With the mainstream return of Nazi-ism over the past couple of years it could be argued that the entertainment industry does not, and maybe should not, give a platform for these monsters. However, art imitates life and life imitates art. Creating a show about a band of Nazi hunters can be a cathartic experience for everyone involved and those watching it. Also, watching Al Pacino stab a Nazi through the throat is balls out brilliant. If you think that sounds bonkers, wait till you see Hunters in its full gory glory. It is a show that makes Inglorious Basterds look like a Church fete.
If you want to avoid all spoilers for Hunters, stop reading this article now.
Produced by actor/director Jordan Peele’s own company Monkeypaw Productions along with Sonar Entertainment exclusively for Amazon Studios, Hunters comes from the mind of David Weil who serves as creator, executive producer and co-showrunner. Weil delved into his own past for inspiration when creating Hunters: “My grandmother was a holocaust survivor. When me and my brother were incredibly young, she would tell us stories about her experiences in the camps. To me it felt like the stuff of comic books and superheroes, and that become the lens through which I saw the world. Growing up, getting older I struggled with the notion of birth right and legacy and responsibility. With so many survivors no longer with us it becomes the onus for the next generation to tell the story in certain ways. With Jonah’s journey in the show, his access point is comic books and superheroes. For me it is a love letter to my grandmother. It is an exploration of my birth right. It is this desire to wear that vigilante cape to get justice. I just really wanted to see a Jewish superhero and superheroes represented by so many others in this eclectic kind of way.” Co-showrunner Nikki Toscano was, from the start, looking to make Hunters something unique: “The precedent set from early on was to embrace the unexpected. [Director] Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was responsible for doing just that. What we aimed to do was do the unexpected at every turn. We had a wonderful production designer, Curt Beech, who developed a colour palette for the show. You’ll see, for instance, yellow represents innocence and there is a lot of that in what Jonah wears. David and I felt it really really important to find directors who were embracing their individuality versus more traditional coverage.”
Looming large in Hunters is the legendary actor Al Pacino, who plays Meyer Offerman. This isn’t Pacino’s first TV rodeo though. He started his career on TV by appearing in a solitary episode of N.Y.P.D. and then thirty eight years later appeared in the HBO mini-series Angels in America. However, this is the first time he has appeared in a TV series produced by one of the streaming services. That line in the sand between TV and film has truly been washed away with Pacino just about the last bastion of iconic actors to sign on to star in a streaming service funded TV show. Pacino was drawn in to playing Meyer Offerman because “you like to have a character that can go either way. Who is tricky and has their own world, and that is what I was supplied with by Nikki and David because they gave me the past of Meyer and that past is very interesting and strange. When I first read the script I thought ‘this is something I can get into’ and that is very important when you can go off and do something [like that]. This had different directors so there was a need to acclimate each director. But we had Nikki and David there. So, if you needed something or you felt something needed to change, they were right there. It was a very creative way to work”
Opposite Pacino is Logan Lerman, an actor who found fame playing the title character in the Percy Jackson films. Since then he has progressed onto epic and action-filled feature films such as Noah and Fury. Lerman has previously played in the TV shows sandpit but not since 2005 with the short-lived Jack & Bobby. In Hunters he plays Jonah Heidelbaum, the grandson of a holocaust survivor who looks for revenge after his grandmother is murdered: “There is a big arc for my character. As an actor there seemed like an opportunity to play around and find something within that arc and make it work. It was exciting to me.”
Alongside Offerman and Heidelbaum in the Nazi Hunters group is Roxy Jones, played by Tiffany Boone: “Roxy is the fixer of the odd ball group of individuals. She is a lock picker, she is a crime scene cleaner, She’s trained in hand-to-hand combat which you will see her take advantage of a little bit [laughs]. She is also an activist and a mother. So, you see this other side of her and what’s driving her to be a part of this group of Nazi hunters, even though she has no direct connection to it you get to see her fighting for justice in her own special way.” Also hunting and killing Nazi is Joe Torrance (played by Louis Ozawa), Lonny Flash (played by Josh Radnor) and Murray & Mindy Markowitz (played by Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane respectively). Not much is learnt about the additional members of the group in the first episode. However, we are introduced to them in a cool ‘meet the killers in their lair’ type of way. Interesting side note; this is the second time Kane has worked with Pacino after they appeared together in Dog Day Afternoon.
