Jojo Rabbit Actor Luke Brandon Field on Nazis, Vampires and Artistry vs. Money

Plus, his real-life Nazi story from London

English actor Luke Brandon Field has appeared in such productions as Where the Road Meets the Sun, Blackwood and, most recently, Jojo Rabbit. The latter's been a regular on lockdown movie lists since director Taika Waititi won his historic screenwriting Oscar in February ... which already feels like an eternity ago. 

Incidentally, this interview was conducted right before Covid-19 galloped through everyday life and tossed all our papers into the air. There is no mention of it here. We're hoping, for many, that'll come as a relief. Otherwise, maybe skip this one and head back to Twitter.

And for a more contemporary sense of how he's doing, you can read Luke's #WFH Diary entry here!

In Jojo Rabbit, Field plays Christoph, a member of the Hitler Youth and one of the Mean Boys present in the unhappy creation of that nickname for the protagonist. While the role isn't big, it put Field himself in an interesting position in the debate over whether it's OK to laugh about the Holocaust. (To be fair, people laugh at Hitler all the time.) Field is of Jewish heritage.

Dun-dun-duuuuun!

The interview is below.

Muse: Let's start easy. If you had a theme song, what would it be?

Luke Brandon Field: That's such a great question. I always think about it! Some songs I listen to are what I consider "walking down the street" songs. You swagger; your gait changes … but for this, I would probably say, just because I'd like to be dark and mysterious, "Reptilia" by the Strokes.

Why?

I like that it's mysterious and dark, but also frantic and energetic. I feel like that sometimes.

You sound like a vampire person.

Apparently I look like one. People say I could be ... what's his name? ... Edward's brother from Twilight?

[Editor: That would be Emmett Cullen.]

Is Twilight your vampire reference?

More Bram Stoker. I was talking about this the other day with somebody. I asked who's your favorite vampire, and she was like, what? And I said, who's your favorite vampire? And she said Lestat from Interview with the Vampire.

A respectable choice!

...then I was like, are you Team Jacob or Team Edward? And she didn't seem that keen on either, so that was the end of that.

I once interviewed for a position at a very sexy agency. And I destroyed it over this vampire thing, because the interviewer was a Twilight person and I was a Buffy person. But before I knew that, I brought up Buffy and proceeded to bash Twilight. After that ... you know that feeling of "This is ruined now"?

Yes.

Yeah. I felt like, she regrets buying me this Perrier.

Oh, wow. Are you more of a Buffy or an Angel fan?

There's something Joss Whedon says that I like: Buffy is a superhero story, and Angel is about becoming an adult and how that's really hard. Even if you try to make the best choices with the best intentions, you might still send your whole city to hell.

Buffy is of course a superhero story, but I never thought about Angel as a coming-of-age story. I always thought of it as a redemption type story.

Do you have a preference?

I'd probably say Buffy because a) I thought Spike was really cool, and b) I had a massive crush on Tara. Like, Willow and Tara. I guess Buffy was cool, but I always like to be a little alternative.

This is a good time to ask about your human trajectory. What's your origin story?

I grew up in what is, to me, the best city in the world: London, where every type of culture was around me growing up. We just accept all kinds. I had a fairly idyllic childhood in a London suburb near Camden Town, which is famous for its music.

My dad was and is one of my heroes. He worked in entertainment for 40-plus years, in music and film and TV and aliens, and now holograms. Growing up with him, working at various labels and studios, I was always on film sets, or surrounded by actors or people of some notoriety. So I've always felt comfortable in that world.

[Field's dad, Gary Shoefield, produced a now-infamous alien autopsy film you might've heard about. He is now the EVP of Base Hologram.]

Tell us about your education.

At school I liked doing Shakespeare, musicals. And I was lucky enough to be offered a scholarship to UCLA to study drama and film. I was the only person in the U.K. that year to get it, which was wonderful. And I knew Los Angeles relatively well, because I was going quite a bit with my dad since the '90s.

I did my junior and senior year there, and graduated from UCLA. In those two years I watched some incredible movies. As a kid you're like, "Black and white, why would I want to watch that? It's so boring. I'd rather watch Speed 2 with Jason Patrick." But going to film school really makes you pay attention. You have to watch them all—black and white, silent films, everything—and it expanded my mind.

