Jojo Rabbit earned director and writer Taika Waititi his first Oscar win on Sunday — but the movie wouldn’t be the same without its 12-year-old star.
In a PEOPLE exclusive look, the film’s producer Carthew Neal spoke about casting Roman Griffin Davis in the role of Jojo, a lonely German boy living through World War II who finds solace in the form of his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. Over the course of the critically acclaimed film, Jojo’s blind nationalism fades away as he discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic.
“Roman definitely had a sparkle in his eye and you wanted to watch him,” says Neal in the clip. “But then you got to see him do a few different scenes to really know has he have the range? Can he get into the anger? Can he get into the humor?”
In audition footage, Davis is seen auditioning with Waititi, 44, who plays Hitler in the satirical film.
“He had all those things we were looking for. We had a half-hour audition with him and he did not take his eyes off Taika and it was incredibly impressive for a 10-year-old kid,” says Neal.
In a special moment in the clip, Waititi also remarks on Davis’ impressive performance saying the young actor’s talent shown in the film.
“Roman has certainly grown as an actor, he’s become one of the best actors in the whole thing,” Waititi says.
The multi-hyphenate joked upon receiving his Oscar on Sunday, saying, “This is really light. This one’s light. It’s supposed to be heavy.”
RELATED: Taika Waititi Jokes His 2020 Oscars Acceptance Speech Was the ‘Worst’ but Says It Was ‘Truthful’
Waititi then gave a sweet shoutout to his mother, thanking her for giving him the inspiration to make the film.
“I’d like to thank my mother. I don’t know where you are mom, I lost you, hours ago. Thank you for being my mother and … for giving me the book that I adapted. This film wouldn’t have existed without you doing that.”
He concluded his speech by dedicating the award to “all the indigenous kids all over the world.”
“This is really great,” he said. “I dedicate this to all the indigenous kids all over the world who want to do art and dance and write stories. We are the original storytellers and we can make it here as well.”
Jojo Rabbit is available on Digital Feb. 4 and 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD on Feb. 18.