We recently sat down with the charming lead actress of “JoJo Rabbit”, Thomasin McKenzie. We discussed what it was like working with an already amazing line of directors, and if she had any hesitation taking on the subject matter of Taika’s latest comedy.
Some may remember Thomasin from 2018’s “Leave No Trace” with Ben Foster. If her performances in these two films are any clue, she has an amazing career ahead of her.
Excerpts from the interview follow, or you can listen to the entire conversation below:
TCF: You’ve mentioned that you were very excited to land this role, but based on the subject matter, did you have any apprehension about the film or were you like, “Taika is doing it and I’m in?”
Thomasin McKenzie: There was definitely a bit of apprehension. The second I read the audition scenes, I talked to my team about it and heard what they had to say about it. I could tell it was going to be something really special. When I got the role and was on the set, there was always a vibe that everyone working on it, the whole team, was so excited to be sharing, telling this story that has been told so many times before, but in such a different and unexpected way. But of course, although we were all so excited about that, you never know how the audience is going to react no matter what you’re doing. It could be the safest film on earth and people could hate it because no one’s going to like everything. So there was definitely a bit of apprehension in not knowing how people would respond. But you know, despite that, I could feel that it was such a special project and I felt so beyond lucky to be a part of it.
In playing Elsa, what was your process of trying to find that balance between being a really strong person in a vulnerable place?
I had done a lot of research and I worked with a historian who was able to fill in a lot of gaps for me, but also kind of told me some really shocking things that were quite confronting. So I think knowing that history and then, at the same time, being aware of how terrified Elsa must’ve been. But I also wanted to portray her as being the strong person that she was. I think just being aware of that past, and then at the same time, still wanting to show that she wasn’t just a victim, so she was so much more, is where the balance kind of came.
One of the things I really liked about the character of Elsa is that she is a victim, but she refuses to let what’s happened to her be her sole defining characteristic. As an actress, was that something you considered when looking at taking this role? Being able to portray this kind of multifaceted person who wasn’t just one dimensional?
Yes. Yeah, definitely. I want to say quickly, I was not offered this role straight off the bat. It was definitely the normal audition process. In a lot of World War Two films and in Holocaust films, these Anne Frank like characters are portrayed on more of the victim side, which they were, of course. They were victims and going through a disgusting thing that no being on earth should ever have to experience. I was interested in her also having some kind of power in a way, as much power as she could possibly have had in that situation. Elsa is a very, very smart girl and she saw an opportunity with Jojo. She saw how manipulated he’d been in and his kind of idea of what she was, this monster in the attic. She recognized that and used it to her advantage and got the upper hand in that way. Which if anyone in that situation, holding so much anger and confusion mixed with fear would want to be able to take back some kind of control, I guess. So yeah, I think that she’s such an interesting character because, like I said, she’s just got so many things going on inside her mind and at the same time she’s a really young girl who has no idea why all this is happening to her.
Looking at “Leave No Trace” and then “Jojo Rabbit”, you’ve already done a lot of accent work. Is that something that’s easy to slip into and out of or does that take a lot of work for you?
No. It takes a lot of work. Because you’re really changing how your mouth moves. With the New Zealand accent, we don’t really move our mouths a lot. A lot of the time we’re quite mumbly, and with American accents, it’s oftentimes a lot more expressive I think. So you’re really changing how you use your mouth. And then also, you feel kind of vulnerable when you’re speaking in a new accent, because it feels a bit embarrassing at first and you feel a lot more self-conscious about how you sound and whether people are judging you.
What I like to do when I’m learning a new accent, which is something I did on “Leave no Trace” and something I did on “Last Night in Soho”, was I used my accent all day, every day. I’d only use my New Zealand accent when I got home. So for half an hour late at night, I’d say hi to my mum, my dad, and my little sister and then I’d go to bed. Then the next day I’d be the new accent all day. That really helped me to really get a feeling for the accent and then, by the end of it, I felt really weird going back to my New Zealand accent because I was so used to the other one.
“Jojo Rabbit” is in select theaters now!