The day I graduated from college was the day I booked my first movie. That was a huge milestone. It was an indie movie called Where the Road Meets the Sun, and I was the lead. I'd never done a professional film job, and it's such a difficult schedule when you're doing an indie movie. Sometimes you're guerrilla filmmaking—like, "let's get this shot immediately." Sometimes there's frustrations.

Also, I was going through the first proper breakup of my life. And I had to carry this movie and play a character who was very opposite to me. So I learned a lot about myself, my strengths and beliefs. It made me ask, "Do I want to do this for the rest of my life? You've now starred in a movie. You can just walk away and become an entertainment lawyer.'"

So why keep going? All that, plus a breakup.

It was awful. Now I look back and I'm like, "What is this, some sort of Netflix YA drama?" But I'd lived a sheltered life and didn't know pain like that. Acting pushed me every day to try and just get through it. I realized I could channel certain emotions, especially in tough scenes. I wasn't dealing with it properly, and didn't deal with it for a couple years afterwards, but I realized my job was giving me solace and peace.

That's beautiful.

Thank you. It's all true, I swear. Don't make me out to be some sort of romantic.

What's the song you played over and over during the breakup?

I know the exact answer. There's two songs. One is "I Don't Want to Know" by Donnell Jones and Lisa Left-Eye Lopez, and the other was … wait, that was for the second breakup.

It's funny how there's music for moments like that, isn't it?

Yeah, and it takes you back to that specific time. There are certain songs I could just cry to immediately: "I Don't Want to Know" and "Take It to the Limit" by the Eagles.

Creatively, what's the first story you fell in love with?

I came from a middle-class background, in this relatively Jewish neighborhood. Both my parents were Jewish, I grew up Jewish. But I found the community could be cliquey, and had questions about the religion that weren't being answered.

Then I moved back to London after university, and one night I was watching a documentary in the bathtub. It was about the hairdresser Vidal Sassoon. He was talking about being 17, 18, and fighting the last remaining Nazis, these English fascists on the streets of East London.

My grandparents grew up on those streets. I'd never heard this story before. I couldn't believe it. I was like, "Nazis exist in England? We beat them, that's ridiculous." That's like saying a Republican lives in West Hollywood, that's so ridiculous. Why would they live there? You'd never think that.

It was a story I'd never heard before, so I decided to investigate. And over the course of a year and a half, me and a friend did all the research we could possibly do, including finding some of the original members of the group, one of whom lived opposite my house. It was a 91-year-old man, and I had no idea this crazy history was on my doorstep. I discovered that even my deceased grandfather was a member of the group, and they would attend fascist meetings to stop them any way they could, including using force, espionage, double agents; Jews who looked Aryan would report back. A whole multifaceted organization over four years.

This is very gangster.

It was a real-life Inglourious Basterds meets Peaky Blinders! I was so influenced by that story. It allowed me to rediscover my Jewish identity and become comfortable with my culture.

So you were able to find a way back into the religion through this secret, existential struggle happening on the streets.

Exactly. I mean, I'm not Orthodox. But I feel peace of mind, a sense of ... I've now found where I belong in some way. I'm sure it'll probably change in a year, but I feel good about it now.

This seems like a good time to talk about Jojo Rabbit. What's the one thing you're tired of saying about the movie?

My publicist will probably say five different sentences. The thing I like to get forward, but I'm tired of saying it, is that the movie is there to entertain and educate, which is why it's so unique.

I know people find it uncomfortable. I welcome that. We should be making more films that make people uncomfortable. Some people felt uncomfortable about Parasite. Good! And I think Jojo does the same. It sticks two fingers up to the establishment and says, we're challenging you. We're making fun of something that is tough. We make fun of it because we want to belittle it. We need to belittle it.

It's also important to remember the Holocaust. I read that 66 percent of American millennials don't know what Auschwitz is. It's heartbreaking, because it was only 75 years ago.

How does Jojo help?

Movies like Jojo are accessible for anyone to watch, whether you're 10 years old or 85. It tells the 10-year-old what happened, so they can find out more for themselves. It teaches older people to not forget, and encourages the oldest among us to open up about their own experiences.

The most interesting people I've met tend to be older. When they're talking about their experiences during the war, whatever country they were in, their resilience is something I can only admire because I don't think I have that in myself. I mean, maybe if push came to shove, you find it, but … My grandparents were kids. They would go to bed not knowing if their house would be bombed, if they would be dead the next day. They'd wake up and the next-door house was bombed, three people dead. I don't know if I have that backbone.

