Amazon Prime’s new 10-episode series, Hunters, takes place in New York in 1977. Al Pacino portrays Meyer Offerman, the leader of an unlikely band of vigilantes seeking vengeance on an emerging group of Nazis attempting to rise to power in the United States.
Hunters star, Al Pacino and Creator and Executive Producer David Weil came to the TV Critics tour in January to talk about their new project which is streaming now on Amazon Prime.
David, how did this project come about?
David Weil: My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. She would tell me stories about her time during the war. As a young kid, five, six years old, hearing those stories they felt like the stuff of comic books and superheroes.
As I got older I struggled with that feeling of birthright. What was my responsibility now to continue her story? So many Holocaust survivors are no longer with us. For me this was a love letter to my grandmother. It was a quest to don that vigilante cape in the face of rising anti-Semitism in the world, racism and xenophobia.
It was a desire to create a sense of catharsis and wish fulfillment for a young Jewish kid growing up on Long Island who wanted to see superheroes who looked like him on screen. Who engaged with the perpetration against the Jewish people in a way that felt unique and special; in a way that we reclaimed power.
Is this is based on fact?
David: There were groups of notable Nazi hunters, Simon Wiesenthal, Serge and Beate Klarsfelt, among them Mossad agents who went down to South America.
But this piece revolves around a covert operation in which hundreds, if not thousands, of Nazi war criminals were brought into the United States.
Were there really hunters in the United States?
David: That is a part of the creation, the invention. They hunted these people in the courts and through legal action. This is a piece of about wondering what if there was this band of secret Nazi hunters who were eliminating these people.
Al, it seems like you’re working as much as you ever have right now. Why did this one stand out to you?
Al Pacino: Because there’s an originality in this show, and it’s somewhat eccentric. All of a sudden you’ll see it from certain angles. There are a lot of elements in it that catch you off guard.
It holds your interest because you never know when a joke is going to come. That was what really appealed to me when I read it, that there was this element (that) things are not what they seem.
Did playing Shylock in Merchant of Venice inform you? Can you take Shylock and put him next to Meyer Offerman?
Al: I didn’t think of it, though I think it’s a good idea. I must have had it in me somewhere, because I felt that connection. Usually I channel characters through me that I play, and I’ve played a lot. I think it’s all there, so I might have. I think unconsciously these things come into play.
David, when I was watching this I was struck by how much of a superhero story it was. Can you talk about some of the influences that went into this; like how you arrived at telling this like Spider Man?
David: It was really organic. When I was a young kid hearing these stories, the only thing I could really relate it to were comic books and superheroes. It was these stories of great good but grand evil, the horrors of which are really difficult to even try and understand.
That became the lens through which I began to see these stories of the Holocaust. And as I got older I began to see the stark, depraved realness of what happened. I think you’ll see the show explores the wish fulfillment, comic book superhero of it all; then the very sobering reverential portrayal of life in the camps.
Al, what was it like working on a TV series compared to a movie?
Al: You don’t have the luxury of rehearsal. (Sidney) Lumet required three, four weeks of rehearsals. We (rehearsed this) when we could. We would find time on the weekends to get together, especially if it were a difficult scene that wasn’t quite written.
David wrote these scenes so beautifully. If somebody had an issue or a problem with something, or didn’t understand something, we would all do it together.
Given what we’re seeing in the real world these days with the anti-Semitic attacks in New York, is there any resonance between the attempt to deal with what’s going on in New York now and the story that you’re telling in this show?
David: Absolutely. It’s an allegorical tale in many ways. It’s to draw the parallels between the ‘30s and ‘40s in Europe, ‘70s in New York (and) especially what’s going on today.
We’re facing an epidemic of anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades. This show is really a question. It’s what do you do? (It’s) about a group of vigilantes who try and reclaim the power. The question that (it) poses is if you hunt monsters, do you risk becoming a monster yourself? And I think that’s a very timely idea and a question that we should all be asking ourselves in this day and age.