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Given that it’s set in Germany during World War II, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit has a lot of misery floating around its setting’s atmosphere, but Scarlett Johansson’s Rosie exists as a sharp contrast to that palpable depression. Working to be the best mom that she can be during a time of extreme conflict, she constantly maintains a cheery disposition, and treats life and her time with her son, Roman Griffin Davis’ Jojo, like she is performing on a vaudeville stage.
It’s a fascinating and wonderful performance, and as I recently learned sitting down with Scarlett Johansson at the Los Angeles press day for Jojo Rabbit, what we see on screen was a result of a lot of deep character work that saw the actor sit down with the movie’s writer and director to discover exactly who Rosie is. Said Johansson,
[Taika Waititi and I] talked a lot about what Rosie's life was before, because she's a very vivacious person I really wanted her to feel like she was in the middle of her life when this war starts and these atrocities occur - like everyone. We wanted her to feel like she had a purpose beyond this.
Watching the movie, you understand that part of Rosie’s energy comes from her desire to protect her child from the horrors of the world – show him that there’s more shades to life than desolation and hate – but even beyond seeing her through Jojo’s eyes it’s intriguing to consider what it says about her as a person. The on-going war doesn’t change who she is as a person, and that was material Scarlett Johansson could dig into beyond what’s featured in the pages of the Jojo Rabbit script.
Of course, it’s also clear that Rosie is a good person on beyond her loving behavior as a mother. In fact, it is an act of goodness performed by her that motivates the central plot of the film: while her young son is training in a Hitler Youth camp, and has Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) as an imaginary friend, she is secretly operating as a part of a resistance against the Nazis in Germany, and has provided shelter to a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in her home.
As far as references for the character, Scarlett Johansson noted that vaudeville and its performers were certainly a part of the equation, but also the free-spirited cabaret singer protagonist of Christopher Isherwood novels:
I kind of imagined her as like sort of a Sally Bowles kind of character, that she was into vaudeville, as you said, and lived a really fancy life, an interesting Bohemian life in Paris. She shares a little bit of that with Elsa.
Rosie is really a wonderful extension of what makes Jojo Rabbit so excellent as a whole, which is in its ability to balance tone. The movie can be remarkably silly in one scene, but then the next allows the reality of the world seep in, and it has the effect of pushing you into the back of your seat.
This too was part of Scarlett Johansson’s discussion of Rosie and her approach to the character, the actor explaining,
I think that actually brings a weight to the story, because you see that these characters are people outside of what's going on. She has a lot of light and life in her.
You can watch Scarlett Johansson talk about her study of the exciting life and times of Rosie Betzler by clicking play on the video below:
In addition to the aforementioned Scarlett Johansson, Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, and Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit also stars Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, and Stephen Merchant, and I had the chance to sit down all of them this past weekend. Be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from these interviews, and check out the film in theaters starting this Friday, October 18th.