Is it strange playing what's essentially a tragedy for your culture in a comedic way? How do you enter the mindset of this guy who's basically training baby Nazis?

When I first got the role, I was super excited. But it didn't hit home until I was in the costume department. [Director] Taika [Waititi] was very good, because he had given us things to read. He gave us this great book called Blitzed, which is about the Hitler Youth.

It's about how they were drugged all the time, right?

Yes. On Pervitin, which is a form of methamphetamine. You think, "I can't imagine being in a place where someone tells me ordinary people are my enemies." But the book helped understand who we were playing and what they were going through. I'm not saying their actions [are justified] because they were given drugs, but it helps understand the circumstances.

Can you explain how they were drugged?

Some very clever marketing and advertising. They were aware that certain foods and drinks that were promoted, including supplements given to the army, would have certain effects: More dopamine would be made in the brain for "more energy or more efficiency." Imagine your government and a major pharmaceutical introducing a new soda, and everyone's pushing it.

Yeah and everybody's really wired all the time.

Right, everyone's super wired, and no one knows any different because they're all going through it together. Once you have that knowledge, it's like, my God. Of course they were terrible people. But they were also indoctrinated, and were metaphorically and literally fed, and bred, to do this.

I think the movie shows, through the eyes of 10-year-old Jojo, how that indoctrination was possible. It took something extraordinary to break that, like that chance encounter Jojo has with Elsa, or discovering [the truth about] his mother. That's why the movie is so smart—it shows how fortunate Jojo was to be in a context where his ideology could be changed.

Kids don't know any better. And they were constantly drip-fed this vitriol all the time.

Do you feel a responsibility to convey certain truths in your art?

In terms of what attracted me to Jojo, you want a great message people can understand and debate. You want great dialogue and a fantastic storyline.

You read a lot of scripts and it's like, "This is a rip-off" or "I've seen this movie: Escape from New York meets Death Wish, or whatever." They're not saying anything new. I knew I had something way more special here. I'd never read anything like Jojo Rabbit; it's one of the best stories I'd ever read in my life.

It's all well and good, being part of the new Highlander or doing a Netflix show for young adults, but they're 10-a-penny these days. They're cool, and if I were asked to do one and I thought it was great, that's awesome. But I'm glad that I've got at least one thing people will talk about for many years, with a universal message.

As an actor, that's what you want, going into it. You don't know if you'll ever get it. Probably 99.9 percent of actors will never find that project—either because they're not cast in it, or because it just doesn't exist.

Is there something you wish was better understood about acting? I suspect it's one of those gigs where people think they understand it because they've been exposed to so much of it.

I read a good quote today, and was sorry I didn't come up with it: An overnight success takes 10 years.

That old chestnut!

It's true. Unless you're the kid of famous people, or a freak who was an incredible child actor, or that random person who got picked out of nowhere ... I think the toughest thing is, no one realizes how hard and lonely it is. It takes a lot of psychological toll on a person.

We've all come close, we've all been rejected. We all work hard. Nine times out of 10 you'll get losses, so it is for the thick-skinned. If you're not living, breathing, smoking it each day, it's not for you. I'm the only person in my acting class from nine years ago who makes a living out of this. If someone came to me at 16 and was like, "I want to act," I'd be like, "Do it now. If it doesn't work out inside of two or three years, do something else you enjoy. Or find something to do and if you want to do it on the side, then great. Because if you put too much emphasis on it, it will hurt you."

I read this book called Fame by Justine Bateman. It explains what fame does to you—how people think it's something you earn, but it's actually sprayed onto you and completely warps your life. Can you speak a little to that?

Yeah! Even if you're a golden child, you walk into the ring and there's millions like you. It really screws with you. I think every actor is looking for recognition in their field, for somebody to say "Hey, you did a great job. And because of that, I'm going to give you another job, then another, and you're gonna be financially more solvent." That's the dream, isn't it? That you can be paid to do what you enjoy, and for people to recognize it and be happy with your work.

Then fame comes and things get weird. I've seen people go off the deep end, flying around. You can really harm yourself. The people who survive it are surrounded by close friends and family. That's what I try to do. My dad lives in L.A.; he's my best friend. I step out of line, he'll tell me immediately. And I've got good friends.

