After her breakout role in Leave No Trace, Thomasin McKenzie has continued to impress viewers with the range and variety in roles. This year alone she was in the biographical True History of the Kelly Gang, starred in Taika Waititi’s absurdist comedy, Jojo Rabbit, and played a queen in Netflix’s historical epic The King. We talk to her about working on her recent films, what draws her to those roles, and what she hopes to play in the future.
I have to admit that when I first heard about the film Jojo Rabbit, all I could think to myself was, “What? Did I read this right?” What was your reaction when they approached you for the film?
Thomasin McKenzie: Pretty much about the same. I was a little bit unsure, but when I read the script I understood it right away and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
What drew you to the character of ‘Elsa’?
TM: My favorite thing about Elsa is the strength that she holds. With this type of character, we don’t usually see strength or power, and I think Elsa holds as much power as she can given the situation.
Elsa’s strength is definitely one of the most compelling things about her. I enjoyed that, despite her circumstances, she never came off as a victim. The character is obviously fictional, but it is also based in truth since this is something people went through. How did you prepare the role?
TM: Although Jojo Rabbit is a comedy, it is also something that deals with a very heavy subject matter. I was very aware the entire time the responsibility that I had to tell this story and represent a big group of people. Immediately, when I found out that I had the role, I dove into as much research as I could do. I read lots of books and watched lots of movies on the subject. I also visited places like the Jewish Quarter in Prague, the Spanish synagogue, the Jewish cemetery, and a concentration camp right outside of Prague that Elsa would have likely gone to had she not been hidden away. Part of the research included watching Mean Girls and Heathers under Taika’s advice so I could show that Elsa had lived a life before World War II and although she’s a victim, she’s not defined by it.
Here in the US, we’ve seen glimpses of history starting to repeat itself, and Jojo Rabbit reminds us of the lessons we should have already learned from the past, but somehow still haven’t. What do you think should be the most important takeaway from the film?
TM: There’s so much you can take away from this film. The most important thing to me is acceptance of people as they are. Just accept that they are different from you and just be able to live with it.
You’ve had a fantastic couple of years, with the critically acclaimed film Leave No Trace, Jojo Rabbit, and the Netflix epic, The King. What draws you to these roles?
TM: A wide range of things. I really enjoy telling stories that share important messages and being able to be part of a conversation. I also like challenging myself and working with cool producers, actors, and directors. Not being stuck to one genre type or character type.
I know you play Queen Phillipa in The King, which is also a historical film. How would you describe your character?
TM: In the film, I play Timothée Chalamet’s sister, the Queen of Denmark. It was a very small role. I think I was only on set for about two days. Phillipa is a young girl, but she is very wise for her age.
What kind of role or character would you like to play next?
TM: I’d love to play an alien one day. Something kooky and kind of scary. Just something really unexpected, but I’d love to play just any type of alien, to be honest.
Jojo Rabbit is in theaters now, and The King is currently available on Netflix.