For Amit Rahav, the Cast of 'We Were the Lucky Ones' Felt Like His Jewish Family – Kveller
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For Amit Rahav, the Cast of ‘We Were the Lucky Ones’ Felt Like His Jewish Family

The "Unorthodox" star is passionate, steadfast and charming as ever in the new Hulu Holocaust drama.

Amit Rahav

via Hulu

Maksim, the Hebrew word for charming, is one that I associate with Amit Rahav. The Israeli actor played Thomas Lovegrove in “Transatlantic,” the heart-wrenching Yanky in “Unorthodox,” and now, Jakob Kurc in Hulu’s new Holocaust drama, “We Were the Lucky Ones.”

Maksim is a word that you use to describe someone who is effusive and kind when interacting with others, which is definitely the impression I got in my short interview with the actor, but it also means literally, someone who charms you. And Rahav pulls you under his spell with a kind of beautiful vulnerability in every role, and in “We Were the Lucky Ones” especially, he has a quiet, fierce charm as Jakob, the youngest Kurc brother. Jakob is dedicated and passionately in love with his childhood sweetheart, Bella (Eva Feiler) as well as photography, through which he takes in the horrors unfolding around him.

Rahav appears in many of the most intense and magnetic scenes in the show, including perhaps the most memorable — a secret Jewish wedding in which he finds himself under the chuppah where a rabbi tells the couple, “Even in the darkness, I see your love.”

Kveller spoke to Rahav about his connection to the Holocaust and Holocaust stories, what Passover, so prominently featured in the show, means to him, what it felt like filming that wedding scene and about his connection to Israel in the current moment. He was charming, indeed.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

You’ve now played two different characters in two very different Holocaust projects — Thomas Lovegrove in “Transatlantic” and Jakob in “We Were the Lucky” ones. Did these projects inform each other at all?

Well, I think that this period of time, unfortunately, supplied so many stories. There are so many angles to the Second World War. “Transatlantic” is a whole different thing than “We Were the Lucky Ones.” Both stories are valid. These horrific events of the Second World War and the Holocaust are still, today, unbelievable, astonishing to think of, because they were [done] by humans.

It’s something that fascinates me personally, being a grandchild of a Holocaust survivor and having my grandma tell me her story a few times during my own life. I’ve been surrounded by stories from back then since forever; I don’t remember myself without hearing about it. I’ve been to the camps in high school. I’ve seen so many films, read so many books. So it felt very natural to me to take these roles and tell the stories. I would do it again, and again, and again, because it’s something that must be told. It’s been 80 to 85 years since then. That generation is starting to leave this world and we must take it upon us to continue to tell these heroic and tragic human stories.

Did anything in this show feel connected to your own Jewish family’s story?

We meet this family in the first episode, and they’re just like any other family — they tease each other, they laugh, they play music in the living room. They have their own secrets from one another. It’s just an ordinary family. I immediately felt this very Jewish family feeling, the warmth that we managed to create between us as a cast, which is such a unique experience to have. Tommy Kail, our director, who I admire, is such a clever director. From the moment we arrived, he made us into this family. The first night in Bucharest, where we filmed, we had a huge dinner. And that was followed by more and more dinners and opportunities for us to create this deep, deep bond that continues until today. I mean, we have this WhatsApp group and we’re all very close to one another. It feels like we’ve been through this special experience together.

It’s not like other jobs where you finish the project and then everyone continues on to his own life. It really feels like something significant and unique and I do feel like we are some kind of a family. It feels similar to [the relationship with] my friends, my childhood friends, my hometown friends, my own family friends. It feels like they’re all the same.

Watching the Passover seder in the first episode, I really thought, this looks like my family’s seder!

It felt so real. That day, the cameras were running and we were improvising. There was no script, like, [when] we were laughing, the laughs were genuine. And we were actually praying and doing the whole ritual. It felt like a normal family Passover dinner. For me, Passover dinner, there’s something so special about it. I’m very secular in my own life, but there’s always something very festive about our family dinners, and a Passover dinner specifically. It felt like very warm and close and intimate. We had matzah on the table. And it just it felt very, very real — it was very easy for us to to just be present.

Halina says Jakob is the most boring Kurc brother, but I think he might secretly be the coolest Kurc sibling. What drew you to his character?

I really loved his story. We see Jakob in the first first episode as this child that didn’t really mature yet. We see him studying law, but he wants to be a photographer, and we see his artistic side. When the war breaks out, he has to leave all that and go fight for what’s important for him. And we have to remember he was only 22.

