December 14, 2018

A Personal ‘Uprising’

“Uprising,” the TV miniseries about the Warsaw Resistance, is being released in theaters Dec. 7, and on DVD and VHS Dec. 18. Some actors shared with The Journal their personal experiences on the set.

Alexandra Holden (Frania Beatus)

People laugh when I tell them I played a Polish Jew in “Uprising.” I’m a blond, blue-eyed Minnesotan of Scandinavian descent; what was Jon Avnet thinking casting me? I was worried. I wasn’t sure I deserved the role. I thought it may be more relevant to a Jewish girl, that it would mean something more to her.

However, my biggest (and silliest) fear was that the viewers would spot me as an impostor.

Fortunately, the two-week rehearsal period created a sense of togetherness among the actors that became, to me, one of the most extraordinary aspects of the entire experience. From the very first day, the fears that had plagued me evaporated. I immediately felt a sense of equality that I’ve never experienced in a work situation. It soon didn’t matter who was or wasn’t Jewish. I didn’t think about it anymore. It didn’t matter what my background was, or what I looked like. What mattered was that we were all there “for one purpose” and we united over that purpose.

Some small part of the Jewish culture became a part of me, and my commitment to the group and the project grew and grew. I would have done just about anything for the film, and I am extremely proud to be a part of it. It’s an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Hank Azaria (Mordechai Anielewicz)

When you do any historical drama, especially one as accurate and devastating as “Uprising,” you get a tremendous history lesson. You also get the honor and excitement of applying that knowledge the best way an actor knows how: by portraying a role that helps tell the story.

One of our jobs as actors is to imagine: “What if we were really in these circumstances?” As a Jew, with a great uncle that died in Treblinka, this job was made much easier and at the same time, much more difficult to endure.

During a break in filming, I went to Prague for a few days. Amazingly, I ran into an old professor of mine from Tufts University, Sal Gittleman, who taught Yiddish literature and German expressionism. Back in college, he reminded all of his Jewish students — and there were a lot of us — that no matter how assimilated we are during times of persecution, it is our oppressors, not we, who decide how Jewish we are. It was a lesson I never forgot, and one that I was very proud to help bring to light in “Uprising.”

Mili Avital (Devorah)

I didn’t just want to be a part of “Uprising,” I insisted on it. As an Israeli actress working in Hollywood, I felt something after reading the script for the first time that I have never felt before. This was the story of a group of people fighting to exist as Jews in a world that doesn’t want them. Fighting to create a new type of Jew; a modern kind of Jew, who dreams to create a new society of people that are helping each other to exist freely and on their own. It was the story of the nation I come from, the origin of my blood, my spirit.

As we American and English actors were walking around the set and exploring its structure, I felt uncomfortable, as if they were studying my own body in a lab. Why is this the history of my nation? Why isn’t it like the one of the American actors who come from the country of Gold Rush and endless land, or the English actors of royals and teatime. I was furious.

When it was suggested during our rehearsal process that I sing Israel’s national anthem as part of the research, I suddenly felt different. I felt the joy and pride, as it was reminding me who I am: an Israeli Jewish actress that is here to tell this story of the amazing bravery, courage and faith of my people, as it is the story of all human beings fighting for life.

Stephen Moyer (Kazik)

From the moment I started reading the script of “Uprising,” I have been enthralled with it. My character in the film was not just one of the protagonists, but much of the script was based on his own experiences. Not only was it a true story, but I was to meet the man I was playing and spend time with him talking about his incredible experiences.

No amount of research and attempts to understand Jewish culture can quite prepare you for meeting the man you are playing. Kazik’s generosity of spirit is impossible to encapsulate in these short paragraphs, but to say that he made my job easier would be an understatement. He gave me complete free rein with his own life … only ever offering words of encouragement and never advice.

It was an extraordinary story that was being told, and I had been incredibly lucky to get the part. Jon Avnet’s casting of me in the part was all the more surprising. As a Jewish director tackling incredibly sensitive material, it was a bold step, and one that I am extremely grateful for.