March 30, 2020

Jewish Vigilantes Take Revenge on Nazis in ‘Hunters’

Logan Lerman, Al Pacino: Amazon Prime Video

The battle between good and evil plays out in two arenas in Amazon Prime Video’s “Hunters,” a 10-episode series produced by Jordan Peele (“Get Out,” “Us”). It juxtaposes the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II with the eye-for-an-eye revenge mission of a group of mostly Jewish avenging angels, hell-bent on thwarting a conspiracy to resurrect the Third Reich in the United States. 

Set in New York in 1977 with frequent flashbacks to Auschwitz, the story follows Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), who becomes involved with the Hunters after the murder of his grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor with a connection to their leader, Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino). Its inspiration came from creator David Weil’s childhood and the Holocaust stories told by his maternal grandmother.

“At 6 years old, it was really hard to understand the depths of such horror, such evil,” Weil told the Journal. “The closest thing I could relate it to was the comic books I loved and the superheroes I followed. It became the lens through which I saw the Holocaust. As I got older, I began to see the reality, the sobering truth and visceral nature of the atrocities. The show represents how I experienced these stories. It was also kind of a desire to create a sense of catharsis and wish fulfillment, to don that vigilante cape in the face of rising anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia in the world and reclaim power.”

Weil raises thorny moral issues in “Hunters.” “When we hunt monsters, do we risk becoming monsters ourselves? What does killing do to the morality, the psyche and heart of the hunter? We show that cost,” he said. 

It was important for Weil to cast Jewish actors as the Jewish characters. Alongside Lerman, Josh Radnor, Carol Kane, Saul Rubinek and Jeannie Berlin play key roles, and Judd Hirsch guests as famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. “I really wanted to see a Jewish superhero on screen and have a Jewish person play that. It felt like the right thing to do,” Weil said, adding he gladly made an exception for Pacino. 

Lerman (“Indignation,” “Fury”) immediately responded to the script, the story and the theme of vigilante justice. “It was really nice to see material that had a Jewish lead, and to represent my culture and my family,” Lerman told the Journal. “But the thing that really drew me was the central question at the core of it: Does it take evil to fight evil? I still grapple with that. I’m curious to see what the reaction will be. I hope people will be entertained first and foremost, and that there’s a conversation.”

A Beverly Hills native, Lerman grew up hearing stories about his paternal grandparents who escaped to Shanghai and Mexico before World War II and about the Holocaust survivors in his stepmother’s family. “We went to a Conservative temple, celebrated all the holidays, Shabbat every week and then we slowly [became Reform],” Lerman said. “I’m not religious [today] but very culturally connected. I love all the holidays and the traditions and the rituals. It’s something I’ve very proud of.”

Now 28, Lerman made his acting debut in “The Patriot” 20 years ago, and he has no regrets about starting to work so young. “I appreciate having experienced it at a young age because now I have a career that I’m really happy with,” he said, noting that he and his two older siblings initially started auditioning “as a distraction because my parents were getting divorced at the time. I took to it and really enjoyed it.” 

Although “Hunters” is his first television series since “Jack & Bobby” in 2004, he’s been busy acting in films including “3:10 to Yuma,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and the “Percy Jackson” movies. Coming up, he appears in “End of Sentence” as an ex-convict who takes a trip to Ireland with his estranged father, and the drama “Shirley,” which won a prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. As a producer, Lerman has the time-travel romance “Press Play” in post-production.

Great Neck, N.Y., native Weil, was raised “culturally and religiously Jewish” in a Conservative family. “I had a bar mitzvah, we celebrated the holidays. When I was 15, we went to Lodz, Poland — where my parents grew up — Auschwitz and Israel, where some of my family went after the war,” he said. “I still go to seders and to temple on the holidays.” His fiancée is not Jewish and not converting, but raising future children with Judaism “would be really important to me,” he added.

Unlike his three athletic older brothers, Weil preferred reading, seeing plays and appearing in them. “I was Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in sleepaway camp and middle school. But I was always a writer first — stories, plays, screenplays. Acting was just a way to get involved,” he said. He landed a handful of acting roles after moving to Los Angeles nine years ago, but mostly worked as a private tutor while writing at night.

Now his sights are set on directing, possibly on “Hunters” if there’s a second season. “I have so many stories to tell, for five or six seasons if Amazon wants them,” he said. 

Weil recently signed a deal with Amazon for future projects. While “not as explicitly Jewish as ‘Hunters,’ I think every story will have some Jewishness to it,” he said. “I’d love to continue telling the stories of people like my grandmother. I feel like she’s here in some way every time I write a line or see a cut. She’s sitting on my shoulder and I hope she’d be very proud.”

“Hunters” debuts Feb. 21 on Amazon Prime Video.