Hunters doesn’t just focus on the Nazi hunters though. Another storyline involves FBI agent Millie Malone (played by Jerrika Hinton), who is given the job of trying to find out who killed an elderly lady in her shower. Her initial thoughts soon change when she discovers who the woman was and who she used to work for. Malone is constantly butting against brick walls, mostly male brick walls, in her enquiries. How her story develops will be interesting to see as it appears she may have to do some arse kicking all by herself, as Hinton suggests: “I love trailblazing women. I love people who have a very clear point of view, who know what their backbone is and don’t waver from it. That is Millie to a tee. She is devout catholic and an agent for the FBI. Those two tent poles gives you a lot of information as to how she views the world.”
If you are wondering how bad can the Nazi’s be in Hunters? Then look no further than Travis Leich. A young, handsome man who is only there to inflict pain on those he is instructed to kill. In the first episode we see him try and force a bowling ball into someone’s mouth, in graphic detail too. It isn’t too much of a stretch to suggest Leich is a human Nazi Terminator. Greg Austin plays Leich and clearly he had a blast playing a bad guy: “I never knew if it was a compliment or not to be cast as a neo-Nazi [laughs]. He is, frankly, the most fun I’ve had on set playing a character. He is insane and psychotic and I love it! He is pretty evil. It’s been genius playing around with that side of my consciousness and try and portray it in a way that is somehow valid. He is an interesting character to play and it has been a journey doing it.”
Hunters is a big change for Pacino, who is used to working primarily in film, yet he found similarities and differences between working for the cinema as opposed to for television: “Where it is different is you get to do something over a long period of time and in today’s world we don’t get to rehearse as much as we used to. Forty years ago when I was making films… I’m still making films [laughs] I’m in a film right now that is out! [The Irishman]. As I got to know these people [Hunters actors] you are forming a troupe and you get closer and it becomes a team. A kind of collective, which I really believe in. I come out of repertory theatre where you had that. In film sometimes you’ve really got to find a way to connect with the people you are working with. You try to go out but you can’t and rehearsals are gone. You just can’t do a film with rehearsals anymore. If you’ve got one let me know [laughs]. It’s a luxury. It’s a privilege and a luxury to rehearse. In the old days when I did films Sidney Lumet and Coppola, they rehearsed. We rehearsed four weeks on a film. You had a chance to understand the role and go further and take more chances. Here we had these [Weil and Toscano] who were always there. We would sit around sometimes and talk about the scene we were doing. We spent hours. You could see the producers going *puts head in hands* ‘oh my’. But we would do it and we had that feeling and it was wonderful. We were together for months. Five months. The difference is that we had different directors. Alonso first time and then we had about six or seven directors. You learn to adjust to that in some ways. I kind of liked it. With film you are doing something in two hours. With this you are doing something in, like, twelve hours. It’s a twelve hour film. I love the freedom of it. I love that this is so eccentric and so eclectic. It goes from one thing to another. You never know where you are. It’s so strange sometimes. You think what the hell am I doing? And suddenly you say ‘OH MY GOD! I never saw anything like that’. It reminds me of the old days… everything reminds me of the old days [laughs]… the old days when we had the living theatre in New York City and we were seeing things for the first time through people experimenting, trying different things.
Filming Hunters was a tough five months for all the actors. Constantly feeling the weight of the characters and the brutal situations. Pacino and Hinton shot a scene together that drained them physically and emotionally. But Pacino believed they could have gone on longer “Why? I don’t know! Some people say ‘Are you crazy?’ and you say ‘Yeah, we are’.” Boone believes being part of Hunters was “healing because there are things I’m afraid to tackle in my own life that I’m able to do as an actor and in this character. I’m more free doing it as the character and then I feel a little lighter about the situation after. I think it is a healing tool.”
This healing tool was needed because the scripts had an unexpected nature about them: “Breaking the fourth wall in places. The visuals style. For everything across the board, we were shooting to be as cinematic as possible.” Says Toscano “Amazon were wonderful as far as supporting our vision and not restricting us to some kind of traditional mandate.” Hunters is a show that greatly benefits from being on a streaming service. It allows those involved to explore deeper and darker elements to the Nazi’s and the hunters. It questions if there are any good guys in this scenario.
But this isn’t an all-guns-blazing kill-or-be-killed show. There is a human side to it as well.
Early in the first episode it is revealed that Offerman has a concentration camp number tattoo on his arm, Weil wanted to make sure that the number was significant not just in the story but also as a sign of respect to the victims of the holocaust: “All the numbers in the show are above 2002000499, which was the last known recorded number. We didn’t want to represent anybody’s tattoo of a person who actually existed and who actually suffered in the Holocaust.”
Weil views the show as a book in some ways “The best way to have a point of view on it is to watch the whole thing. Consider it. Digest it all. There are so many twists and turns. The arcs are so deep and textured”
Hunters will debut around the world on Amazon Prime from 21st February.