when they’re setting up, I’m going to run to my room, and I’m going to do some writing.” I just sit around talking shit with all the other actors and other people on set. I don’t do anything. But again, it’s like sometimes I’m so unmotivated to do stuff that I’d need to do, but you just got to keep somehow wing it.
How do you multitask all of your projects at the same time?
Oh, it’s stressful. Don’t get me wrong. What you see before you is someone who is being eaten up on the inside with stress. It’s just I choose to look relaxed when I do it. Like my son said to me about six months ago, he goes “You should take a break. You know, you work pretty hard and like you’re always working and you should take a break.” And I was like, “I was as on a break for 35 years.” Now I’m getting work. I don’t want to take a break. I’m enjoying this and I’m enjoying working hard. I was on a break for so long before I got to be a filmmaker and before I got a career. Now I’m like, “Nah, I can do this.” And you know it’s not even a matter of spreading yourself thin. It’s a matter of just being smart about like where you put your time. It’s not spending too much time on something that you might not get anything out of. And that goes with most things in life, I think, you know? It’s like try and determine the worth of – I’m sounding like a businessman, and I know nothing about business – but time allocation is something that I’ve become really, really aware of. Just because I’m 44 and I have a limited number of hours in the day. And if you basically fuck around, you’re going to run out of time, and you won’t get to do the things that you want to do.
The other performance that pops is Archie Yates who plays Jojo’s best friend Yorkie. Do you just watch him and think, “He’s going to be a comedic actor for 20 years if he wants to be.”?
He’s like a little Rick Moranis. He just auditioned for Yorkie. I think I just looked at him once on a tape and was like, “Well you’re it. You can stop auditioning other people now. We’ll just use him.” It was like, “I’m not sure if he can learn lines.” But just hearing him talk. Just seeing him. I was like, “I’ll make it work. Even if I had to cut all the lines [around him]. I will make it work. I will put him in this movie”.
How did you cast the role of the kid in Jojo Rabbit?
It wasn’t necessarily the audition, I think. I could see something more in the audition room when they talk to you and they loosen up a bit. I thought, “He’s quite an intelligent kid. I have to meet him.” So we did a Skype audition and as with all Skype auditions, it was terrible. They’re always glitchy and they’re always skipping and freezing. And you’re like, “What’s he doing? Is he a mime?” But it was fun. So we did that, and it was really through conversations on Skype. I thought, “I get it, this is a sensitive kid, and he’s a likable kid”. Which are the two things that are very important for this character. Because it’s hard to get an audience on your side when the first thing you show them is a kid in the Hitler Youth. Like, even if someone was to say “Oh, this a movie about this kid in the Hitler Youth”, even me, and I’ve made this movie, even I would be hesitant. I don’t want to watch a movie about a kid in the Hitler Youth! Those guys sucked! So yeah. And he really bought a lot of himself to the role. Roman, he just cares so deeply about people, and he’s very sensitive and compassionate. And the thing that you want in any actor is someone who’s emotionally aware as well. Who can ask the right questions. It’s a 10-year-old. “Was it emotional enough? Did I do it?” He’s like really asking the questions because he wants to do a good job.
Jojo Rabbit is also really impressionable for kids. I know you made this movie for everyone but during the editing process did you show it to kids to see how they’d react?
No. I knew that youth would see it and that it would work for youth. That’s what I really wanted, I guess, teenagers and adolescents. It’s a coming of age film so I felt like, you know, when people are coming of age. That’s when you’re most impressionable and you’re wanting to be important. You’re wanting to be cool. And you want to formulate ideas and have opinions at the dinner table around your parents and stuff. So, I wanted to like target those people as well. That’s why, for the most part, the dialogue is very contemporary. The way they speak in the film, that’s not anywhere near how they spoke in World War II and that was on purpose. I wanted [an audience to feel] if they close their eyes it could feel like it is today. Because it’s important that people remember those experiences in 1945 was like being in 2019 for the people in 1945. That was the modern times. And it can happen again.
How do you think Jojo Rabbit is different now than if you had made it then?
Obviously, it’s more relevant now, which is sad. And also, I guess kind of good that exists in a time when it really means something. When I wrote it I was trying to make a film that was about war through the eyes of a child because I don’t think I’ve seen films like that which are really through that lens. I’ve seen films with kids in them, who were the main actors, but it doesn’t feel like a film that explores a child’s experience. Like a child’s logic and how they interpret things and how they look at the world. And how they see grownups behaving and how they take that and apply it to their own lives and conjure up imaginary friends. It is a way of sort of dealing with the world. And trying to deal with this girl in the attic. It’s essentially a monster in the attic. So, when my mother was describing this book to me, the way she was describing it made me feel like it was going to be something like “Let the Right One In”. You know I was like, “Oh, I can see that. I can see that movie in my head.” So, if a boy has never met a Jew before assumes that they’ve got horns and a devil’s tail it’s like having a monster in your attic. And if that monster is not going to leave, how do you deal with it? What do you do? You get to know the monster. And then you realize, “Oh, that monster is not a monster. It’s actually just another human.” That’s a simple idea, but I thought “Oh, I really like that”.
