talks about his
upcoming role on
starring Al Pacino
Actor Zack Schor lost 35 pounds, learned to speak Polish, and worked in a “sobering” recreation of historical brutality while performing his role as a young Meyer Offerman in the 2020 Amazon Prime series, Hunters.
Impressive, indeed, but that’s only half the story: Schor’s physical triumphs were matched by an existential feat that came with a larger-than-life trial of its own.
Hunters is a thriller about the discovery and investigation of a secret nazi organization lurking within America’s alleged “deep state.” Starring Al Pacino as the mature Meyer Offerman, the series is scheduled to begin streaming next year.
Schor describes his character as a “serious, but incredibly genuine and caring” man. He shot most of his scenes in a set resembling a concentration camp, because young Meyer Offerman is a Holocaust survivor, just like two of Schor’s grandparents.
Acting roles don’t often reach the level of intensity required to play a young Meyer Hofferman, but Schor’s preparation came close.
Besides transforming his chiseled-model appearance into a vision of emaciated captivity, he read and re-read the “brutal, visceral” writings of concentration camp survivors. When it came time to act, he took a “leap of faith” into the hands of the people around him.
“It’s impossible to do this kind of work without a great director,” he explains, “and the writers and producers also did an incredible job.”
Prior to joining Hunters, Schor appeared in films like The Beyond and Dinner for 4 and TV series like Bones and Entourage. Raised in Chicago for most of his teenage years, he moved to Los Angeles to attend Chapman University in California, where he studied theatre performance. Here, in a Reel Chicago exclusive, he describes his experience playing Meyer Offerman in Hunters.
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How did you feel when you read the script for Hunters, and what convinced you that it adequately handled such a delicate historical issue? The project was really interesting as soon as I heard about it. When I sat down and read the role I ended up playing, Meyer Offerman, it really resonated with me on a personal level. I have two grandparents, and my grandfather, who is still alive, survived the Holocaust. Playing a Polish Jew in a Holocaust is an incredible role. The pilot really does it justice. At the end of the day, you take a leap of faith and trust the director and the other people involved in the series and go with it. Absolutely, it’s impossible to do this kind of work without a great director, and the writers and producers also did an incredible job.
In what way does your family’s history shape your own identity? I would say, you know, the kind of ugly truth of it is that because of the war, my dad’s side of the family is pretty small. I grew up with a pretty small family on the East Coast and in the Midwest, raised Jewish, and I think, not just from a religious standpoint but from a cultural standpoint, it has been an ever-present factor of our culture and an important story to do justice to.
What kind of a person is the young Meyer Offerman? He is a really virtuous character with a lot of integrity. He is met with some really unbelievable, dire circumstances, and, through the course of the season, is forced to make choices that confront that. A little serious, but incredibly genuine, incredibly caring, does everything in his power to protect the people he loves.
How did you prepare for the role? I did a lot of research leading into it. I read the book Operation Paperclip, a nonfiction book that is part of the inspiration for an aspect of the series that takes place in the present. Lots of anecdotes about people. Primarily just about how the program Operation Paperclip came to be. I can’t dive too much further into it, but it was the biggest book that had an impact on portion of the plot that takes place in the 1970s. I consumed as much as I could. There’s also a famous book called Night, by Elie Wiesel. He was a prisoner in Auschwitz. It’s written as fiction, but largely understood to be semi-autobiographical. It’s a brutal, visceral view of what it was like to be in Auschwitz. From an emotional standpoint, that definitely informed my character a lot. Night is intense. It’s not something that most people read twice.
What was the audition like and how did you find out that you got the part? The audition was pretty straight forward. I read for the casting director, John Pasadera, in Los Angeles. I felt like the audition was pretty good. I went on my way. A week later I found out it would be happening. This definitely represents a turn. I’ve done little things here and there. Television, little indie films, I’m a writer as well. Definitely been trucking away on that front.
What was the most enjoyable and challenging thing about portraying Offerman? The budget on the show was huge. Part of what that translated to was these incredibly realized sets and incredibly authentic wardrobe, period vehicles, all that kind of stuff. On the one hand, that was such a gift as an actor to kind of be immersed in that environment. On the other hand, it was challenging, as a person who is aware that these things happened. Everyone found it very sobering to be on set in these environments. Most of my scenes are in a concentration camp. We actually shot most of the series in New York. Also, all my scenes for the show are in Polish. I learned it. I had a little bit of a familiarity with the language. I had to do a little studying.
Have you ever talked with your grandfather about his experience during WWII? My grandfather is very excited for me and he also understands that (the show) is a big deal, but it’s not something that he is super enthusiastic to talk about. I’m playing a character who is in his thirties and my Grandfather was a little boy.
What’s the trick to losing 35 pounds? It’s pretty simple. I ran a lot and I didn’t eat much. A lot of almond butter and stuff like that. But I do want to say it’s really dangerous to do that without proper supervision. I had a doctor take me through the process. It’s not healthy. I’m back to healthy weight. I only wrapped shooting like maybe like six weeks ago. Just getting back to food was a little bit of a process.
How has your acting technique evolved since “Hunters” began shooting? Since Hunters, I mean, I don’t know how much it’s evolved just in that period. I’ve been studying for a really long time. I am in the Master Class at a studio called Parallax Studio. The head of the studio and teacher of the class is a guy named Keith Bogart and he teaches an imagination-based technique. Rather than using emotional fuel from your own life, you use your imagination to create an emotional history for the character. I found that to be really productive.
What is it like to work with Al Pacino and Jordan Peele? The truth is, it’s funny, given that I’m playing a younger version of Al Pacino, we didn’t have any scenes together. I would have loved that opportunity. Whenever I was shooting he was also shooting on another set. We’re definitely excited for it to come out.
How does it compare to Inglorious Basterds? I guess that there is a certain similarity. Stories about killing nazis don’t seem to get old.
What kind of emotion is the audience going to take away? All the stuff I’m in is a series of flashbacks, and they have a more somber tone. The stuff in the 70s is a little more irreverent. The show more than anything has a lot of heart.
What does Chicago have that LA does not? Obviously, my family’s there. Beyond that, the one thing that Chicago has that LA doesn’t is my older sister’s restaurant, Split Rail, just west of Western on Chicago Avenue. Owned by Zoë Schor. You can’t beat the food. It’s a fried-chicken-centric menu. Great cocktail program. And it’s always nice to see my sister run the show.
How would you feel if your career brought you back to Chicago? I’d love it. I’d love that. All those Dick Wolf shows are great. I love them. There was a short-lived Chicago series from a few years ago, Chicago Code, that I thought was a great police drama. People in LA are definitely aware of Chicago as being a hub. I’ve also done some amount of improv pretty consistently throughout my time in LA, but nothing official like Second City or Groundlings, but I love doing that stuff.
What’s next for Zach Schor? My life is not that glamorous (laughs). Obviously, auditioning and stuff like that, and I have a few writing projects that I’m excited to get back to.
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