English people are good at calling you out. In L.A., a lot of people are yes-men. But the English are so socially conscious; Europeans generally tend to be very socially conscious. It helps when you've got people who grew up similar to you, who'll be like, "I'm not gonna stand for this. If you want to go do this, that's fine, but just know you're gonna sacrifice me. It will sacrifice our friendship."

I don't think I could ever get to that place because my friends, my family, are the most important, the most constant, things in my life. Apart from my football team, of course.

[Editor: Soccer. He means soccer.]

Somebody once told me that, because America is young and never really had a monarchy, it's basically trying to make a monarchy all the time, which is why the fame vibe is so intense in a way that it's not in Europe. Do you think that that's true?

I think that's a wonderful way to put it. In London, in England, you grow up with a hierarchy based on class.

Right! Even your accent will impact your job prospects.

Big time. I will put on a different accent, depending on who I'm talking to and what the scenario is. Different London accents are more intimidating than others, or some can be more welcoming and advantageous. Because we have this class system, we're well aware of what a hierarchy is. Especially when it comes down to the Royal Family.

I like the royal family. I'm a monarchist! I think they give us an amazing identity, which is unique to every other country in the world. We're a tiny island, yet we export some of the best culture, and the most famous woman in the world lives in our city. Why is that? Other countries have king and queens—Greece, Spain, Monaco—but no one knows their names. Everyone knows Elizabeth.

But I think America, as you say, is a young country. There's no rigid class structure, so the wonderful thing is that anyone in America can make it … that's what you're told, anyway. But the downside is people start to idolize celebrities, like the Kardashians.

How do you balance financial interests against creativity?

It depends on the type of life you lead. I'm a fiscally responsible adult. I know what I've got coming in and what I've got coming out, and never live beyond my means. But sometimes you get to a certain place, and some people want to ascend—"Oh, I can have a chef or a personal trainer, or I can go buy four dogs."

As one does.

As one does. They get a house in the Hamptons or something. Which is cool! Everyone's allowed their luxuries, especially if you're making the money, but a lot of people end up relying too much on their business managers or accountants. They just sign off on things. It's dangerous.

As an actor, I'm a professional. As a friend, I'm a professional. I'm there to do my job. But I also need to be professional about money. Obviously you have an accountant, but you need to do your own checks and balances. Otherwise you can get into a lot of trouble.

In terms of how you pick a project, passion or finance, I feel I'd want to do the best possible job with a project I love. But that's easy to say, and it depends on what scenario you're in. If you just bought a house or had a kid, or really want something, or need to help your mom or whatever, then take that job that pays, of course.

I think the quote is, "You do two for your agents and one for yourself." Two projects for your agents keeps them nicely lubricated, and the one for yourself keeps you stimulated in terms of your artistry. There are certain actors I look up to and I'm like, "Damn! You've done one for your agent here. But then you chose a really good indie role. Fair play." I can tell what actors' choices are, and what their agents' choices are, because they don't fit.

Do you have a secret career wish?

You're always worried about longevity, that you've already done the best thing you'll ever do. But if, 50 years from now, someone says, "Jojo was one of the best times of your career," I don't think that's bad. Would I like to be part of more stuff like that? Yes. And will I strive to? Yes. You can't wait for the phone to ring; you've got to do it yourself. If the phone rings, great, answer it if you're around, see if you can do it, but now is the most important time to be as artistically responsible and independent as possible.

Why?

Because you can't wait for opportunities. You've got to do it yourself. Like how I found out about that story that moved me about Judaism. What did I do? I decided to do research, write and get it into the public. And I sold it to the BBC. I'm not saying it will get made or that I'll be in it, but at least I feel like I have some control over my artistic destiny, rather than waiting for a manager or an agent to tell me there's an audition next week, or I might get this role.

I think it's the same in any artistic pursuit. In music, you make a song, you try and produce it, you get friends to do it, you put it up on Spotify. If you want to do advertising, you come up with several ideas, then go to the agencies and pitch them. See if you can make that difference.

I don't really feel like opportunities come too often. You gotta make your own.

— — —

Check out Luke's #WFH Diary here.

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Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is a founding contributor to Muse. She is also the co-founder of esports agency Hurrah.gg, and co-author of Generation Creation.

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