Taika Waititi talks Jojo Rabbit, 'growing up' and feeling 'shamed' to don a Nazi costume

It's been almost 10 years since Wellingtonian Taika Waititi captured the world's hearts with Boy - since then, he's directed some of New Zealand's best-loved films, and a little-known project called Thor: Ragnarok.

The Project's Kim Crossman caught up with the filmmaker, actor and comedian to talk about his latest project, Jojo Rabbit - a satire about the most hated man in history, reinvented as a German boy's imaginary friend.

The film is largely based on Christine Leunens book, Caging Skies - a story Waititi's mum introduced him to. 

"She was reading Caging Skies and she was telling me about the book," Waititi told The Project.

"I read the book and decided I'd take the storyline as bones for the structure of [Jojo Rabbit]. Then I added in more of the Taika-ish elements - a little smattering of 'imaginary Hitler' and some jokes."

Despite the film's comedic portrayal of Nazi figures, Waititi still felt "shamed" and "embarrassed" about his costume.

"When I looked in the mirror I was like, 'Aw, shame'," he said.

"Because the film has a deeper message behind it - which is basically, 'just be nice to each other' - putting on that stuff and having the swastikas around, it takes on a new weight.

"There's a heaviness to it. You don't want to undermine people's experiences and you don't want to brush over it, because it's inappropriate and... can be quite damaging."

Despite Jojo Rabbit's black comedy and satire, Waititi says the film is still "polite" in its handling of the topic.

"When you come from New Zealand... we don't want to be shock comedy. We're too polite for that, it's polite comedy. We don't want to be the bad boys of cinema... I just want you to like me."

A major part of the comedy stems for Waititi's portrayal of the imaginary Hitler, a character he felt compelled to "possess" in order to bring out that "smattering" of Taika-ish elements.

"With this Hitler character, to own him and make him my own, I had to treat it like I was possessing him... making him more like me," he explained. 

"Then I can have ownership over his body and pepper it [comedy] in."

The 44-year-old said he's proud of his filmmaking journey, which kicked off in the early 2000s with a handful of short films - one of which was nominated for an Academy Award.

"I'm proud of the whole trajectory from my first film all the way to here. I'm especially proud of this film, I feel it's my most mature film yet. I feel like I'm growing up... it's freaking me out," he said.

But never fear - he's not going near dramas anytime soon.

"Because that is boring," he laughed.