Had it been difficult to get Jojo Rabbit financed back in 2011?
We didn’t even really try. It wasn’t even a thing. I don’t know if it would be that hard. I guess it would have been. It was actually more the attitudes back then were still that you need a big celebrity in a movie as a box office draw. Which has kind of changed now. When we went to see Searchlight about this, they’re like, “Oh we don’t believe in that shit.” It’s like, it just doesn’t matter anymore. “We just want to make good film. It doesn’t matter who’s in it. People will go and see it if it’s a good film.” Which is great and that’s why they’re doing such good stuff. That’s really cool. It wasn’t that we were having difficulty. It was literally that Jermaine and I, we’d been writing “What We Do in the Shadows” for about six or seven years. And so when the opportunity came to make that, we were like, “Oh yeah, fucking let’s just do this”.
Did you always think you’d play his imaginary best friend in Jojo Rabbit?
Yeah, there was no intention at all of me playing it. Because I’m brown. My hair is not right. I’m too good looking. It’s just none of that makes sense. I’ve got no business playing Hitler in a movie. I’m not the obvious choice. I doubt there’s any list in existence with those like, “Well, who should play the Aryan? I doubt there is any list in existence where I’m on that list. So, that was 2011, I finished the script, we sort of sent it out around the agencies just to sort of see who they might want to recommend or if they could suggest [anyone for] that particular role. And the usual kind of names came back. Because everyone always starts from the top and then goes down to the bottom. But we didn’t actually even get a chance to really do any meetings or anything because Jemaine [Clement] and I, that month or a month after, got the financing to do “What We Do in the Shadows.” So, I flew home to New Zealand, we made that, which I thought was going to be a really fast thing, and then I’d come back and make “Jojo”. But [“Shadows”] ended up being like two years of work. And then after that, I tricked myself into doing 2016’s “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” And after that, I got distracted by doing “Thor: Ragnarok.” So I went off and had to go and make three movies before I had to remember to make this one. And when I came back, Fox Searchlight said “We really want to make this film with you. We loved the script, but we’re only really interested in doing it if you play Hitler”.
Where did the inspiration for Jojo Rabbit come from?
It popped in my head because I was like, “Oh, I want him to have no friends except for the one friend who also has no friends.” I just like the idea of these two German kids who are trying to be cool, which is in their eyes trying to be Nazis. I guess I was struck by high school structures, high school dynamics which is like even in Nazi Germany I’m sure there were nerdy kids who got picked on, and who were like, left out of the cool groups and had to eat their lunch alone. I mean if I ever wanted to feel like I cared a little bit about anyone who was in the Hitler Youth, like a kid in Germany during the war, that would be a way, you know? Because no one likes bullies and as a dad as well I’m always so worried that my kids might be bullied or that they’ll be picked on or someone’s going to be mean to them. So, I feel for kids who go through that. And then I made my Taika’esque, sort of accouterment upon this story.
For “Jojo,” I read that your mother suggested Christine Leunens’ novel. How long did it take reading into the book until you thought it could work as a movie?
It was actually when she described the book to me that I thought, “Oh, this is something”. I wouldn’t have read it it wasn’t something in it for me. The way she described the book, made me feel, “Oh, this is something quite cinematic”. And this idea of a relationship that should really never exist. This idea of this kid [in the] Hitler Youth who discovers his mother’s been hiding this girl in the attic. And she sort of threatens to kind of dismantle everything that he’s believed in or everything he hopes for. That was like a simple idea, but there’s just something, some reason it just felt like something that I could do. The book’s quite dark and also extends past the war as well, it goes on for a while. But I just took those parts from the book [that could make a good film] and then added my own things, like the imaginary Hitler, which is not part of the book. And a lot of the humor. So I changed the tone and added this goofball character too.
Do you think other filmmakers take creativity for granted?
I think so, but I think that they’re making different films and they’re very career oriented, whereas I don’t really care at all. I feel like there’s other things that I can fall back on if this doesn’t work. I’m not cynical but I feel like I could do any job. I don’t think I would feel like it was me failing because sometimes, you know, you put in so much effort and energy and it takes so much time out of your personal life. I really envy people who have jobs that end at five o’clock on the dot and they don’t have to think about work until the next morning. I love that idea! But it just so happens that this particular industry, you take that work home with you and you’re thinking about it all night. It’s as close to a 24-hour job you can get.
You once said that although you’re a filmmaker, your real job is creativity. Does it get difficult to be creative when you’re thinking about it like it’s work?
I don’t think film has ever felt like a job to me. When I drive to work, I never feel like, “Ugh, I’ve got to go to work.” I’ve always been excited to do it. It’s always felt like a privilege and I’ve always felt very lucky. It’s a very hard thing to get into and to be given a lot of creative freedom, so I do remind myself of that all the time, and I try not to take it for granted.
