Jacket, Marni

Not your average kid: Roman Griffin Davis

Volume 4 Issue 002: Meet the British actor starring with Scarlett Johansson in an Adolf Hitler satire.

Arti­cle taken from The Face Volume 4 Issue 002. Order your copy here.

Roman Griffin Davis is a 12-year-old. Not a Hollywood 12-year-old – all cheeky grins and precociously polite – but a real 12-year-old. The kind who lets sarcasm and silliness spill from his gob at every opportunity. 

The adolescent from London is supposed to be in school today, but instead he’s slouched on the sofa of a Soho hotel to talk about his role in one of the most controversial comedies of the year: Jojo Rabbit, the provocative anti-hate satire” from the daringly eclectic director Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Rangarok).

Are we recording?” Roman asks, pointing to my dictaphone. He leans in to shout, Hello!” before breaking into a toothy smile. This is one of the first ­interviews for the Brit actor – who’s about to be beamed into a thousand multiplexes – has ever done. Nervous? Not one bit.

  • I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”  I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.” 

Roman’s Jojo Rabbit is the film’s plucky lead, a boy growing up in 1940s Nazi Germany who’s ridiculed for his soft side (hence his cuddly nickname) and so finds solace in his doting mother (Scarlett Johansson) and an imaginary friend: a wacky, cartoonish version of Adolf Hitler, played by the film’s director. The film imbues the horrific setting of the Third Reich with incongruous and custardy-sweetness, painting its villainous antagonists as buffoons instead. Roman’s Jojo wanders through life as a lonely kid ousted from his friendship group, meeting his enemies face-to-face and learning that, perhaps, the almighty dictator isn’t so flawless after all. 

It’s a meaty and complicated role for a child to take on, but I figure the hard questions about the morality of making a comedy out of genocide should probably be left to its director. So we talk about 12-year-old things instead. Promotion for the film has been a ­whirlwind, with Roman jetting around the globe to Toronto, LA and other world premieres. So how have his teachers reacted? They’ve been a bit annoying,” he admits, before adopting the persona of a bratty screen star for comedic effect: I can’t wait until I’m 16 and I can start my own life!” For now, maths is the subject he enjoys the least. (“Mrs O’Connell will read this and give me loads of homework.”) He’s far more comfortable in English where, he insists, There’s no rules. You can experiment with whatever you like.” Overall, he says, I’m not particularly good at anything, so acting is quite easy.”

Jacket, Kenzo

It’s no surprise that he feels so at ease on screen – Roman was born into a film-making family (his mum is a writer-director, his dad is a cinematographer for blockbusters like Captain Marvel). He grew up on movie sets and started auditioning at the age of nine.

He learned a lot from his co-stars on Jojo Rabbit. They taught me how to act: Taika, Sam [Rockwell, playng a Nazi captain], Scarlett, Stephen [Merchant, a Gestapo agent].” He praises Thomasin McKenzie, who plays Elsa, a teenage Jewish girl his mother helps to hide from the Nazis, as his biggest on-screen support. He might be the title character but, he says playfully, I won’t take all of the credit. It was 25 per cent me. The rest was definitely down to the other actors.”

What does a kid like Roman, born in the age of Fortnite (which takes up most of his free time), love about movies? He name-checks coming-of-age failsafe Stand By Me and its lead, River Phoenix, before telling me: I look at the classics in terms of actors because I think it’s going downhill now. Which is a shame because I’ve just been born.” 

Few 12-year-olds have been allowed to bunk off school to star in a movie that could transform them into a pint-sized superstar. Roman Griffin Davis, quite rightly, is soaking up the limelight, and the opportunity to turn up the brightness on one of the most compelling and provoc­ative films of this – or any – year.

Hair Takuya Uchiyama, Photography assistance Jordan Lee, Production Rosanna Gouldman


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