This is a true story. I don’t think that back then, people were prepared to be going into a war of eight years. Especially imagining myself at 22, going through that until the age of 30 is something that… it’s beyond me, how these people managed to go through so much. So many tragedies and such horrific circumstances. Jakob eventually goes on this coming-of-age journey. We see him by the end as a man, the man that I don’t think he knew was in him.

I found watching the first episode that he tells you who he is in that first seder scene, when he says to his father that he doesn’t like law because he doesn’t like games. What you see is what you get with this guy.

Yeah, I’m glad you got that.

And he loves Bella. He knows that this is what he wants. He’s photographing all these beautiful ladies later in the show, but he’s not interested in that.

He realizes what’s most important. He goes and gets her, and he risks his life to reunite with her. He will do anything because he understands that, as he says, it’s them always — live together, die together. That’s something that I don’t think he might have known back in the first episode.

There’s a level of maturity also, like when she tells him in the second episode that she broke his camera, and he says the camera’s not important, you’re what’s important. For someone so young to say that, especially with what it must have meant to have a camera at that time…

It’s also part of his personality. It’s how he expresses himself.

It’s another way for him to take in the reality of what is happening around him, an extra “lens” of witnessing the horrors.

He’s an observer. He keeps sort of directing the room. He sees it through his lens. So when Bella breaks it, he immediately throws it aside, and he’s like, you’re most important. The lens could break and be shattered into pieces, as long as the model is in front of me and is still with me.

How was the chemistry with Eva [Feiler, who plays Jakob’s girlfriend, then wife, Bella]? You guys are so close in this.

Eva Feiler… I’m so lucky to have gotten her as my co-star. She is, honestly, such an amazing human being. I admire her. I remember one day on set, seeing her preparing for a scene, my breath was taken away. She’s so devoted to the craft, and she never stops researching and working. She won’t rest until the scene is over.

At one point, we emerged into one as actors and as characters. I also felt like, it’s me and her and the rest of the world disappeared. We were sharing this experience together. We still speak very often. She gave that character everything she has. She really nailed that character.

Can you talk a little bit about the wedding scene? I feel like it’s one of the more powerful scenes in the show.

Yeah, the wedding scene… it starts at the bath scene [where they both bathe together]. And that leads to the wedding scene — both scenes were so intimate. I felt so much respect from our director and castmates. It did really feel like this wedding was an act of rebellion; in times when getting married is a risk, and bringing babies [into this world] is a risk, you don’t know what’s going to happen with you within the next hour. The choosing of life by Jakob and Bella was such a huge [driving force] for me as an actor, to see them choosing, with bravery and with courage, one another. It’s like Romeo and Juliet, this couple that just decides to — no matter what — stick together. It felt very honest to film it. We even tried to play this game where we didn’t see each other before the actual filming. So I didn’t see how she looks. I didn’t see the dress. I didn’t see the hair. So it was very…

Like a real wedding.

Yeah. We created a playlist that we both listened to before with songs that meant something to both of us.

What were some of the songs?

“You’re All I Need to Get By,” that was one of the songs that we repeatedly listened to. It felt like there were sparks in the room, her coming in there. There were so many candles. Everyone kept really quiet. It did feel like a secret wedding against all odds.

What are your plans for Passover? Does Passover feel different for you this year?

I’ll actually be here in LA. So I’m going to be, for the first time, far from my family. And you know, in these times, sticking to your family means a great deal. I still don’t know where I’m going to eat — I have a few options, I didn’t make up my mind yet. But Passover is family, being with family, and I’m very lucky to have a supportive, warm, embracing family that is happy that I’m here doing what I love and what I want to do and what I enjoy doing. I’ll probably be FaceTiming them. I’ll miss them. But I still don’t really know where I’m gonna look for the afikoman.

What’s next for you, Amit?

Well, I just wrapped a film back home, a sequel to a film I did called “Matchmaking.” And now I’m here in LA. I’ve moved here for… I don’t know how long. I’m here taking meetings, making choices about offers that come in. So nothing that I can announce but I’m flirting with some ideas.

Was that a planned move? Has this current moment changed your career or your desire to be in Israel at all?

What do you mean?

I feel like a lot of people want to leave the country right now…

I know. It’s hard. It’s very sad, everything that’s going on. I don’t know if I feel the urge to leave the country. It’s both at the same time, because I’m like, these are my roots, my family is all there, my friends, my childhood, the streets [I grew up on], my loved ones are all there. I don’t know if I’m thinking of leaving. But it’s definitely a very, very tough situation to be far away from home. I feel like this show is a lot about hope and perseverance. And all I can do is hope that whoever watches this show gets to feel all the emotions that it brings up and gets some hope, because I think that we all need it nowadays.

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