Do you think people expected you to change your method?
I think I was a little scared that I might have to, going into something like that. The big fear as a filmmaker is that you’re going to be controlled or that you’ll lose your freedom and from that you’ll lose your creativity because you’re kind of prescribing to a recipe. But the good thing about some of the Marvel films is that they have an idea for what the thing might be, but it can change halfway through. It’s very loose; ideas were being destroyed and recreated all the time.
Did your easy-going approach change at all when you started doing bigger Hollywood projects like Thor: Ragnarok, or The Mandalorian?
No, actually! I was encouraged to be myself on Thor… And it was something where we improvised a lot and I got to be very playful and I got encouraged to experiment even more than I had on other films.
Are there times where that doesn’t happen at all? Have you ever just stuck to the exact script you’d originally written?
Sure, yeah, because the other thing you’ve got to do is not punish yourself for not coming up with something more interesting. Sometimes you’ve just got to accept that maybe that was the only way of doing it. And sometimes maybe you miss the little opportunity and you don’t find that thing throughout the day… I do usually feel that the script is strong enough that even if I just shot it exactly as it was and played it very safe, I still think the film would have been a very good film. But sometimes it works when you get these new ideas and play around.
A journalist once described your directing style as loose, energetic, and insatiably curious. Do you agree with that description?
I think that you often come up with things on the day that you never thought of before if you just keep yourself open to this idea that no idea is final. There’s always something to be discovered — and it might not necessarily be better. In fact, 70 percent of the time that you sort of explore or experiment with something, it might become a terrible idea! But at least if you keep trying and searching, sometimes you’re lucky enough to discover something that just elevates the film a lot more.
Is there a challenge in constantly coming up with new ideas for your films, or has your childhood boredom helped prepare you for that?
I think that’s the fear for most people is running out of ideas, feeling that there’s no creative motivation anymore. And I definitely have those feelings, especially if I’ve spent too long on one thing. As long as I can keep exposing myself to different forms of art and creativity, and if I can kind of hold on to the playfulness of my approach to filmmaking, which is very creative, I always like to create an environment on set which is fun, there’s a lot of music, and it sort of just becomes like a playground… Then at least that spark is still there. Luckily I’ve been able to get away with it for this long.
Is the truth important to you as a filmmaker?
I think so. It’s trying to find some kind of human truth, or an emotional truth… I like a kind of innocence because it brings more of a clear approach to a theme or to ideas. It’s like Peter Sellers in Being There, you know, he’s got a very naïve and very simple way of viewing the world so characters like him, or even The Fool in Shakespeare, seem to be able to tell the truth the most; they are the ones who actually make the most sense. With my film Jojo Rabbit, the truth is unravelled as Jojo does a complete 180. He’s indoctrinated, he’s brainwashed at the beginning, he believes in the world operating in a certain way. For me, one of the big messages behind the film is learning how to think for yourself outside of what might be considered popular thought.
Why are so many of your films are told through the eyes of children? Do kids make for better storytelling?
Well, I guess it’s like the saying that kids hold a mirror up to us and that seems to be more truthful than how we perceive ourselves. And that also goes down to making the film. Adult actors bring a lot of baggage to the experience where I think they’re overthinking everything. But children just seem to kind of want to tell the truth. I often use first time actors with kids, and they often seem better than seasoned actors because they’re not concerned with a backstory or “What’s my motivation?” — or even their career. All they care about really is getting off school… And making money. (Laughs) With young actors, their performances seem more sort of pure or truthful than adult actors.
How did you acquire the rights for the songs used in Boy?
How do you describe your movie Eagle vs Shark?
Why did you chose to shoot Boy in your hometown?
How did you end up casting yourself in the movie Boy?
What did you look for while casting the protagonist of the movie Boy?
What was the timeline of filmmaking for the movie Boy?
You wrote Jojo Rabbit a long time ago and a lot has changed politically since then. How do you feel about things now?
How did you feel when USC Shoah foundation adapted Jojo Rabbit as an educational movie?
What is something you wish you could go back and tell yourselves, knowing what you know now?
Did you get to say everything on your acceptance speech when you received the academy award?
What are the challenges writers face according to you?
How hard was it to make Jojo Rabbit?
What do you think about Sam Rockwell's character in Jojo Rabbit?
What was your influence for the character of Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit?
What was your motivation behind choosing a kid protagonist in Jojo Rabbit?
Why did you want to do Thor Ragnarok?
How did you find confidence while doing comedy?
What kind of movies do you always want to make?
What kind of movies did you watch as a kid?
What is your opinion on Failures?
What do you think were your responsibilities when you started making your first movie?
How was your experience shooting Thor Ragnarok in Brisbane?
What's the single most important thing you wanted audience to walk out with after watching Thor Ragnarok?
How was the atmosphere on the set of Thor Ragnarok, knowing that it was gonna be one of the funniest Marvel movie?
What was your vision while stepping into the MCU?