Apparently, Mean Girls Was Thomasin McKenzie’s Homework For Jojo Rabbit

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight.
Warning: This story contains mild spoilers for the film Jojo Rabbit.
One thing a quirky, pop-music-laden comedy about a young Nazi Youth recruit and his imaginary pal Hitler doesn't need is yet another left-field detail that looks pretty iffy on paper (for the record, Jojo Rabbit is not nearly as iffy it as it sounds). But if you know anything about the film's writer, director, and star Taika Waititi (he's the one playing imaginary Hitler), you know he's not a fan of doing what most people would do. So, when it came to crafting the character of Elsa Korr (Thomasin McKenzie), a young Jewish woman hiding from Nazis in Jojo Rabbit, Waititi added one more curveball: What if McKenzie based the character off of Tina Fey's classic teen comedy Mean Girls? As it turns out, Waititi's apparent madness served a rather crucial purpose.
"Watching Heathers and Mean Girls reminded me that while, of course Elsa is a victim. That's not what defines her," McKenzie tells Refinery29 over the phone.
McKenzie, who is not Jewish herself, had planned to approach the project with as much reverence and respect as she could muster. And before she turned to teen comedies, she did.
The actor dug deep into the history of the Jewish people and the persecution they endured during World War II. She spent days poring over the story of Anne Frank, who, like Elsa, hid in the attic of kind souls who tried to keep her safe from the Gestapo. In Prague, where Jojo Rabbit was filmed, McKenzie interviewed a local woman about how the Holocaust had affected her family. She spent time visiting museums and synagogues, and touring the city's Jewish Quarter, which carries a great deal of weight in the story of Jewish oppression in Prague, which began centuries before WWII.
"Because Elsa is one of the more grounded characters in the film, and I was aware that I was representing a big population of people who have been through so much hardship through history, I definitely did feel some nerves about how people were going to react to it," she says, adding that despite that fear, she "knew it was a really special film."

She could have been anyone, but the audience isn't given the privilege of knowing what her life was before the Holocaust, before World War II.

Thomasin McKenzie, Elsa In Jojo Rabbit
Still, she was floored when Waititi told her to let up on the heavy research and watch classic teen mean girls go toe-to-toe with mercilessly cool heroines like Winona Ryder's Veronica Sawyer from Heathers and Lizzy Caplan's Janis Ian. But now that Jojo Rabbit has been screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, and in New York and Los Angeles, ahead of its wide release on Nov. 8, McKenzie says she's feeling good. She's been able to gather a little perspective on why these high school classics were actually integral to the role.
"It allowed me to look at Elsa in a different way and understand that though she's a victim and she's experiencing all these monstrous things, she also is a human being going through puberty and, like, any other teenager in the world, she's got a crush on a boy," McKenzie explains. "She could have been in the popular group at school; she could have been anyone, but the audience isn't given the privilege of knowing what her life was before the Holocaust, before World War II. But we do know that she's lived a life, and we know that she's smart, that she's funny and witty, that she's really talented. She has a great heart, and she's full of compassion."
In the movie, Elsa begins to mess with Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) by playing into his outrageous ideas about Jews having horns, wings, and magical powers, and, in those moments, you can see shades of Caplan and Ryder. When she snaps back at him after seeing his drawings what of his young, misguided brain actually thinks about the world, you can almost hear the tone of Mean Girls' Janis Ian sarcastically explaining why she went after Regina George in the first place ("I guess it's because I have a big, lesbian crush on you!"). Later, when Elsa stands up to the Gestapo officer (Stephen Merchant) while claiming to be Jojo's sister, shades of a former queen bee, perhaps like one Regina George, could reasonably account for the confidence the young girl exudes in the face of sheer terror.
Waititi's tip seems to have paid off. Elsa may technically be a young woman forced to hide and live in fear, but she's still, at the end of the day, also just a young woman. She's got edges, insecurities, and before the world got turned upside down, it's entirely possible that she uttered the phrase, "Was ist dein schaden?" ("What's your damage?" in German, Heather).
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